Walking in to Tony Cosby’s advanced woodworking class at Sisters High School in Sisters, Oregon, is just what you would expect in many ways. You are greeted with the smell of sawdust and the pitch of sanders and saws whirring away. But what is somewhat unusual, and at first pass seems like a huge undertaking, is the project Mr. Cosby’s students are working on, namely making their own guitars.
The program, led by Tony Cosby, the Engineering/Woodworking instructor at Sisters High School, and Bill MacDonald of Kona Breeze Ukuleles, provides the perfect platform for music education through integration of the arts. The program, as well as its teachers and volunteers, all work to provide engineering insight and mentoring to help the students complete beautiful heirloom-quality instruments.
The program is a collaboration between Sisters Folk Festival, Sisters School District, and Breedlove Guitars. In Woodworking II, students work throughout the trimester constructing guitars. With the help of one of the best Luthiers (guitar makers) in the northwest, Jayson Bowerman, they can produce 30 guitars per year. Jayson works with local company, Breedlove Guitar Company.
After the students complete their guitars, they are given the choice to take the guitars home to keep, or sell the guitars with the school’s help. After the many hours of hard work and an appreciation for the instrument they have created, some students will keep their guitars and use them to learn how to play traditional folk music in a class at Sisters High School called Americana.
Sisters, OR, is the home of The Sisters Folk Festival, which directly supports the Luthier program at the high school. The Sisters Americana Community Luthier program is one of only two instrument-building programs in public high schools in the country. The class exemplifies the innovative ways the Sisters Americana Project continues to lend value and enrichment activities in the Sisters School District.
Several students told me that though they were not musicians when they began the class, they felt motivated to learn how to play music after creating their own guitars.
As we look for innovative ways to teach music and create opportunities for learning, it seems that Mr. Cosby has found a sweet spot with his students by introducing the love of music through the art of woodwork.
Ashley Wales is the Director of Partnerships and Programs for Give A Note Foundation.