BY ARCHER MICHAELS
The Marina City Teen Center, usually loud and energetic, is filled with more than the sounds of children and teens. This sleepy Saturday morning is filled with the sounds of students learning their guitar rudiments as part of an initiative called Guitars not Guns.
“It’s a pretty cool experience because they really want to learn,” volunteer Cooper Scheid says. “There’s not that many kids that are interested in music these days.”
Guitars not Guns is a nationwide organization that strives to improve the lives of the underprivileged by introducing them to music at a young age. The Monterey Chapter of the organization has been around since 2000 and is spearheaded by Stephen Vagnini, the Monterey County assessor for over 16 years and a chairperson on the Monterey County Juvenile Justice Committee for four years.
Vagnini has been local president of GNG for years and played a major part in founding the chapter.
Students can join Guitars not Guns at any point in the eight-week run of the course. Generally classes are held at the Marina City Teen Center from 10 a.m. to noon, with the first few hours for beginners.
“We have four levels of classes, beginner through advanced, and they run year-round,” says Amy Warren, the Marina director of Guitars not Guns. “Students range in age from 6 to 18 and come from schools all over the county.”
At first, students learn the very basics of guitar: Simple chord shapes and songs such as “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” are taught, and 30 minutes of additional practice is also asked for the students outside of the classroom in order to build hand strength and muscle memory. On the first day of lessons, students receive a guitar on which they will practice and learn on for the entirety of the program. At the end of the course they will be allowed to keep their guitars and explore further musical endeavors.
“Once the students complete the beginner class they earn their guitars,” Warren says. “[They] are always welcome for lessons.”
Later in day there are more advanced classes for students who have been with the program for a long time. These classes are generally smaller, with more one-on-one instruction time.
Each teacher in the GNG program is a volunteer dedicated to teaching music and expanding the minds of children.
In addition to Guitars Not Guns, Vagnini host a number of benefit shows and concerts such as the West End Celebration in Sand City. He’s been coordinating the festival for over 10 years now.
According to the Guitars not Guns site, 4,000 students have gone through the program nationwide with 19 chapters operating all over America. Locally, Warren says the program has around 50 students active in the lesson program.
A band comprised of GNG students performs annually at First Night Monterey on New Year’s, at Pacific Grove’s Good Old Days in April and at the West End Celebration in August. This past year the band also played at the Monterey Blues Festival, the Champion of the Arts Banquet, Monterey Museum of Art’s Family Day and the Marina Christmas Tree Lighting.
Guitars not Guns recently played the Annual Monterey County School Boards Association Dinner at Hartnell College on March 22 and will be playing at the Marina Library on April 14 at 1 p.m. and at the Pacific Grove Good Old Days on April 15 at 4 p.m. on the Goodies Stage.