Jamming to Jingle Bells and strumming out Christmas melodies, prospective guitar stars performed a holiday concert Dec. 7 at the Woodstock Public Library.
Many of the performers, all students enrolled in the area nonprofit Free Guitars for Future Stars, first picked up a guitar in October.
“I just started playing about a month ago,” said 12-year-old Jarred Brock, a student at Creekside Middle School. “My counselor told me to give it a try. I like playing, and it’s something for me to do.”
Wonder Lake resident Scott Neumann founded the organization in 2009 with his wife Cheryl and friend Matt Mickelsen, to provide children from low-income families and moderately at-risk students, ages 10 to 17, with on loan guitars and music lessons from October through May each year. Youths who complete the program are rewarded their guitars for keeps. About 125 guitars now are owned by FG4FS graduates. The group provides lessons throughout McHenry County, including Woodstock’s Unity Spiritual Center. Eligible children are referred by schools, other charities and nonprofits and word-of-mouth.
Brock said playing guitar is therapeutic and stress-relieving. While some parents may find it irritating to hear the same songs played over and over at home, he said, “My mom encourages it.”
“My favorite part is when I get a parent that says, ‘I keep hearing “Jingle Bells” all day long. It’s driving me crazy.’ Perfect!” said Neumann.
Woodstock North High School student, Selena Anaya, 16, started learning the basics of guitar after her brother completed the program last year.
“A couple of my friends play guitar, and I thought, ‘that’s cool, I’m going to do this,’” she said.
About 25 students performed in the concert, playing in groups and performing solos. Once beginners graduate from the program, they are invited to participate in a summer session and advanced lessons. Free Guitars for Future Stars works with Dave’s Woodstock Music, 109 E. Van Buren St., to provide advanced students with affordable lessons.
Thirteen-year-old Dustin D’Amelio, Wonder Lake, graduated from the program last year and now assists Neumann with teaching beginners.
“I wanted to play guitar because my dad played when he was about my age, so I thought that would be a nice hobby to get into,” said the Parkland Middle School student, who is continuing to take advanced lessons. “I felt so relaxed when I was playing it. I lost everything in mind. I just played. It made me happy. School and all the homework; it just washed it all away.”
Seventeen-year-old Josh Hoeck, an advanced-level student, said the opportunity to play guitar has brought him and his dad closer. He also enjoys being able to work on his own originals.
“My dad, he got into guitar when he was young, so it inspired me,” Hoeck said. “Now we can jam together. It’s really fun.”
For information, visit fg4fs.or or call Neumann at 815-975-7989.