WSU Guitar Ensemble comes upon its 20th anniversary

The Weber State University Guitar Ensemble Concert started nearly 20 years ago, a few years after Todd Woodbury started a guitar program at WSU through the encouragement of a high school student who’d been taking private lessons from him. Woodbury divides his time between teaching at the University of Utah and WSU.

“We started doing the performances in homeless shelters at Christmas, and then we started doing two performances a year, every year,” Woodbury said.

Woodbury agreed that outreach to the community was a good way to start, but that it did require a student driving force.

“We may do it again if we get another student who’s interested in pulling it together.”

From the ensemble’s inception Woodbury said he has had a clear vision of where he wanted to take the students who participated in the concert, never having figured into the performances himself in any prominent way.

“My job is just to direct, but there have been a handful of times where someone’s been sick or injured and I had to jump in and help out. And I have no problem doing it; I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve done it. I’m always ready.”

Usually the student participants are culled from Woodbury’s two ensemble courses taught at WSU. Both groups perform at the concert, often in smaller groups, duets and solos.

Woodbury said a student has to either be a guitar major/minor or audition to join the ensemble.

“A lot of times I’ll have people in my intermediate classes and they’ll want to audition for it; they just love doing it.”

Senior Yolandi Cook, a Guitar Education major, has enjoyed performing for several years in the ensemble, and this semester will be no exception. Cook started playing guitar 10 years ago.

“It’s nice to be able to listen to old stuff you’ve recorded of yourself practicing and then current stuff and realize, ‘Yeah, maybe I really have improved,'” she said.

There are no course prerequisite requirements to be in the ensemble and Woodbury said he has had students of various experience levels.

“I’ve had people who’ve had a lot of experience and those with little experience, and the main thing is (that) if you have the time to put into it, you’ll accomplish what you want. . . . people with less ability often work a lot harder, and then they develop natural ability. “

The lineup of the numbers performed in any given semester’s concert  is collaborative with input from the students.

“It’s pretty much all new material,” Woodbury said. “We have a wide variety of pieces, ranging from the Renaissance period through Baroque, through romance, classical and the string quartet (we’ve incorporated). . . . It’s a collaboration. My main goal is to make sure that they’re playing something they can play beautifully. . . . The greatest challenge is ensuring the ensemble is ready to perform on a certain date, and the greatest reward is that every semester they do it. . . . I want them to get comfortable and enjoy playing in front of an audience, and to try to achieve a very high level of virtuosity.”

Woodbury said he thinks students are equally rewarded with their ensemble concerts.

“They’re always surprised at how well it goes and that the audience likes their music.”

The Guitar Ensemble Concert will be held April 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the Eccles Theater and is free and open to the public.