By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Ari Pak
“Joy can be a joy and sadness can be a sadness… With guitar, I can express as much as what I feel. That’s the attraction of the guitar.” —Sungha Jung, South Korean Acoustic Guitarist, DCInside Interview, 2008
Walking past an Albert Einstein High School classroom at 3:40 pm last Wednesday, you might have heard a mixture of uproarious laughter, guitars humming familiar tunes, and – if you listened closely enough – true connection, learning, and growth. Bernard S. and Nanc Y., current seniors and AALEAD MD High School program youth, led a Guitar Workshop exploring the various uses of guitar in people’s lives. Bernard referenced Sungha Jung’s use of guitar to “express as much as what [one] feel[s],” connecting guitar to personal mental health benefits and encouraging others to try guitar as a creative outlet for emotions.
After a presentation on the many uses of guitar –professional, financial, mental wellness, and educational– youth put their new knowledge into practice! They each learned at least two chords (a chord is set of notes played on the guitar through arranging one’s fingers on different strings and frets on the guitar neck), many of them holding a guitar for the first time. Afterward, many AALEADers reflected that at first, they felt intimidated when first attempting to play the guitar, but now they felt “happier,” “relaxed,” “funny,” and like they “want[ed] to learn how to play now!”
True power is realized in the spaces that we — AALEAD youth and coordinators — collaboratively create, where youth take on what is important to them, exploring the meaning and value of these things in their lives and the lives of others. An exercise in youth-led workshop planning and facilitation grows into creating opportunities for personal exploration and knowledge for an entire group of youth, all generated by the youth in programs.
Now I’d love for you you to hear more from Bernard and Nanc about what guitar means to them. Let’s go behind the scenes with Bernard and Nanc after their breakthrough guitar workshop!
Q: When did you start learning the guitar? How did that start?
Nanc: Around 2010 after finishing [the Japanese manga series] “BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad,” I wanted to be as good as Ryusuke Minami [from “BECK”].
Bernard: I think when I was seventeen years old. It started when I saw one of my friend played the guitar, and it inspired me to learn how to play it.
Q: Why did you choose the guitar for yourself?
Nanc: It was a more romantic choice. Love for music and art. The simplicity yet difficulty of learning guitar gave it more gusto than any other instrument. Although if I had to change [my decision], I’d play bass.
Bernard: Because I love music and playing the music that I like makes me feel good and relaxed. Also, when I’m hanging out with my friends, playing the music that we all like is fun.
Q: Why did you choose to do your workshop on the guitar? What do you hope participants get out out of your workshop?
Nanc: Sharing love for music!!! And maybe inspire the next Hendrix…
Bernard: I want the people know how feelings can also be expressed in other ways, not just by saying it. I hope that they will recognize the beauty of guitar — of how it can deliver some messages to people.
Q: What part does the guitar have in your life? How do you use the guitar (i.e. play shows and make money, destress, creative outlet)?
Nanc: Being able to play the guitar opened up a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, for me. Being able to perform during an [AALEAD] Holiday Party and Youth Summit were the best memories of my still happening youth.
Bernard: Guitar helped me to express my feelings every time. When I’m sad my guitar helps me to express my sadness and let it out by playing a sad song. When I’m happy I play a really happy song or maybe rock type music. I use my guitar as my tool to say what I feel if I can’t express it with words.
Q: What is your favorite part about playing the guitar?
Nanc: Getting calluses! Being able to transition between chords! Getting a strum pattern right! [It’s] the small things that let you know you’re improving!!!!!
Bernard: Being able to make people smile when I’m playing the guitar.
Q: What else do you want to share about you, guitar, or AALEAD?
Bernard: At first learning how to play a guitar is hard, but I did not give up since I really want to learn how to play it. I asked my friend to teach me at least one chord and he did. My first chord was a G chord. After that I self taught myself and start watching videos that can help me to improve my skills. Then I learned that having the determination and perseverance to achieve something will help you to reach your goal.
Where just three weeks prior, Bernard and Nanc were eagerly asking if a guitar workshop could fit under our AALEAD outcome areas of educational empowerment, identity, or leadership, here they are now drawing those connections not only for themselves, but for their peers in AALEAD programs. Their workshop allowed their peers to use guitar as an avenue to explore career options, emotional and mental health benefits, Asian American role models, and exploratory learning and leadership in just an hour and a half. This is what self-determination, youth empowerment, and potentials look like when realized.
I leave you with this video— the music of Sungha Jung, the musician who inspired Bernard’s interest in guitar, and the same song that they shared during their workshop time in AALEAD to inspire other youth.