Strings Attached

Written by Diane E. Barber | Photographed by Stephan Cooper

The art of guitar music transcends cultures, current affairs and international borders. For centuries it has blurred socioeconomic lines and bridged generations, countries, lifestyles and musical genres. Whether classical, rock, jazz, country, pop, blues, flamenco or any other style, the lure of the sound of a guitar is a universally celebrated language that inspires dance, song, poetry, dreams and more. It is a tonic for the soul that awakens memories and has been a messenger of peace and love throughout history.

“The guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world, and many people who learn to play are fulfilled by it for a lifetime,” says Martha Masters, president of the Palos Verdes-based Guitar Foundation of America (GFA).

Martha is a testament to a lifelong passion for the instrument. She was born in Ohio and grew up in a military family that relocated often. Her parents valued music education immensely and encouraged her to begin taking guitar lessons when she was 6 years old. (Her mother played the violin, and her father played the trombone.)

“I was very shy, and the guitar allowed me to have a voice. I did not play in a group setting until I was in high school,” recalls Martha. 

After high school she completed a doctorate in music at USC. She currently teaches classical guitar music at Loyola Marymount University in addition to serving as president of the GFA since 2002.

With Martha enthusiastically at the helm of the GFA, the nonprofit organization boasts roughly 3,000 members including classical guitarists, students and teachers in North America and abroad.

Founded in 1973 by the American String Teachers Association, it has grown to become the largest multinational guitar society in the world. It offers guitarists a multitude of educational and performance opportunities and resources, such as an annual convention (to be held June 19-24 at CSU Fullerton this year), international competitions, regional symposia throughout the U.S., GFA publications, archives and more.

“Music education is typically focused on bands, orchestras and choruses,” Martha says. “Through the Guitar Foundation of America we want to increase opportunities for quality education with guitars in public schools, both on a national and international level.”

It was Martha’s commitment to education that landed her in Palos Verdes in 2010. “I moved to the Peninsula for the excellent schools for my children.”

To bring the global work of the GFA close to home, Martha aligned the organization with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District and the Peninsula Education Foundation via a recent fundraiser at her home. She is actively exploring school board approval to offer guitar classes in Palos Verdes schools. If approved, she and her GFA team will assist with securing instruments and recommending teachers for the classes.

With educational excellence in a fun setting as a cornerstone of the GFA, Martha’s short-term goal is to offer guitar classes in Palos Verdes schools and then reach into neighboring communities in the South Bay. Her bigger vision is to continue the development of programs throughout the region that offer classes to elementary, middle and high schools so all students will have the opportunity to have a guitar in hand five days a week to develop their skills.

“Fostering self-expression, creativity and the joy of the arts is why we do what we do,” she shares. “We can instruct in classical guitar, but basic techniques can be used in rock, jazz and other genres.”

For more information, visit guitarfoundation.org.