Concert and Diplomas for Taller de Guitarras

On Sunday July 18, 2010 at 4pm in the Plaza Central of Suchitoto, El Salvador we had the final concert of the workshop.

On Monday July 19, 2010 we returned to the Centro de Arte for diplomas, the watching of the video (from the concert), and to write down the notes and chords for La Bamba (for the students to continue practicing at home). Most of the students who participated in the workshop will be able to check out a guitar from the Centro, or rather their parents will be able to check out a guitar for them to use. (Note the lovely indigo tapestry behind us, a handicraft of a local artisan named Irma Guadron. Indigo is harvested locally by hand and cured into a deep blue dye for clothing and artwork).

After that I had one more class in the evening (no photos) where I showed the video once again (and I will post it in an upcoming entry), then we cleaned up, and put away the guitars for the next taller. I have been told that the next guitar teacher is coming for at least a month this September (2010).

But before I close I'd like to show a photo of Sister Peggy (talking to my mom actually) from about 2 months ago. She had to return to the States to do more fundraising and, unfortunately, she missed the final concert / graduation ceremony.

She is talking to my mom, Val Liveoak, who has been gracious enough to introduce me to nearly all the people I know in Suchitoto. My mother is a Quaker who works with Friends Peace Teams and she organizes and trains facilitators in Alternatives to Violence Workshops throughout Central and Latin America. Suchitoto is one of her favorite "bases" when she travels. I can see why, it is VERY safe (all times of day) and the air is fresh, cool and clean. AND we both can drink the water out of the faucet directly! (There is an excellent water treatment plant near the town I have yet to visit)

You may have noticed all the artwork around the Centro, in the background. Here is another incredible one of a vaquero with his "blue jeans" notice what the canvas is made from!

I hoped you liked reading about the Taller de Guitarras de Suchitoto!

If you have interest in participating, or supporting or consulting on future workshops similar to this one, please contact me with your ideas or offers of help! I would love to hear what kinds of ideas you all have about this workshop!

Also if you have a craving to volunteer I can most definitely recommend the Centro Arte to you as a place to work or teach. After traveling around Salvador and Nicaragua to several different farms, collectives and foundations, I think Centro Arte is one of the best at getting real and concrete results through educating the kids in the arts. Depending on the situation, they may even be able to cover your housing and meals. And bottled water and coffee are available all day!

Peace and love to all my friends in El Salvador and around the world!
Abrazos y nos vemos!
-- Edward Grigassy


Photos from Taller de Guitarras 2010

The Taller de Guitarras de Suchitoto took place July 5 - 19, 2010 in Suchitoto, El Salvador at the Centro Arte para la Paz.

Photos of me taking the guitars out of the original wholesaler's shipping boxes (which we later used as cases). (July 4, 2010)

The guitars came in different sizes, but all the same color. They were made in China, they had a JSL Imports brand name on the box and on each guitar label. I don't know their exact origin (city or factory).

My own production company, Spaceship Earth Productions, purchased twenty-one guitars and paid for freight from Houston, Texas.

The Centro Arte para la Paz reimbursed me for the duties ("impuestos") they charged at the airport.

The Centro Arte is a project whose mission is to promote peace through art and education training. It is run by Peggy O'Neill, Sister of Charity. Berty Rivas is the General Administrator.

They are wonderful people and it is a stable organization with beautiful facilities In addition to hosting the workshop, they will also be maintaining and storing the guitars for future use, as well as checking out instruments to qualified students and families.

All told there were twenty-one nylon string guitars. Nine full size, eight mediums (3/4 size), two smalls (2/3 size) and two extra-smalls (1/2 size).

The duties were quite expensive, as they were about 27% of value of the guitars ($497) PLUS the freight expense ($548). I later found out that it could have been possible to have the duties dismissed.

Here are the guitars all out and enjoying the lovely view of the patio at the Centro Arte para la Paz.

In order to have the duties dismissed the donation must be officially approved by the national government in advance. This involves requesting or writing all the letters of recommendation and other paperwork required, then petitioning the appropriate government agencies for the donation of the instruments to be officially approved.

Later Sister Peggy O'Neill, the director of Centro Arte, told me that even with letters of approval of the receiving organization, the local mayor, governor and/or parliament members, and all the proper paperwork filed in advance (the minister of customs we spoke to recommended six to nine months in advance), there is no guarantee that the letter of "duty dismissal" would actually sway the office workers at the cargo terminal at the airport.

So even though it was an extra $313 expense, in the eyes of the receiving organization, it was far more convenient and efficient to simply pay the import duties than to go through the rigmarole I have described, only to still face the risk of being denied at every possible step.

Tuning the guitars (21 x 6 strings), that took a while!

Plus all the full size guitars had metal strings on them (that's how they had been shipped to Houston, the wholesaler said "Everyone who buys them prefers metal strings!"). So I had to remove strings on the nine full sized guitars, and replace them with nylon strings.

For this project my music company Spaceship Earth Productions had very minimal costs: 22 guitars at $26 ea. purchase price in Houston + $27 ea. freight cost to San Salvador = $53 and change per guitar.

The first day of class! Eighteen eager students that day had signed up in advance. (July 5, 2010)

For the children and teenagers the class size varied from 12 to 28. Almost every day new students would show up to take the class, and if they were not disruptive, they had a friend to help tutor them, and there was a guitar available, I let them attend. Some of the latecomers actually learned all of our pieces, passed the performance exam and played on the final concert.

Originally the plan had been to have two classes for young people per day and one evening class for the local community, but the morning class only had one student so I asked him to come to the evening class which was attended by young people and local adults.

More photos from subsequent days follow. Evening class photos are somewhat obvious as the lighting is somewhat dim.

The Centro Arte has great facilities, rooms, chairs, whiteboard, fresh water (and coffee : ) and, now, guitars, but there were only 4 working music stands and no footstools whatsoever. This meant I taught Flamenco guitar sitting position, right leg crossed over left, guitar on its side on the right leg. This provides for good, comfortable, natural, "mid-range" angles for both the left and right wrists. Also if the student sits up straight he/she can see the fret board or the right hand with no problems...

Taller de Guitarras / Guitar Workshop, Suchitoto, July 2010

This July I just completed an inspiring guitar workshop for children and young adults in the small town of Suchitoto, El Salvador.

Summary of the workshop:

Classes from July 5 to July 19 (17 2-hour class sessions).
Final student concert in the main plaza of town, Sunday July 18, 2010.

Sponsored by Spaceship Earth Productions (my production company) who purchased and shipped 21 guitars from Houston, Texas to the San Salvador airport.

Also sponsored by Centro Arte para la Paz, a community center in Suchitoto promoting art, music, dance, language and computer classes for children and young people. They provided the classrooms and all the physical support for the workshop. The Center is run by Sister Peggy O'Neill (Sisters of Charity) and administrated by Berty Rivas, who both were extremely helpful and positive in promoting the workshop, finding students, handling paperwork and making all necessary arrangements for the classes. Additional help was provided by Alcides, 'Lito, Eduardo and a very kind visiting dance instructor, named Diana Bustos. (Here is a link to her blog for her class.)

Workshop goals:

2 classes per day: one during the day for children and teenagers, one for young people and local adults in the evening.

Teach basic sitting position: currently there are no footstools available so I taught Flamenco sitting position: right leg crossed over left, guitar on right leg - on its side, sit up straight in the chair.

Teach terminology and basic techniques: introduction to chords, playing all the strings using rest stroke (i and m) and playing bass strings with p, playing the 1st and 2nd strings at various frets in the left hand, practicing using all the left hand fingers. Focused on good finger placement close to the frets (left hand) and a clear and "non-plucky" right hand stroke (I encouraged using rest stroke with i and m and p on string 6 for support).

Practice as a class to a common pulse/beat: Warmup exercises. After showing how to keep a beat, the instructor would set and count ("uno, dos, tres, vamos"). Example: one warmup we did each day was: Cada Dia, Cada Cuerda, Cada Dedo, which consisted of playing these frets 0,1,2,3,4,4,3,2,1,0 (repeating each at least 4 times) on each of the six strings making sure to use the same left hand finger as fret number. The first few days we practiced tapping our foots and tapping on the guitars all to the exact same pulse, by the end of the workshop students pretty much stayed on beat (though some rushed a little on the final recital, probably due to nerves).

Learn actual songs through reading of music: In the short amount of time, I was not able to teach notes on the staff (called "pentegrama"), so for reading music I had them read fret numbers on one string, or solfege syllables on 2 or 3 strings. The music examples were written on the whiteboard and students copied them verbatim into their notebooks. Some music symbols were used: repeat signs, bar lines, quarter-rests (called silencios).

Inspire the students through in class performances: I performed music for them of various styles, Flamenco, classical, folkloric. Some of the classes favorite pieces were "La Bamba" (I played it as a solo guitar arrangement, melody over bassline), "Cancion de Espana" which was really a Sevillanas I play, and "Romanza" the famous anonymous Spanish Ballad every classical guitarist learns.

Teach basics of guitar care and performance procedure: taught them how to hold the guitars firmly by the neck, how to bow, how to turn the tuning pegs themselves while playing the note (I would tell the direction to tune, up or down, a little bit or a lot, etc). We practiced standing and bowing as a class, which worked well for the recital.

Songs we learned as a class:

Blues de Divertir, ||: 0 0 3 0 | 0 0 3 0 | 0 0 3 0 | 0 5 3 X :|| 0
Where X was a Flamenco style golpe (R.H. finger a taps the top of the guitar below the strings, close to the bridge). Students who had experience played the standard blues progression in E7 while complete beginners played the frets above 6 times then ended with an open string 1.

Estrellita (Twinkle Little Star): with repeat signs and bar lines, wrote solfege names in order of song using: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la to represent the notes C, D on the second string and E, F, G, A on the first string. Intermediate students in the class played the correct chords C (Do), F (Fa) or G (Sol) as dictated by the song.

Himno a la Alegria (Ode to Joy): all played on the first string, written as fret numbers with bar lines, no eighth note values on music line 3, and the last note of line 3 was played as an open string 2. Starts out as ||: 4 4 5 7 | 7 5 4 2 | ... etc. Intermediate students played chords to accompany the class: E (Mi), B7 (Si7), A (La), G#7 (Sol#7), C#m (Do#m) and F#m (Fa#m). Please ask me for exact written versions of the songs.

We performed all these pieces as a group on the final recital, plus a warmup piece called Blues de Seis Cuerdas.

Here is one image from the final concert, I will post a whole series of images after this one for your reference.

If you have interest in participating, supporting or consulting on future workshops similar in nature to this one, please contact me with your ideas or offers of help! I would love to hear what kinds of ideas you all have about this workshop!

-- Edward Grigassy
Suchitoto, El Salvador
July 20, 2010