SISTERS — High school senior Julianna Pade grew up listening to her dad play guitar. Now, she plans to learn how to play guitar herself on an instrument she built in the Americana Community Luthier Program at Sisters High School.
The program is part of the Americana Project, a collaboration among the Sisters School District, the Sisters Folk Festival and master guitar builder Jayson Bowerman. Students learn to build a guitar or ukulele, and they can learn how to play the instruments they built in a traditional folk music class at the high school.
Senior Nila Lukens decided to take the class because it seemed like a unique opportunity. Like Julianna, she plans to learn how to play the guitar once she’s done building it.
“I know three chords, so it would be cool to learn to play,” Nila said during class Tuesday, “and to have something to remember. I’m already proud of it, even though it’s not done. It was fun to work on.”
Luthier is a French term for someone who makes stringed instruments. Most students have already built the bodies of their guitars, and they are preparing to bind the tops, bottoms and sides. They still have to form the necks and attach the finger boards before adding decorative inlays and applying the finish. Then they will attach the necks to the guitar bodies, install frets and finally, string and tune their instruments.
Tony Cosby teaches woodworking and engineering at Sisters High School. He started the luthier program in 2005 with Bowerman’s help.
“(Bowerman) would come over here on a Monday — he’d bring all the wood, show us how, and then come back the next Monday to help us with the next step,” Cosby said. “We finished 15 guitars in 12 weeks. Now it takes kids 24 weeks, because we added some more technical things.”
David Perkins and Bill MacDonald teach the ukulele building, and Cosby teaches guitar building. They receive in-class support from volunteers in the community and financial help from the Sisters Folk Festival and the Chichester DuPont Foundation. Cosby said the connection among all these different groups and individuals is what makes the program so valuable to students.
Community volunteer Rick Judy said, “You want the students coming out of (high school) to be creative, and the kids leave here pretty darn creative.”
Senior Yasha Saldi said he has learned skills that allowed him to make a beautiful end product. Like all the other students in the luthier program, Yasha first built an Adirondack-style chair in Cosby’s introduction to woodworking class. In addition to learning woodworking and luthier skills, he said, this class taught him the importance of time management. When his instrument is done, he plans to use it as one of his main guitars.
“I will hopefully bring it to college and continue playing it,” he said.
Julianna, Nila, Yasha and all the other luthier program students are scheduled to showcase their work June 9 at The Belfry in Sisters, and students in the separate Americana music class will play the instruments.
“I’m so grateful for this program,” Nila said. “We have the opportunity to do such awesome things here.”
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