Guitar Class in the Beaver State
Number 40: The State of Oregon
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
Today we visit the La Salle Catholic College Preparatory Guitar Program led by Mr. Otto Wild who serves as the Performing and Fine Arts Department Chair, and Choir, Guitar, and Religious Studies Teacher and Choir Director. The school is located in Milwaukie, Oregon, just outside of Portland. Fine Arts are an essential part of La Salle’s curriculum, and as a college preparatory school, the school strives to balance teaching content that fosters success at the college level with the student’s ability to appreciate the human need to express oneself through art, drama, or music.
The NAfME Council for Guitar Education would like to thank Mr. Wild for sharing his knowledge with the NAfME membership.
Please tell us about your school and overall music program.
La Salle Prep is a private Catholic high school with about 650 students, and 10% of the school is currently enrolled in a guitar class. Choir, concert band, jazz band, and music technology are also options within our music program. [This past fall] we held auditions for our musical, “Les Mis,” which is a bear of a show. Kids are very excited.
What about the guitar program in particular?
All our guitar classes are two semesters long, so they go the whole year. We offer a Beginning Guitar and 2 Advanced Guitar classes. Beginning Guitar students need to have their own classical or acoustic guitar. Beginning students perform in two public concerts and two school concerts a year. Advanced Guitar students must have classical guitars. Advanced students perform in four concerts, as well as our Open House and our Las Posadas events. I started the program 24 years ago. Finding a space to house 50 to 80 guitars is a yearly issue, but it’s a good problem to have.
Please tell us about your own personal musical background growing up and your collegiate experience.
Majoring in Liturgical Music, I was setting myself up to work in a church, not in a school. But when the job at La Salle High School opened up, it seemed like fun. When guitarists kept joining concert band, I got the feeling that there was a need for a guitar class. I was an intermediate level player, but my classical abilities needed improvement. After 24 years of study, summer workshops, and being the senior learner/teacher in my own classes, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.
How do the guitar family of instruments fit into your teaching?
I’ve got a wall full of guitars in my classroom: classicals, acoustics, an acoustic bass, a 12-string, a resonator guitar, and a dozen ukuleles. Students are welcome to play these instruments before or after school, and the guitars come in handy when kids forget their own or when they break a string.
Even though we do not have a ukulele class, the instrument is so popular that we always have a ukulele song at each of our concerts.
What obstacles related to being a music teacher did you face when you were first hired at your school? Now?
On top of offering numerous AP classes at our school, we also have a 4-year mandatory religious studies curriculum. It is challenging for students to take multiple years of any music class.
What would you like to say to the non-guitarist music educator who is about to or interested in incorporating the guitar into their program?
Welcome to the club. “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.”—S. Rachmaninov.
Start learning the instrument, and you will fall in love with it.
Do you have any success stories you would like to share about students?
You don’t see many high schoolers go into their math class, open their math textbook and get to work before the class starts. How many AP Bio students get out their texts before the teachers asks? None. But guitar students—as soon as they get in the room, they get out their guitars and start playing. During some classes when I don’t start teaching for 10 or 15 minutes, I just take attendance and walk around the room. Everyone is playing their guitar in some way. I walk over to the kids who are on their phones, and they are already telling me that they are just looking up the chords to a song they want to learn. Then they show me their screen.
Kids need to breathe! AP Bio is an inbreath. Calculus is an inbreath. English, science, history . . . inbreaths. But music—music is an outbreath. Students leave my classes more psychologically and spiritually whole than when they come in.
What do you tell your talented students who are planning to pursue music or guitar studies in high school or college after they finish with you?
I share stories of people declaring majors; then I end with Shel Silverstein’s “Listen to the Mustn’ts.”
Please tell us about the makerspace room that was created in your school where you build guitars.
Two years ago, the administration created a makerspace room in our school. I immediately wrote a grant and got enough money to buy five electric guitar kits. I’m NOT an electric guitar enthusiast. I’ve never built (or even owned) an electric guitar before. So I enlisted the help of a luthier friend, Todd Mylett, to help me out.
I learned a lot. It was a fun project. It took way more class time than I was expecting, and we had nearly nothing to play for our spring concert, but the guitars we built looked awesome and I am proud of what we created. The makerspace room has much more activity in it these days, but I would like to build guitars again someday. It’s maybe a once every four years type of project.
What kind of future do you see for guitar in music education in Oregon schools?
Guitar used to be featured in our State Solo Competitions. My students used to consistently place in the top ranks of this competition. Since there were (and are) so few guitar classes within Oregon high schools, guitar was cut from the state competition. I look forward to the day when guitar is again offered as a state qualifying instrument.
What type of lesson plans have you done for your classes that may be unique?
Otto’s Top 5 Guitar Lesson Plans
5. Chord Ear Training 101: Write out the words to simple kids’ songs (“The Wheels on the Bus,” “Twinkle Twinkle,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” . . . ) Place empty boxes above the words where the chord changes go (give them the first chord of the song). Have students fill in the other boxes.
4. Songwriting 101: Have the class choose three words: a name, a place, and an emotion. Write them on the board. Have students group up and create a song with lyrics that contain these three words. Songs can only contain one—and only one—chord.
3. Songwriting 301: Have the class choose three words: a name, a place, and an emotion. Write them on the board. Have students group up and create a song with lyrics that contain these three words. Songs may only contain I, IV, V, and VI chords.
2. Songwriting 501: April is National Poetry Month. Take your class to the library to choose a poem that they will turn into a song. They will have two weeks to create a song inspired by the poem. Have students present them to the class (set up a mic for this presentation). Use the best ones for your next concert.
1. String-Changing Party! Clear away all seats and music stands. All students bring in a new set of strings for their guitar, and they change their strings on the floor as you give a string-changing master class.
Do you participate in any musical performances or activities outside of your school teaching duties?
When the LAGQ (Los Angeles Guitar Quartet) visited Portland, they came to my school and did a private performance with my students. Having kids go to concerts and get inspired by professionals is an important part of their development. PGS (Portland Guitar Society) is doing a great job of reaching out to a younger audience. Bravo to Peter Zisa who is doing strong outreach.
Past “Guitar Class in 50 States” articles:
- Number 39: The Equality State (Wyoming)
- Number 38: The Empire State (New York)
- Number 37: The Old Line State (Maryland)
- Number 36: The Centennial State (Colorado)
- Number 35: The Bay State (Massachusetts)
- Number 34: The Sooner State (Oklahoma)
- Number 33: The Prairie State (Illinois)
- Number 32: The Hawkeye State (Iowa)
- Number 31: The Volunteer State (Tennessee)
- Number 30: The Palmetto State (South Carolina)
- Number 29: The Natural State (Arkansas)
- Number 28: The Tar Heel State (North Carolina)
- Number 27: The Magnolia State (Mississippi)
- Number 26: The Peace Garden State (North Dakota)
- Number 25: The Treasure State (Montana)
- Number 24: The First State (Delaware)
- Number 23: The Buckeye State (Ohio)
- Number 22: The Yellowhammer State (Alabama)
- Number 21: The Sunflower State (Kansas)
- Number 20: The Great Lakes State (Michigan)
- Number 19: The Lone Star State (Texas)
- Number 18: The Bluegrass State (Kentucky)
- Number 17: The Golden State (California)
- Number 16: The Show-Me State (Missouri)
- Number 15: The Keystone State (Pennsylvania)
- Number 14: The Last Frontier State (Alaska)
- Number 13: The Beehive State (Utah)
- Number 12: The Peach State (Georgia)
- Number 11: The Cornhusker State (Nebraska)
- Number 10: The Gem State (Idaho)
- Number 9: The Old Dominion (Virginia)
- Number 8: The Aloha State (Hawaii)
- Number 7: The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico)
- Number 6: The Sunshine State (Florida)
- Number 5: The Grand Canyon State (Arizona)
- Number 4: The Ocean State (Rhode Island)
- Number 3: The North Star State (Minnesota)
- Number 2: The Silver State (Nevada)
- Number 1: The Garden State (New Jersey)
About the author:
Thomas Amoriello Jr. serves as the chair on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and was also an adjunct guitar instructor at Cumberland County College, New Jersey, for five years. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand, both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made a heavy metal recording with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Dio that was released on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany. The record released on 12-inch vinyl and digital platforms has received favorable reviews in many European rock magazines and appeared on the 2018 Top 15 Metal Albums list by Los Angeles KNAC Radio (Contributor Dr. Metal). Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
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