201504 Lead Guitar students in Aspen Showcase ConcertLead Guitar establishes and maintains sustainable, year-long classical guitar programs in public schools with low or no access to the arts. Using music and an instrument with “cool” factor, Lead Guitar establishes daily in-school instruction with the aim of keeping kids in school. We also use a method of co-teaching—a Lead Guitar master instructor partnered with a certified music teacher at the school—to ensure that after 2-3 years, the program can continue on its own. We also partner with universities in order to connect Lead Guitar students with on-campus matinee events and, when available, a school assembly from a high-profile touring artist.

Lead Guitar’s first program began by accident, when founder Brad Richter began writing guitar curriculum for students and their teacher on the Navajo Reservation in Page, Arizona. Though Lead Guitar’s base is in Tucson, Arizona, the program serves 50 schools in 5 states, including rural Enid, Oklahoma; remote Aspen, Colorado; central Phoenix; Mendocino, California (where the public schools have had no music programs for the past nine years!); and our newest urban center Chicago.

During the 2016-17 academic year, Lead Guitar partnered with schools in the Chicago Public Schools district for the very first time. One school is located in Chicago’s busy “Loop” business district, while the other four are on the South Side. In these four schools, 100% of students qualify for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch, and have had little access to performing arts classes. Between the five schools, we are serving over 200 students as well as providing professional development (private guitar lessons and an annual Teacher’s Workshop) to five certified music teachers. Next year, we hope to add advanced classes to the beginning classes we launched this year.

There are several key components to building a program in a new market. We are proud to say that two of our schools were awarded Creative Schools Fund grants from the Chicago non-profit Ingenuity. GAMA’s support helps us meet our fundraising goal to support our other three Chicago schools, which means so much to us, especially as we plan our first annual Lead Guitar Showcase Concert in a budding partnership with the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts. Our students and teachers are thrilled at the idea of presenting their progress for friends and family on the big stage, and to know that they are welcome on a university campus.

Thank you to GAMA for recognizing and encouraging our work in guitar education. We are already talking with three more enthusiastic schools for the 2017-18 academic year, and we can’t wait to see what is in store for Lead Guitar in Chicago over the next few years.

Brad Richter, Executive Director

Holly Holmes, Director of Operations