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Red Lion Junior High students are learning to play the guitar thanks to a donation by local shop The Guitar Spot

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In July 2016, Chad Ward was sitting at the front counter of his downtown Red Lion shop The Guitar Spot when Shane Mack, principal of Red Lion Area Junior High School walked in looking for new strings for one of his children.

Ward quickly got Mack what he needed, but Ward’s desire to “chat everybody up” led to a conversation between the two.

Within seconds, Ward learned of both Mack’s position at the district and the lack of a guitar program within the district’s music department.

“I just thought of it right there and told him I’d like to introduce a guitar in the school somehow,” Ward said.

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The lifelong Red Lion resident said Mack was intrigued by the proposition, and within a few months the district approached Ward with the idea of starting a guitar club at the school.

A little more than a year later, the first of two student guitar club groups are taking lessons at the Red Lion Junior High cafeteria during third period.

Popular club: Demand to join the club was so high, advisers had to split club enrollment in half to allow mostly eighth-graders to practice in the fall semester and a group of mostly seventh-graders to learn in the spring semester.

Ward had about 30 guitars for students to use, so when more than 140 students stated their interest in the club, Ward said he was blown away — and a little nervous.

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“I knew I couldn’t do this by myself,” he said, so he asked for assistance from two of his full-time guitar instructors.

Instructors Trey Alexander and Randy Hake help lead the sessions by training students on two-chord and four-chord songs.

In a recent session, Hake sang songs including Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and Don Williams’ “Tulsa Time.”

As Hake performed songs, he quickly interjected the letter of a chord, usually C, D or G, to signal students needed to switch to a different note during the song.

Eighth-grader Randy Doll said he loves the club, adding it came at the perfect time.

“I was already trying to learn,” he said.

Doll, 14, said he’s been watching YouTube tutorials to further learn but finds in-person, hands-on training to be more effective.

Chad Keiser, supervisor of music at Red Lion School District, said the program filled a need at the district and he’s glad Ward and other staff from The Guitar Spot are volunteering their time.

“Most of these kids had never touched a guitar before, so to see this level of involvement is great,” Keiser said.

‘A sense of meditation’: Ward said he would like to continue providing lessons to students in the future and hopes the acoustic instrument inspires students the same way it inspired him.

“I’m seeing some of the kids that need direction,” he said, and it reminded him of himself when he was younger.

“Playing guitar gave me a sense of meditation,” Ward added, “a way of coming to grips with what happened during the day. It’s really something that you can’t experience until you do it.”

“Turns out, everyone has an ear for music," he said. "Once you get a guitar in your hand, it’s just like magic.”

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