Students and teachers bearing acoustic and electric guitars of all shapes and colors slowly gathered deep within the bowels of Port Chester High School last Thursday minutes after the final bell rang.
They chatted and plucked at strings, or grabbed a handful of potato chips from a large bowl at the entrance of room B107, then slid onto plastic chairs with the sleek, rounded edges of their instruments resting on their knees and waited for the afternoon’s program to begin.
Thorne Ventura, who sported a long ponytail and well-worn jeans, took the makeshift stage shortly after 3 p.m.
“This is the first guitar workshop I’ve given,” admitted the seasoned guitar player and instructor, but Ventura dove right in, demonstrating his own electric guitar and amplifier and how players could get the sound qualities they were looking for from their instruments.
The two-hour guitar workshop was the brainchild of Linda Penney, the school’s chorus director and music teacher, and the high school members of the Tri-M National Music Honor Society, which Penney advises. The event was held in commemoration of National Music in Our Schools month—an initiative of the National Association for Music Education that seeks to promote music programming during the month of March.
The honor society makes an effort to bring programs to the district every year that focus on aspects of music instruction not normally offered through the schools. Though there is a spot for a guitarist in the school’s jazz band, there aren’t very many other opportunities for guitar players to be involved in the music program, explained Penney.
The event also sought to provide an opportunity for faculty and students to participate together.
“Kids get to see faculty in a different context,” said Penney. “They see that we go home, we jam, we play.”
Doug Weitz, a ninth grade English teacher, is self-taught and has played the guitar for 15 years.
“I love playing with other people,” said Weitz.
“It’s a nice atmosphere,” he added. “Seeing kids in a different venue is always a positive thing. They see that you’re a real person, not just their teacher.”
The event drew players of all levels. High school senior Amanda Ruiz has played guitar for a year and a half, coming to the instrument from the electric bass, which she picked up some six years ago.
Ruiz’s musical interests are incredibly diverse; she started on trumpet in elementary school and is adept with a tuba and a baritone horn. Right now, she plays percussion in the school’s band. Ruiz hoped to get some tips on improving her technique at the workshop.
Ventura kept the workshop informal and fluid, answering questions and reserving time at the end for a group jam session. He himself learned the instrument this way, playing with different people and picking up tips from watching and listening.
Ventura started performing in 1971, the year he graduated from high school. He spent about eight years as a professional musician and two years in music school before deciding to pursue a degree in computer science. Music is now an avocation for Ventura, who’s based in Poughkeepsie.
He plays every day, though, and is a member of two rock groups, one of which is a Yes tribute band called Apostle. Until recently he also worked as a stage manager at the famed South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
When Penney, a longtime friend, asked Ventura if he’d be willing to volunteer an afternoon to the project, he jumped at the chance.
“I like to be able to share my passion for music with other people,” he said.
“I hope [workshop participants] go away learning something they don’t already know,” Ventura added. “And that they feel inspired to continue in music … It’s important to share that with kids who have a great interest. It’s something that’s not always nurtured outside of the home.”