Guitar Society's Outreach Concerts Made Possible by Farrington Grant

August 3rd, 2009

The South Bay Guitar Society has been putting the “all” in “concert hall.”  From a multi-purpose room to a veterans’ hospital to the lounge of a retirement home, the society has turned these spots into stages for professional classical guitar concerts.

The San Jose-based group books top guitarists from around the world for its regular season of concerts.  For the past year and a half, it has been sharing that line-up of international artists with new audiences that have included veterans at two government hospitals, retirement home residents and Alzheimer’s patients.  The performances have been presented as part of SBGS’s Deep Outreach Concert Program.

“It’s for people who can’t otherwise afford to get to the concert hall, people who otherwise don’t have the opportunity to hear the caliber of artist that we can bring,” says Tom Ingalz, managing director and vice president of the South Bay Guitar Society.  Ingalz has been coordinating the project since its inception about two years ago.

The program came about through a grant from the Farrington Historical Foundation.  The nonprofit San Jose foundation is dedicated to preserving Santa Clara valley heritage and also operates as a grant-making organization for other local nonprofits.

The Farrington grant helped SBGS sharpen the focus of its earlier outreach efforts.  “When I looked into the description of the grant, I realized we could use it to expand our outreach activity and elevate it to engaging the world-class musicians who are performing for our evening ticketed concerts,”  Ingalz says.

Outreach performances feature guitarists brought to town by the society to play one of its regular season concerts.  Listeners at an outreach concert are typically treated to an hour-long musical performance during which the artist might explain a little something about the instruments or techniques.  The audience is always encourages to ask questions.  Volunteers from the South Bay Guitar Society are on hand at every performance to assist the audience with seating and programs.  

The roster of artists who have participated in the Deep Outreach Concert Program spans the globe and many different styles of guitar music.

French classical guitarist Thomas Viloteau, a recent winner of the Guitar Foundation of America International Competition, performed at the first Deep Outreach Concert, which took place at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto.  For the second installment, German-Egyptian guitarist Ahmed El-Salamouny ”“ an expert in Brazilian guitar ”“ played at the Menlo Park V.A. hospital.   “We thought that the V.A. might be a good place to start, to acknowledge these vets who have done something for the country,” Ingalz says.  “This is a way to bring something to them.”

A third outreach concert saw Bulgarian guitar ensemble Triada Trio perform at the Saratoga Retirement Center last fall, followed this spring by the U.S.-based Alturas Duo performing at the geropsychiatric unit of the V.A. hospital in Menlo Park.

The Alturas Duo specializes in South American music, with Canadian Scott Hill playing guitar and Chilean Carlos Bolted playing the viola and charango, a South American lute-like instrument that Boltes noted between songs is traditionally made from an armadillo shell.

Before the concert, the duo strolled the halls of the ward, playing songs to spark patients’ interest, which they clearly did:  Hill and Boltes’ performance at the Menlo Park V.S. received a warm reception.

“It was outstanding,” Pat, an Air Force veteran, says of the concert.  He also notes that he loves music.

And he’s not alone:  After the duo had finished playing each song, one hospital resident would exclaim “Wow!”  “Terrific!” or “Beautiful!”

Many audience members were in wheelchairs; one man who was almost fully reclined on a gurney was never the less inspired to lift a hand above his head and “conduct” along with the music.

“What I like is the immediate interaction,” Hill says of performing at an outreach concert.  “Tonight, people were just asking questions, like bang, right in the middle, whenever it occurred to them.  I think that’s great,” Hill says.

“I like the spontaneity.  The people just react,” Boltes adds.

Likewise, when Brazilian guitarist Alieksey Vianna performed in May at the Alzheimer’s Activity Center in San Jose, an audience member called out “Hooray!” following many of the songs.  Vianna’s performance is the most recent outreach concert.

The South Bay Guitar Society began presenting Deep Outreach concerts in early 2008 and planned to offer a total of four performances that would be funded by the Farrington grant.

However, the group has already been able to present four concerts, and Vianna’s performance actually marked the fifth that utilized grant funds.  Come next season, Ingalz says “we’ll be doing a sixth Deep Outreach Concert that will be partly covered by remnants of the present grant.”

Beyond that, of course, SBGS aims to go on with its outreach concerts, and Ingalz says the group is looking for other grant opportunities, with hope of bringing the program to other South Bay communities.


Story by Heather Zimmerman
The Willow Glen Resident
June 12, 2009
Reprinted with permission of The Willow Glen Resident