Music for the High-Strung; Great Guitar Gathering Students Get a Chance to Strum with the Pros

Article excerpt

Byline: JENNIFER CHILDRESS, Staff writer

A low murmur could be heard across the classroom where 28 high school students sat tuning their guitars. The strumming and picking were interrupted only by the occasional exclamation.

"Does someone have a tuner?" one nervous student yelled out. "This is crucial y'all, I need a tuner."

Their focused, serious expressions were hardly what you'd expect to see on the faces of typical teenagers. Then again, these weren't typical teenagers.

They were members of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts guitar department, preparing for their annual fund-raiser, the Great Guitar Gathering.

This is the 11th year that Don Casper, head of the guitar department, has organized the event. He brings his students together with professional musicians and exposes audiences to new types of music.

Finger-style guitarist Craig Wagner and newgrass trio Phillips, Grier and Flinner shared the stage Jan. 30 with the school's advanced and intermediate guitar ensembles.

Earlier in the day, the students took part in a "masters class" with Wagner in which he highlighted the finer points of his technique -- and the best way to practice.

"I pretty much geeked out on it when I was younger," he said. "I practiced several hours a day . . . too many hours a day. Now it's a total Taoist approach. It's about the process."

During the question-and-answer session with the students, Wagner punctuated his answers by playing quick tunes on his acoustic guitar.

Later that evening, as they were getting ready to go on stage, the students were unanimous in their opinion of the master class.

"He's amazing," said Stephen Garza, an 11th-grader attending his fourth Guitar Gathering.

"It's intense, he's crazy," added freshman Jarrett Carter.

Outside, the ticket lines stretched across the courtyard. Ray Bowditch, who described himself as a "rank amateur" guitarist, waited patiently near the end of the line.

"I like guitar music; I like to listen to it," he said. "I heard by word of mouth about this, and a lot of my friends are here."

As the house lights dimmed, the entire guitar department took the stage.

"Not only do we have teenagers with guitars in tune, wearing suits, smiling; we have two very talented artists with us tonight," Casper announced. …