Guitar Society Thoughts

by Donald Sauter

JCGS Webmaster’s note: This article was gleaned-with the author’s permission-from Mr. Sauter’s website.

Guitar societies come in two basic flavors. Some exist mostly or solely for presenting guitar concert series; others are mainly a club for guitar chums to get together and do whatever it is guitar chums do.

I am a great proponent of the second type. I think the fundamental purpose of a guitar society is to provide a means for people who are interested in the guitar to share that interest. For me, that would mostly involve playing with and for guitar friends at monthly “guitar parties”, since playing is what it’s “all about”. I can envision alternating meetings between Open Recitals, where anybody at any level is encouraged to play for an appreciative and supportive audience, and Ensemble Sessions, where everybody joins in a big guitar orchestra, working up a piece and maybe even making a goal of recording it.

While I don’t think guitar societies should bankroll concert series with members’ dues, my vision of a guitar society doesn’t preclude concert series. The society brings guitar people together. If some of them want concerts and have a touch of entrepeneurial spirit, they can take on that project. And it’s right that they should collect the financial rewards.

Reprinted below is an article written in response to feedback generated by a questionnaire which appeared in an earlier Washington Guitar Society (WGS) newsletter. Even without the results of the questionnaire, the article may be of interest to anyone active in any sort of guitar society. It deals with the issue of volunteerism in the context of the “guitar club” type of society championed above.

Questionnaire feedback feedback

In the previous newsletter we published the results of our survey. I found one of the comments, in particular, very thought-provoking. A respondent pointed out that a problem with volunteering is that you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. What are the duties? What experience do you need? How long is the commitment?

He went on to propose a solution: rather than simply put out a call for volunteers, someone in charge should buttonhole a likely individual and provide a detailed job description, so to speak.

That would seem to make perfectly good sense in general. In our case, however, I think it misses what the guitar society is – or should be – all about.

Our guitar society provides a mechanism whereby everybody who has any interest in the guitar can come together and share that interest in any way they want. There is no set of regulations carved on a tablet somewhere defining what a guitar society must do and must not do. Ours will do exactly what we want it to do – no more and no less.

The point isn’t for a leader to pressure anybody into doing anything. The point is, if there is some desire among members for something to happen, then one or more of those people can step forward to make it happen.

Don’t view the WGS the same way you would the movie or auto industry, for instance, which puts out a product that you have no control over, and you either approve or gripe about it. I’m not just spewing empty rhetoric by saying, “The Washington Guitar Society is you.”

Several times in the past we have run a list of “real cheap things” you can do to make the WGS a success. It looked something like this:

Show up at the meetings.
Play for the open-stage hour.
Bring refreshments to the meetings.
Bring prepared ensemble music to the meetings.
Host drop-in ensemble sessions at your own home.
Contribute to the newsletter: write articles of any sort, design a WGS logo, submit an original composition or arrangement, compile the calendar of events.
Help out with the newsletter: typing, mailing, distribution to music stores.
Librarian. Organize our newsletters and other publications received, and control the lending of whatever material we collect.
Donate a guitar magazine subscription to the society library. Donate books, records and music you don’t want anymore.
Historian. Archive material relating to society activities, and the D.C. area guitar scene as well. Collect concert programs, fliers, newspaper ads and articles,

These are the things that come to my mind. If there’s something you want to see that’s not listed, go for it. You don’t need to be granted permission from on high.

Still, you might be wondering, “Yeah, there are some good things there, but what am I getting myself into?” That’s up to you. Anything you contribute is a bonus and would be appreciated.

Thinking of bringing refreshments? You could make a gourmet double deluxe chocolate cheesecake – or you could bring a bag of animal crackers. (They’re a hit, I can attest!)

Want to contribute to newsletter? It could be a dissertation on some technical problem you’ve overcome – or it could be a single-sentence, “My favorite piece right now is _____.” Wouldn’t it be fun for members to contribute short pieces on “How I got interested in the classical guitar”?

Like the idea of a WGS historian? We have done remarkable things, haven’t we? You could go hog wild with file cabinets and hanging folders and computer databases – or you could toss everything into a big, old cardboard box, knowing what a thrill it will be for some guitar enthusiast a hundred years from now to root through.

Like the idea of a WGS library, but don’t have a crystallized vision of what things it should keep, or how it should operate? Don’t worry about it. We’ll start with a brainstorming session and hammer it out as we go along.

We could really use a dedicated calendar of events person; someone who would not only passively receive notices sent in, but would actively ask around in the likely places about upcoming guitar events.

But doesn’t all of that sound like work??? If it does, there’s a problem. All hobbies – gardening, photography, collecting, u-name-it – take time and effort. Wouldn’t be much of a hobby if it didn’t, would it? If the effort seems more like work than play, that would indicate you’ve chosen the wrong hobby. The guitar’s a fine hobby, innit?

Finally, responding to the concern about commitment: when you have to stop, you stop. We will be richer for whatever effort you contributed.

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