In the world of classical guitar presentation I have a few heroes who have inspired me with their selfless dedication to community service through the years.  Even before we knew each other, and before I was running my own nonprofit organization in the mid-90s, Bill Ash was one of those people for me.

Bill, and his wife Kathy, were leading the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, and as my interests in the field grew I had many mentors point me toward St. Louis as a model for success and a beacon for hope.

Bill has served for a staggering 33 years as a leader in guitar presentation in the US.  This year he is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society, with a gala dinner, concert, and a Christopher Parkening Master Class and address on June 9th (view invitation).  It is overwhelming to me to think of the degree to which lives have been changed, and the classical guitar has been advanced, through this fine organization.

I asked Bill to tell me a little bit about himself and the organization but before we get to the questions I asked him, I have a question for you:

Would you consider making a donation to the St. Louis Classical Guitar Society in honor of Bill’s 33 years of service, and on the occasion of their 50th year?  I will, and I hope you’ll join me – just click here.

Matthew Hinsley: Bill, what’s your history with the SLCGS?

Bill Ash: My wife Kathy and I were part of the team that re-organized and re-incorporated the organization under our current name on April 9, 1980.  Formerly we were called the George C. Krick Classic Guitar Guild, and its charter had just run out. So I’ve been involved for 33 years, all as President.

I lost Kathy in January 2009 to a heart attack. So besides my personal loss, it’s been quite an undertaking to handle all the work she used to do for the Society.

MH: What are you most proud of in your work with SLCGS?

BA: Well, I would have to say finding ways to remain financially solvent season after season, given that every season represents a leap of faith that the weather will cooperate and that people will continue to attend.  We’re large enough now that no one event can destroy us, but for a small arts group, this is a real concern!

But I do think the consistency of providing personalized service to our concert-goers; a standardized format of presenting our artists in a series of four in a small hall, with two additional of wider appeal at different venues; and artists chosen not just for virtuosity, but for overall balance among repertoire, personality, and instrumentation has helped create a loyal and growing following over many seasons.

MH: What would you advice be to someone starting a similar organization?

BA: I think every situation is different in terms of what human and financial resources are available. Is there interest and promised support from others, not just you, the founder? I would work on finding such before moving forward.

At least 3 people who will commit to both doing work and providing funds to both put into the budget and to underwrite that budget in the event of shortfall. Otherwise burnout and financial shortfall are both real risks, and more likely than not to actually occur.

MH: Why is the work we do in Guitar Societies important?

BA: Matt, I think you’ve said it so well in your book Creativity to Community. We exist to educate our community to their need for our art, and then to provide opportunity for our artists to come in and provide it. The classical guitar can have a great and meaningful role nationwide. We all need to become ambassadors for it, and cooperate in helping to make it so. A guitar society can be a forum where all the local teachers find common ground. Where that can happen, everyone benefits.

MH: What does this 50th anniversary mean to you?

BA: I think it’s our best chance to both widen and deepen awareness of who we are, and what we do, both within our own area and nationally. The acceptance of Chris Parkening of our invitation to join us in a day of celebration of our founding – June 9 – is an affirmation of the important cultural role we play in St. Louis.

It allows us the chance to proudly display our history and that of the important national guitar figures based in St. Louis since the mid-nineteenth century. But it also speaks to the importance of organized support for our art within every community nationwide. We’d like to reflect that message well and hope that we can

demonstrate how meaningful a guitar society can become to its community.

MH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

BA: I see our most significant future growth being in support of creating opportunities for people of all ages to experience personal growth – and to connect socially – through a cultivated love for the music of our instrument.

To this end I feel both time and money will be most effectively spent on creating opportunities for young people to study the instrument in structured environments with competent teachers. The challenge here is multi-faceted, but so important, as the effects will last for a lifetime!

We’re following and beginning to incorporate the educational programs you’ve developed and continue to expand through the Austin Classical Guitar Society at Your work will soon make it easier for potential funders of similar programs in other cities to understand the great benefits communities will enjoy by supporting these programs.