Friday, August 25, 2017

Building Guitars With Youth

By August, I was scrambling to find people to build guitars with. The youth in Bobo never showed up, despite showing interest and enthusiasm. Maybe the summer had more interesting things to offer. So after several weeks of trying to make it work, Tarra, Coahoma County's Culture and Arts Coordinator, and I decided to try to gather some youth in Rena Lara instead. Rena Lara is a small community about 20 mins southwest of Clarksdale, Mississippi.


Four girls showed up interested, which was comforting. I was in a rush to build the electric guitars since I only had two more weeks in town, but a part of me was uncomfortable. The girls were not in our target audience. All of them were under the age of 14 (we are trying to reach high school aged students), they were pretty well off, and two of them were not local. I knew I would not be able to rally any more young people, so we jumped right in.

The first day, they broke off into two teams. One team for cutting out the body of one guitar and the other team for drilling holes on the other. They enjoyed the activity, and we planned out the meeting times for the upcoming days. I was a bit naive. I learned a big lesson the following day.


Only two of the four students showed up the next day. The two who showed up were sisters. I learned that the others quit because they did not know where the guitars would end up. It seemed unfair to just give it to someone else. I propose we try to auction one and give the other to the library. That did not seem to sit well with the sisters, but they agreed that the activity was fun on its own and decided to continue forward.

The two sisters were self-driven and focused. No matter the task, they were confident that they could complete it. I found that confidence incredibly soothing since there were moments when I was uncertain of how to finish the guitars. They learned to solder, spray paint, drill, saw, and sand. Each day, they asked to stay longer. They really liked building the guitars, and proclaimed that if the workshop did not exist, they would be at home watching TV.


Their father was a huge supporter. He was responsive, and brought them in each day. On the first day, I made sure to get his contact information, and we agreed phone calls and texting were the best way to reach other. He also had some extra tools, like a jigsaw and drill, that he let us borrow.


After Jodie and Marria finished soldering and painting, all that was left was assembling the guitar. The activity lasted a week, approximately 30 hours, a bit faster than expected. Given, the necks were pre-fretted which took away about 80 hours.

I have always been bad at photographing, but this time I made sure that I took photos of everything. Every time Jodie or Marria were moving to the next step, I took a photo and a video. It felt obscene. But looking back, I am really grateful. Having so many action photos makes it 10X easier when I show other people what I did for this summer than if I tried to explain it to them. I also took video interviews of Marria and Jodie separately about their learning goals and feelings about this curriculum. Not only is it incredibly useful to have user feedback and insights that the team can show others, Marria and Jodie also felt special being asked to do interviews.

Right now, Jodie and Marria are back in Texas with their mother. They definitely wanted to come back next summer to do it again, or even teach others. One guitar is with them, and the other one is on display at the Carnegie Public Library. There is still a lot to learn and iterate on, but it is a good place to start.

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