May 23, 2018
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Stephen and Tabitha King fund classes for rock ’n’ roll wannabes in Brewer

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

BREWER, Maine — Many of those familiar with Bangor author Stephen King know that he has played rhythm and sung with The Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band consisting mostly of writers.

“I love the guitar,” he said in an e-mail to the Bangor Daily News this week.

So it was no surprise when it was announced last spring that he and his wife, fellow author Tabitha King, had decided to provide the Brewer School Department with a $10,000 grant through their Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation to provide after-school rock ’n’ roll guitar classes to students in Brewer.

“I’ve been playing since I was 16, and if I’d had lessons, I might have actually been able to play a little,” King said.

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The first guitar classes — at Brewer Middle School and Brewer High School — took place Wednesday.

Students must supply their own guitars, but otherwise the classes are free. For those without guitars, high school music teacher Brady Harris has donated four for students to use, said Sue Ann Gaitings, who applied for the grant and who is the district’s coordinator for gifted and talented students.

Seventh-grader Tristan Hopkins, 12, has had a guitar for two years but never had a lesson until Wednesday. When he found out about the free lessons, “I said, ‘Mom, I have to take this,’” Hopkins recalled.

“He couldn’t wait to turn in his papers,” said his mom, Jeannie Hopkins. “This is awesome.”

Hopkins was one of 14 middle school students who learned the parts of the guitar Wednesday and the names of the strings from guitar teacher Robert “Bob” Donnelly, who works at Hampden Academy and is the bass player for the Pat Michaud Jazz Quartet.

“I promise you before now and the end of the year, you will be able to play something,” Donnelly told the young guitarist. “You’ve got to learn the basics before that.”

The middle school class is above capacity, and includes seven fifth-graders, but there is still space in the high school class, which has only three students so far, said Gaitings.

The funding from the Kings is enough to provide three years of after-school guitar lessons for both the middle school and the high school, with a 20-student limit for each, she said.

On Wednesday three of the fifth-graders said they enjoyed the new guitar class.

“I was having a little trouble because I have a Band-Aid on my finger,” Jacob Larochelle, 10, said after the session.

Mandy Cuskelly, 10, said she has taken piano lessons before and is “excited to play a new instrument.”

Matt Bryant, 11, said he picked up a few guitar skills from his dad, Jeff, and that he and some of his friends jam together sometimes. He added that he likes the rock band AC/DC and thinks the classes are “cool.”

After Wednesday’s middle school class, language arts teacher Thomas Burby, who has been playing since he was 16, and art teacher Brian Estes, who said he likes all things music, worked with some of the students on how to tune their guitars.

There is likely to be continued interest in future classes.

Gaitings conducted a survey last year and discovered that 51 students at the high school and 34 at the middle school identified guitar playing as an art form they were interested in, said Superintendent Daniel Lee.

“There might be an Eric Clapton” in the midst of Brewer’s students, he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids.”

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