It’s an exciting time for a hidden gem in the St. Louis performing arts scene: St. Louis Classical Guitar Society is set to open its 2011-2012 season at The Ethical Society of St. Louis with a young guitar sensation on Sept. 24, with the season scheduled to close on March 24 with a Grammy Award-winning artist. Society president William Ash recently took a step back to reflect on the upcoming season, as well as the history and growth of the second oldest guitar society in the U.S.
LN: Tell us about this season and its theme, ‘Join Us.’
WA: ‘Join Us’ can mean simply joining us for a performance as an audience member. The other way that people can ‘Join Us’ is by becoming a member and receiving special benefits like discounts, free master classes and invitations to member events featuring local performers. Within the season, we are offering the Great Artist Series, which includes Jorge Caballero (Sept. 24), Carlos Perez (Dec. 3), the Beijing Guitar Duo (Jan. 21) and David Russell (March 24). Caballero and Perez have performed for us before. And Russell is a Grammy Award-winning classical guitar player and is one of the most sought-after artists in the world. We’ve been trying for many seasons to get him— he’s just a spectacular player!
LN: Two other acts also are on your schedule—can you tell us about those artists and their appearances?
WA: Guitar Duo Noir will be at Missouri Botanical Garden in the Shoenberg Theater on Nov. 5, and they’re also going to do a residency where they visit public schools for three days prior to their performance. And then our final program is a group of artists who is well-known to St. Louis audiences— it’s The Romeros, and they’ll be at the Washington University 560 Music Center on Feb. 18. They’re a family of four, and they perform all around the world. They’re known for playing Spanish music, but they can play everything.
LN: Your name is St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, can you tell us more about the type of music your organization offers?
WA: The music we present is on the classical side of the line so to speak, but it includes folk music from all around the world, and it includes the history of classical music as performed on the guitar, so we have both depth historically and in terms of the number of cultures that are presented, both by the performers and the repertoire that they play. Concerts are presented acoustically, highlighting the true sound of the instrument, and The Ethical Society is just the perfect venue in terms of its size and acoustics.
LN: What is your new Guitar Society Orchestra?
WA: It’s composed of 12 to 14 local members. We just get together for the love of playing, and it’s a really nice sound when you have that many guitars playing together. We play at community events, but we’re also open to playing at fundraisers. We usually donate our performance to support the cause, and we would like to invite people to call us if they would like to have music for their event.
LN: How long have you played the guitar?
WA: I’ve played since 1973—and I teach, as well. My involvement with the Guitar Society really has changed over the years. I started off on the teaching and performing side, but it’s grown into much more of a connection to supporting the art form through the organization.
LN: How did the Society come to be?
WA: The George C. Krick Classic Guitar Guild was formed in 1963 by the students of the late George Krick, a noted St. Louis guitarist and teacher. It was formed in his memory, and basically it was called a guild because it was like a club where people would meet in each other’s home and just play for everyone who was there. It eventually grew and became known for its presentation of guitarists who were recognized in the field but on a small scale. In 1979, I had the opportunity to become the president. My wife, Kathleen, and I took it on as a side thing to do at the time. We later reincorporated, changed the focus and decided to change the name to St. Louis Classical Guitar Society to reflect that we wanted to be a more visible and effective organization within the community.
LN: What are some of your outreach programs?
WA: The orchestra is one of things we do, and we also do a lot to try and support guitar education in schools. Last year, we were supportive of a number of programs by donating instruments to three community schools. Another thing we’re trying to get involved in— we would like to institute after-school programs in middle schools, and we’re looking for sponsors to help us start this program.
LN: Can you tell me about KJEA Memorial Fund?
WA: For 30 years, my wife, Kathy, and I were the two administrators of all these programs, and Kathy was a guitarist, as well. I lost her in January 2009. The memorial fund was established in honor of Kathy’s work over those many years to sustain and grow the organization.