Mission: The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society focuses its mission on three key areas: to provide the excitement and intimacy of the experience of live performance on the classical guitar by its finest artists; to promote widespread understanding and acceptance of the art among people of all ages; and to provide opportunities for all to experience the personal growth and musical enjoyment that is derived from learning to play this instrument.
The nonprofit achieves its mission through performance and education. The organization presents world-renowned classical guitarists in concert at the Ethical Society of St. Louis in Clayton. Those artists also provide coaching to aspiring guitarists in master classes and perform for local students in third through ninth grade. In 2009, the Classical Guitar Society began providing classical guitars and accessories to 10 area public schools, and has just launched its first pilot teaching program at Grand Center Arts Academy. An active membership program is open to anyone, and a 20-person guitar orchestra performs at member gatherings and community events. The organization supports the guitar in many contexts, including dance, and is sponsoring the Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company on Feb. 28 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
History: The society marks its 50th anniversary in 2013. It was founded on June 9, 1963, by students of the nationally known guitarist George Krick, who passed away that year. Originally known as the George C. Krick Classic Guitar Guild, the organization was reincorporated as the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society on April 9, 1980.
Community Impact: The Classical Guitar Society provides a classical music experience open to all concertgoers, performance and social opportunities for its members, and a growing impact on music education in St. Louis. During the past season, 2,400 community members attended live concerts, 200 people attended master classes and 1,200 public school students experienced performances by international artists. In addition, the society has provided more than 200 classical guitars to local schools.
50th Anniversary Dinner Gala, June 9, 2013 at the Missouri Athletic Club
The organization will celebrate its half-century anniversary with an evening of dinner, live music, special guests and a retrospective presentation on the extensive history of the classical guitar in St. Louis.
How to Get Involved: To get information on performances, become a member or learn about volunteer opportunities, call 567-5566 or visit guitarstlouis.net. You also can join a mailing or email list for society news and updates.
On the Board: William Ash
Bill Ash originally went to college as an economics major; but after attending a classical guitar concert, he discovered his true interest lay far from the business of business. Years later, Ash continues to follow his love for the instrument as executive director and board president of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society. “The music of the classical guitar speaks to me. It has both emotion and intellectual interest, and the performances engage your mind and soul.”
After graduating from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music with a degree in guitar performance, and marrying his wife, Kathy, Ash was elected president of the then-George C. Krick Classical Guitar Guild in 1980. Seeing an opportunity to grow the organization, bring more accomplished guitarists into town and spread the word about this art form, Ash and his wife helped reinvigorate it with a new name and a more structured focus. By 1982, the society was able to co-sponsor a performance by classical guitar icon Julian Bream. “It was exciting to be able to bring these phenomenal artists to town and see people come to the concerts and tell others about it,” Ash says.
Along the way, the organization also restarted the guitar orchestra and grew membership enrollment. Sadly, Ash's wife passed away in 2009, but he has honored her contributions as he continues to guide the society. In the past four years, the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society has increased its support of music education in schools with guitar donations, performances and a new pilot teaching program. This new school initiative is one that Ash hopes to continue to grow in the next 10 years as he recognizes the importance of such efforts, particularly in underserved areas of the city. “There are so many dimensions available for personal growth through learning to play an instrument—it helps grow children's self-esteem and their ability to take on a challenge, as well as their social skills, patience and cooperation,” he explains. “It can help them greatly in their futures.”
With the society celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013, Ash acknowledges the achievement of sustaining such an organization for so long, and is passionate about continuing to spread the awareness and appreciation of the classical guitar. While he has reduced his time teaching the guitar to take on the many administrative responsibilities, his enthusiasm has never wavered. “I think we have a role to play in providing this meaningful musical experience for the community. I love the art form, but I am equally as interested in sharing it with others. It’s my vocation and I can’t imagine not doing this.”