This February Douglas Anderson School of the Arts will host The Great Guitar Gathering to raise funds to benefit the school’s guitar department. The fundraising concert spotlights the talented DA Guitar Orchestra and will present many of the most respected solo artists in classical, finger-style and jazz guitar. Many of the past guests are Grammy winners, National Finger-style Champions, and International competition winners.
The 27th Annual Great Guitar Gathering celebrates the dynamic instrumentation and community support to benefit founder Don Casper’s prestigious guitar program Feb. 28 at The Florida Theatre (www.floridatheatre.org). Student musicians in the DA Guitar Orchestra, featuring 31 players from 9th to 12th grade, will open the concert followed by a short program by two esteemed DA alumni.
“This is the first year I have brought back two former students to perform. Arelys Camargo-Delgado is now in her second year of college at Stetson University. She was one of the very best during her time at DA and is making quite the scene. She just took second place in the Florida Undergraduate Competition which is really something special. I think this young lady is going to go far with her music,” says Casper. “We also have Dr. Morgan Stuart. He is the first DA guitar student to go on and get his Doctorate in classical guitar. He is doing amazing things with his music. Last summer he was part of the U.S. National Guitar Ensemble and played Carnegie Hall and toured France.”
Guest guitarist Vieaux is widely considered one of the most elite classical guitarists of his generation. Vieaux won the Grammy for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for his album Play. His latest release, Dance, with the Escher Quartet, includes works by Boccherini, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Aaron Jay Kernis. His premiere recording of Jonathan Leshnoff’s “Guitar Concerto” with the Nashville Symphony was also released in 2019.
“He has performed with over 100 Orchestras around the world, and will also conduct a Masterclass for the students during the day,” Casper says. “It is truly a joy to listen to him play.”
The motivation for creating a gathering of superior guitar players was three-fold. His original incentive was raising money to fund the continuous need for new instruments, strings, tuning forks and other materials imperative to the programs. Education was also an important component for Casper, who sought ways to help keep the students engaged in all of their academic and artistic pursuits.
“The first couple of years, we did the event in our schools’ theater. It featured the guitar students from UNF, JU, St. Augustine and DA. About three years into it we started to bring in National acts who were making a scene in the guitar world. Maybe not household names but very popular in the guitar trade magazines,” notes Casper.
“By the fifth year, I was able to bring in artists who were Grammy winners and national competition winners. Eventually the event outgrew the school’s 600 seat theater and about 13 years ago I was able to move the event to the Florida Theatre. We continue to bring in some of the most admired guitarist in the world.”
The journey from the school stage to the historic Florida Theatre has been a wild ride and Casper is keeping the momentum going. He is grateful for the artists and promoters that reach out to him to join in the Great Guitar Gathering and he hopes that they will realize just as many benefits from their participation.
“It gives the students a goal to prepare for and the experience of playing in a professional environment,” he says. “What a joy it is to play in The Florida Theatre. It is my favorite venue in town. The staff there are incredible and help to make this very special for the students.”
Although the event is considered a “fundraiser,” Casper says the experience for the students, their parents, and the community is priceless. He hopes to continue the Great Guitar Gathering, possibly expanding it into a two-night event for student performers and elite professionals.
“My original goals were to give a venue for the students to perform, a goal to prepare music for, and expose students to expert musicianship. I never thought I’d be bringing in the “best of the best” to do masterclasses and performances with the students,” says Casper.
“There are some years we did really well and raised five or six thousand dollars. Most years we break even or lose a few thousand dollars. The funds we do raise, when we are not losing money, go toward classroom supplies, music books and scores, lower the cost of field trips to All-State, and to help us for next year’s Guitar Gathering. I’d like to keep [it] going.”