The Power Of A Guitar Thomas Amoriello

Fleminton Raritan School District

or simply not having any direction in life. Today we will spotlight an organization that exists to make a difference using the power of the gui- tar. The Guitar Over Guns Organization (GOGO) is not about students mastering musical skills such as note reading, scale virtuosity, or devel- oping an encyclopedic knowledge of chord harmony; it is so much more than that! Founding mentor and site director Andrew DeMuro has provided us with some valuable insight regarding GOGO.


Please Tell Us About The Origins Of The Organization “Guitar Over Guns.”

Guitars Over Guns Organization (GOGO) is an arts-based youth

development program focused on providing healthy after-school music & mentorship programming to students in challenging environments. Through the transformative power of music & the arts, it is our mis- sion to facilitate the leadership & holistic development of young people, while providing a stable and safe environment with a caring adult that may be lacking at home or in school. The idea for Guitars Over Guns was borne out of a trip to a juvenile detention facility where musicians were able to use their craft to con- nect with young people who had otherwise been dismissed from public schools and written off by society. The organization began in one class- room with a single guitar mentor at a middle school in North Miami in 2008, fueled by a strong desire to connect with students before getting to the point of interaction with the criminal justice system. This year, GOGO is partnered with over a dozen schools and community centers between Miami and Chicago, building a team of nearly 50 dedicated mentors, and reaching over 600 deserving students annually through guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, vocals, rap, poetry, music production & more. In the past year alone, GOGO has been recognized for its work by the Steve Harvey Show, Eyewitness News, People Magazine, and several regional and local news outlets.

What Are Some Success Stories That You Know About From The Various Communities?

As a young organization in Chicago, we are only beginning to see

the fruits of our labor; however, in order to paint a picture of what success can look like in our program, I’ll take you back to December of 2015, when the entire student body at Evergreen Academy Middle School packed into the gym to listen to the dozen students in our after- school program during their first-ever public performance. Our young and inexperienced band labored through assorted Christmas and pop songs until it reached the finale: ‘Feliz Navidad’. Then, 7th grader An- drea was playing guitar and singing lead vocals, a goal she had been working toward since October.


e often read interviews in which the featured musical artist mentions how music saved them in many ways, often citing the trials of adolescence, criminal activity,

Andrea launched into the melody of the first chorus when, sud-

denly, all I could hear was the band backing her up. This was particularly strange to me, since Andrea’s mouth was still moving. I could see her eyes start to widen as she realized her microphone had just decided to stop working - her vocals almost completely drowned out in the ambi- ent gym. Slowly, student spectators began to turn to one another and chatter, and the band took notice. From the back of the gym, I watched as Andrea’s gears turned. The window of opportunity to win the audi- ence back was small, but open. She never once stopped singing. She did, however, stop playing briefly to raise her hand in the air, to invite the crowd to join in. Before the end of the second chorus, an entire gym- nasium full of students was singing, loudly and proudly, ‘I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas!’ It couldn’t have gone over more seamlessly if we had planned it.

Within seconds, our students showed their collective strength and ca- pacity to problem-solve. Most importantly, they showed an unparalleled belief in each other; an experience which can be monumental for group culture. We were sure to celebrate the effort and lightning-fast thinking of the band in our next rehearsal.

I bring up this anecdote because of the impact I know it had on

our students’ self-concept as musicians. Since that moment on stage in December 2015, students in our program have performed upwards of a dozen times in and out of school, and been spotlighted for their work on multiple Chicago news platforms. They’ve visited and laid tracks in a professional recording studio, and created a music video documenting the experience. They’ve taken a private tour of Chicago’s House of Blues, and marveled at the names of renowned entertainers etched onto its storied green room walls. In class, we created our own practice protocols and a set of values

we want to live by; we challenged ourselves to try new things, take risks, and learn new songs in record-time; we identified section leaders and engaged in peer-to-peer practice; we tackled the songwriting process, performed and taught one another original music; we set goals, shat- tered some with ease, came up short and learned from others; we em- phasized the habits that make better musicians and better people, and it showed, as 88% of our students cited that time spent playing music in a community had helped them become more self-aware and stronger decision-makers. According to one student: “Being part of the Guitars Over Guns program has helped me realize how talented my friends are, and it’s helped me appreciate my own talents. I always look forward to coming after school.” More than anything else, we became vulnerable and willing to

grow. I’m convinced that experience in the Evergreen Academy gym was a catalyst for that.

MAY 2017

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