Southwest to host annual STRUT: Guitar Festival

Students in Ruth LeMay's guitar orchestra at Southwest High School pose for a group photo. Photo courtesy Ruth LeMay
Students in Ruth LeMay's guitar orchestra at Southwest High School pose for a group photo. Photo courtesy Ruth LeMay

Update: The Battle of the Bands competition will run from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. on the 19th. The festival concert will be from 4–6 p.m. at Southwest. Visit strutfest.com for the latest updates.

Southwest High School will host its third-annual festival showcasing public school guitar education programs on May 18-19.

STRUT: Guitar Festival gives students a chance to show off their guitar skills and meet students from other schools, said Ruth LeMay, Southwest’s director of guitar education. It includes one day of workshops and rehearsals and another of a Battle of the Bands and concerts.

“It’s about kids having the opportunity to be themselves and show everything they’ve learned through the years,” LeMay said.

Students in the Southwest High School guitar orchestra stop for a picture during a recent tour to New Orleans. Program director Ruth LeMay is pictured far right. Photo courtesy Ruth LeMay
Students in the Southwest High School guitar orchestra stop for a picture during a recent tour to New Orleans. Program director Ruth LeMay is pictured far right. Photo courtesy Ruth LeMay

LeMay and Lake Harriet Upper School music teacher Jen Cuff founded the festival in 2016 as a way to celebrate guitar education. LeMay said they also wanted a way to show younger students the opportunities they have to continue guitar in high school.

“We wanted something that was more than just coming together and playing a couple of tunes,” she said.

LeMay, a music educator for over 30 years, has developed guitar programs at multiple Minneapolis public schools, including Washburn, Edison, Field and Southwest. Her program at Southwest has grown to include five classes, with offerings for beginners, students at intermediate and advanced levels and students with special needs. LeMay also teaches a guitar orchestra with about 35 students.

Students in LeMay’s program start by learning classical guitar and, if they choose, can move onto acoustic, electric, bass guitar or other instruments. All learn how to read music, unless they have needs that require adaptation.

Some students go onto form bands, LeMay said, and others focus on classical solos. Others yet become singer-songwriters or experiment with different genres or instruments.

“I try to say ‘yes’ a lot more than I say ‘no,'” LeMay said.

At Lake Harriet Upper, Cuff’s program includes three rock band classes, which includes about 200 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders playing guitar each week at the school as part of their grade-level guitar orchestra. Rock band/guitar orchestra students have additional opportunities to play and perform in small groups of their choice.

Cuff began teaching guitar at Lake Harriet Upper after she and LeMay took a training class from the organization Little Kids Rock in March 2011. She said she created the first rock band class specifically for two students who were struggling.

“This has been a safe haven for kids,” Cuff said of the guitar program. “This pathway has created so much joy.”

STRUT: Guitar Festival will feature more than 200 students in grades 5–12 from at least four schools. The festival will include 26 hours’ worth of workshops on May 18 centered around the various aspects of a band, from drums, to vocals to song writing and musical theory.

“It’s designed by us, but it’s (based on) listening to kids,” LeMay said.

Strut: Guitar Festival will include 26 hours of workshops for students on May 18. Students are pictured here during last year's festival.
STRUT: Guitar Festival will include 26 hours of workshops for students on May 18. Students are pictured here during last year’s festival.

She said the Battle of the Bands on May 19 will include two divisions: one for groups playing arrangements learned from chords and/or tab and another for students playing from sheet music with traditional musical notation. The sessions are free and open to the public.

Winners in each grade level and category will receive a small prize and will perform in the evening concert.

Visit the festival website, strutfest.com, to learn more about the festival and to participate, donate, sponsor students or become a volunteer.

If you go:

STRUT: Guitar Festival: A two-day event for guitar students in grades 5–12

When: May 18–19 (May 18 is student workshops)

9 a.m.–1 p.m. May 19: Battle of the Bands at Southwest High School (check the website and Facebook page for updates on times). A schedule of bands can be found here.

3 p.m.: Battle winners announced

4 p.m.–6 p.m. May 19: Festival concert at Southwest (including Three Strings, Battle of the Bands Winners + Beginning, Intermediate & Advanced Guitar Orchestras & headliner – 612LIVE!)

Visit strutfest.com to learn more.

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