Few instruments are as expressive and intimate as the classical guitar, and to celebrate that unique sound, the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society was founded in 1963. The Society, reincorporated under new leadership in 1980, is the nation’s second-oldest organization devoted to the appreciation of classical guitar and related fretted instruments, such as the lute and mandolin. “We’re dedicated to promoting classical guitar music within the St. Louis community through performances, master classes, member gatherings and educational outreach events for St. Louis City public schools,” explains president William Ash.

    The society’s 2010 performance season runs from October through March. Five of the six concerts are scheduled at the Ethical Society in Clayton, the organization’s home base for the last 40 years. “It’s a beautiful venue with incredible acoustics,” Ash says. “We share a similar mission: providing meaningful activities that contribute to the quality of life for St. Louisans.” Among the season’s highlights are concerts by 17-year-old musical prodigy Tim Callobre in January and Russian virtuoso Grisha Goryachev in February, both at the Ethical Society. “There’s something for everyone, from exhilarating classical to passionate flamenco,” Ash says.

    Ash takes pride in the society’s education and outreach activities. “Master classes at area universities give top local guitarists the chance to be coached by our world-renowned featured artists,” he says. Kids benefit, too: The organization brings city school students and teachers to the Ethical Society for demonstration performances by guitarists from the Great Artists Series. “These young people are such an appreciative audience—it’s gratifying to see their hands shoot up in the air, asking questions all at once.” Earlier this summer, thanks to private donations and a grant from the Old Newsboys Fund, the society donated 20 guitars to city public schools for their music programs, he adds.

    Though the society receives support from local arts boosters, including the Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts Commission and the Whitaker Foundation, grants are down about 35 percent since the economy stalled, Ash says. Last year, its board of directors established an endowment tribute fund, the KJEA Memorial Fund, to honor Ash’s late wife, Kathleen, a founding member who contributed greatly to the society’s growth, Ash says. “We met our initial goal of raising $10,000; our goal this year is $4,000,” he reports. A Nov. 12 benefit performance will feature English poetry set to music by Live Oak, a mezzo soprano-guitarist duo from Boston.

    The organization continues to grow, recently establishing members’ social gatherings and a 14-member guitar orchestra that’s now available to play for charitable events. “We now have more than 200 members and subscribers, all of whom receive ticket discounts and other perks, and attendance is way up at our concerts,” Ash says. “Our website is getting triple the hits it did a year ago, and we’re expanding our educational materials and community outreach. The more we grow, the better we can spread the word about the music.”

    Some people may be put off by the word ‘classical,’ Ash acknowledges. “They envision the society as a place for music scholars or academics only, but it’s much more inclusive than that. We welcome anyone who enjoys music and wants to learn more about it. The guitar has so many voices. In our performances and events, we try to show as many of its personalities and perspectives as possible—and to share them with as wide an audience as possible.” 

On the cover: The St. Louis Classical Guitar Society promotes classical guitar music through a series of performances, master classes, member gatherings, and educational outreach events for students and teachers. The 2010-2011 season begins in October at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, where most performances are held.  For more information, call 567-5566 or visit www.guitarstlouis.net. Cover design by Erica Fisher — Cover photo by Jason Mueller