Forget (if you can) the interminable “small, small world” soundtrack at Disneyland. This summer, upwards of 30 young guitarists will be creating a wall of acoustic sound on stage at the iconic Anaheim theme park—not as soloists but en masse as members of the Guitar Foundation of America’s (GFA) first-ever Guitar Summit orchestra.
“It’s pretty novel,” says GFA education director Matthew Denman of the guitar orchestra performance on June 22 and also the summit, which is more like a guitar summer camp in feel and focus. “The kids are really excited,” he says.
The Guitar Summit runs concurrent with the GFA’s convention June 19–23 at California State University, Fullerton, not too far from Disneyland. The summit orchestra is one of three guitar orchestras at the annual convention, joining the GFA Guitar Orchestra, for adults, and the Youth Guitar Orchestra. The summit orchestra is a separate offering, but its players, ages 11 to 18, can also join the Youth Orchestra on stage during the convention.
“Young people love community. They love to have fun with their peers,” Denman says. “The camp helps provide that atmosphere.” A classical guitarist and director of the Oklahoma Guitar Orchestra, Denman teaches guitar at Oklahoma City University and is director of the Celedonio Romero Guitar Institute located there. Chuck Hulihan, GFA Youth Orchestra director, will conduct the summit orchestra.
Camp offerings include small ensemble workshops, master classes, repertoire classes, and of course socializing. The camp gives young musicians the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by star performers such as Andrew York, classical guitarist and composer, and Gaelle Solal and Boris Gaquere of Crazy Nails!
Attendees were selected on a first-come, first-served basis, says Denman, and the size of the Disneyland stage and the number of staff for camp-goers were factors for the 30-musician cutoff. “We might add more [players] next year,” he adds.
The primary criteria for participants was that they all play standard classical guitar. “We just wanted kids who enjoy this much guitar, who love what we’re offering, and want to be a part of it,” explains Denman.
Conductor Hulihan, who directs the award-winning guitar program at Glendale Community College in Arizona, takes a spirited approach to leading ensembles. As in sports, he says, “Players are all on the same team.”
One can be a lonely number for a guitarist, Hulihan says. “It can be isolating to play by yourself all the time.” Plus, he notes, playing in an orchestra adds to a guitarist’s skill set, from conquering the “challenge of timing to [learning how] to follow the lead of a conductor.”
Hulihan chose the music for the performance, which will include Fairy Tunes by Dutch composer and guitarist Annette Kruisbrink. Laughs Denman, “We thought it fit with the Disneyland theme.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.