Guitar program downsized, music students rally

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Students hold demonstration to save the classical guitar program. Photo by Nick Marley/Daily Titan Photo Editor

Students enrolled in Cal State Fullerton’s classical guitar program held a demonstration Thursday in front of the Performing Arts Center in response to a recently passed motion that could potentially scale back the acclaimed program.

Professor David Grimes, director of guitar studies, said that the proposal, passed by full-time faculty in the music department would eliminate core guitar classes, reduce the guitar studio to a maximum of eight to ten students from a maximum of 25 to 30, cut the guitar pedagogy and fingerboard theory classes, consider to merge guitar chamber ensembles into guitar orchestra and put guitar orchestra and guitar workshop on the chair’s load.

Students at the demonstration displayed colorful posters, called out to bystanders and handed out leaflets in an attempt to create awareness and gain support. The 20-some-odd students, joined by a few faculty members and a couple of graduates of the program, said that most of them were rallying to protect not just the future of the program, but also the future of incoming students.

Grimes has been developing the classical guitar program for over 30 years. He said that the music department’s budget had to be cut substantially because of the university’s reduced fund allocation from the state. Since part-time instructors who are paid out of the part-time portion of the department’s budget do all of the current guitar teaching, Grimes said this meant the guitar area did not have direct representation in the faculty meetings where the budget cuts were being discussed.

“This is devastating to one of the school’s very strong programs, and it is a great tragedy for the many students whose educational goals were centered around our guitar program,” Grimes said.

He went on to note that he did not question the motives of the music faculty in choosing to cut the guitar program, as other choices would surely have been equally difficult. He added that since he cannot request the department to revoke its decision, the next step would be to lay the groundwork for a fundraising campaign that could save the guitar program.

Performance major Susana Hernandez said that the main goal of the demonstration was to get the word out to people, not to point fingers at anybody in the music department.

“We should all be in it together,” said Hernandez. “We do not want to affect other programs, we want their support too.”

Chair of the Department of Music, Dr. Marc R. Dickey, said it is important that everyone understands that the Classical Guitar Program is not being eliminated, but will be gradually cut back due to increasing budget constraints over the past few years.

The decision to gradually cut back the program was not one that the music department faculty came to easily and was made after a lot of thought, study and discussion, explained Dickey.

“This action by the music department is not a comment on the significance or quality of the Classical Guitar Program as much as a symptom of the state of California’s failure to properly fund the CSU,” Dickey said. “There have been cutbacks throughout the College of the Arts, in the theater and dance, and the art departments as well.”

Guitar performance major Stephen Laughlin has been in the program since 2007 and believes the entire program is now in jeopardy.

“I think we all just imagined being able to look back on the program years from now to find it full of new talent and at least as strong as when we left,” Laughlin said. “The thought that it might not even exist in a few years is pretty sobering and sets an awful precedent of what could be in store for us in our intended careers. I would be very upset to graduate from the program now as its death knell is ringing so loudly.”

However, Laughlin was quick to add that the students did not want to antagonize the rest of the music faculty or put pressure on them to reverse the proposal. That, he said, would be counter to their main objective in saving a healthy classical guitar program for future students.

A few prospective students were also at the rally, concerned that they would not be able to enter the guitar program as they had hoped.

Kevin Jang, music major and international student from Korea, was hoping to transfer from Fullerton College this fall. Jang says he heard about the cuts recently as he was preparing to audition for the Classical Guitar Program at CSUF.

“This is a disaster for me because they are not accepting new students for another three years or so,” he said.

Jang also added that he hasn’t had the time to prepare to transfer to other schools because it was so sudden. Jang has been working for over four years to get into the program, and says that he is now at a loss.

“I’m sure there are many other students like me who now don’t know where to go,” he said.

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One commentOn Guitar program downsized, music students rally

  • Darren O'Neill

    A guitar program is an easy target. Particularly if it’s just for classical majors and doesn’t include jazz studies. It doesn’t support other, larger programs in the music department (orchestra, band, or chorus) and presents difficulties in setting up chamber ensembles with other instrumentalists. Even if a school has a jazz ensemble and a jazz studies program for guitar, that’s still only a few students who get to participate.

    I’m not familiar with the guitar program at Cal State Fullerton. 25 to 30 guitar students? That’s a lot. Are they all performance majors? Guitarists that are performance majors are primarily loners – destined for careers as soloists, if they’re exceptional. If not, many wind up teaching to pay back student loans and earn a living.

    Perhaps the university should investigate bolstering their music education program? Having music education majors with guitar as primary instrument will increase numbers to both programs (music education and guitar).

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