Uptown Music owner Paul Elliott and McNary teacher Jim Taylor with guitars the store donated for a new guitar class. (Photo by Nicole Ecklund)

Uptown Music owner Paul Elliott and McNary teacher Jim Taylor with guitars the store donated for a new guitar class. (Photo by Nicole Ecklund)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

At Salem-Keizer schools, studying music is a progression, with gaps some students find themselves tumbling into.

Local students are lucky in that they have the opportunity to start exploring music in elementary school. Beginning in middle school, those students become part of an ensemble. Some discover other interests and some discover being part of a group isn’t their forte. By the time they reach high school, the emphasis is on competitive, group performances.

“At that point we start losing people left and right,” said Jim Taylor, director of McNary choirs.

To counteract forces that pull students in other directions, Taylor spearheaded an effort to create a piano lab. It began three years ago and is now at full capacity (96 students), with a lengthy waiting list. He sees a new guitar class as filling a similar niche at MHS.

“We have a lot of students who tried music when they were younger and never really found ‘their thing.’ The guitar class gives them another chance,” Taylor said.

That sort of experience is precisely why student Ryan Cowan picked up a guitar.

“What I love about it is seeing other people playing something intricate and beautiful than thinking, ‘Wow, I could do that.’ I won’t stop until I figure it out but, when I do, the feeling is amazing,” said Cowan.

Cowan is going to be one of four student instructors – alongside Nicole Ecklund, Marissa Rogers and Aarone Marin – who will assist teacher Jesse Deher.

Each of the students will assist on either the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, ukulele or bass. Students do not need to own an instrument or have previous experience playing to enroll in the class, which won’t even begin until next month and is nearly full.

“I’m excited about bringing music into people’s lives. It’s such a huge thing and it can be for everyone,” said Rogers.

Ecklund moved from playing upright bass to the kind you strap around your neck. She’s anticipating having her own students.

“It’s empowering to know I can use it to bring music to other people. Having the bass has meant so much to me because the one thing that’s been really solid in my life,” Ecklund said.

Not to say there aren’t jitters.

“I’m scared about dealing with teenagers because teenagers can be mean. I’m a teenager, so it’s weird,” Marin said.

Keizer’s Uptown Music is playing a large role in making the class a possibility. For the past couple of years, the business has been quietly operating a refurbishing service.

“We call it Play It Forward. We have folks that will donate all sorts of instruments and the store donates the parts and our repair guys donate their time to repair them. Then we look for opportunities to give those instruments to the schools,” said Paul Elliott, owner of the store.

When Elliott heard about Taylor’s guitar class plans, he jumped in. For the past couple of months when customers brought in guitars to donate, the shop has repaired and stockpiled them for MHS. The store is also donating new guitars.

“The thing that I didn’t expect was the four or five people who came in and bought new guitars to be donated to the school off-the-shelf,” Elliott said.

The shop has collected 12 guitars and donated two so far. Elliott said Uptown is always looking for intruments.

While Uptown works with numerous local schools, Elliott said the guitar class feels like the first big launch of Play It Forward.

For Taylor and the Celtics it’s a highly visible way of filling in the gaps.

“Everybody needs to know how to bowl or to garden or to hike by themselves in the woods. This is an opportunity for our students to become their own, personal musician,” Taylor said.