The Kithara Project is a collective of guitarists working to promote the guitar and with it, to create, perform, educate, engage, and empower in socially responsible ways in Mexico and the USA.
Kithara Project currently maintains two long term classical guitar education programs: one in a community centre serving a low-income housing development near Boston and the other in a self-governing community in southeast Mexico city A third program in Albuquerque, New Mexico is scheduled for launch in January 2018.
In each of these sites, Kithara Project develops and implements classical guitar programs designed at once to encourage civic and community mindedness and give students all the benefits of a first-class music education. Specifically, the programming includes weekly group workshops, private lessons, chamber music coaching, theory classes, and vocal training.
The classical guitar is portable, intimate, universally-loved, and culturally fluid; it cuts across societal and other fault lines to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds. This is why it is a perfect tool for not just community-building but also cultural exchange. Students in Mexico already correspond with the peers in Boston, and in 2018 Kithara Project will sponsor a trip, by students in Mexico, to the US, so that together they might form the core of an international children’s guitar orchestra.
The community of Yuguelito is located in the heart of the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa built upon land that in the 1980's had been used as a landfill. In 2008 the site was settled by over 1000 families who now live in the community, although the exact number of inhabitants is unknown.
As part of a 2013 survey conducted through the School of Social Work at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, residents were asked to identify the initiative they would most like to see in Yuguelito. From all the options which included mental health services, computer skills training, and sports opportunities a majority chose music. Music, many argued, would be at once a way of cultivating a distinct identity for the community and of confronting the many challenges – particularly for young people endemic to life in Yuguelito.
Kithara Project operates a year round, immersive music program (with special emphasis on the classical guitar) for young people aged 8 to 16. The program, which is currently supported by a US-based network of funders, has an open door policy. Since 2015, students have attended workshops, group and one-on-one lessons, singing lessons, and theory classes. The lessons use a mixture of aural- and notation-based learning to help students internalize the material. They also encourage peer-to-peer pupil modeling / feedback and tutor modeling to demonstrate musical techniques with fun and positivity at the heart of every lesson with positive re-enforcement from both pupils and tutors. Performing is central to the programme, too. The pupils demonstrated a high sense of musically and assimilated new material rapidly.
How do you inspire young people to keep attending in a community like this? One factor has been the choice of leaders who can not only teach the guitar but also uplift and inspire change. “I feel passion when I play my guitar.” This is what most of the young people from Yugüelito answered when asked how they felt about their music classes. The young people we talked to had waited, excitedly, all week for their Saturday guitar class. Some of these young people have been a part Kithara Project’s class for more than two years, since the project’s inception. Even if the primary goal of the project is not the output of elite virtousi per se, musical rigor is essential to its spirit. The level of students’ musicianship and musical knowledge is strikingly high. Take the example of Ricardo, a fifteen year old boy who is already performing the music of Leo Brouwer, the renowned Cuban guitarist and composer. Ricardo has been with project for eight months and has made strides to rival those of any wünderkind, all the while experiencing a rising sense of positive self-identity, motivation, and discipline. Thus the impact of this project can, and should, not just be measured in terms of students’ musical facility but also in terms of its positive effects on their personal, family, and community lives.
In summer 2018 Kithara Project will begin construction of a music school in Yuguelito, designed pro bono by a renowned local architect. This school will serve as an artistic hub for both Yuguelito and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
“The Kithara Project will have a profound positive artistic and emotional impact on all who are fortunate enough to encounter it.” Benjamin Verdery, Chair of Guitar Department, Yale School of Music
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Montserrat Fuentes Romero & Ian Thomas