Mackenzie Mendez has been a guitar student at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music since 2010. She studies with Connie Sheu.
The very first time I picked up a guitar, in the summer of 2010, I instantly felt a deep connection to the instrument that is quite difficult to explain. I began studying classical guitar with Connie Sheu at PCM later that year. I had played the piano for almost eight years previously, but my attraction to the guitar and its multi-faceted personalities instantly drew me in. I am definitely biased when I say this, but I believe that the classical guitar is one of the most beautiful instruments with one of the most captivating sounds.
For as long as I can remember, music has played a huge role in my life. I grew up listening to tons of classical music, particularly piano, guitar, and cello music. I began studying piano at age three, and I was taken to the symphony and the opera regularly starting when I was only four or five years old. I also learned to appreciate the music of jazz greats like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis, as well as rock & roll and folk such as the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. Because I was surrounded by so much music since I was very young, I knew without a doubt that I would grow up to be a musician. That is still my dream years later!
About a year after I started taking lessons at PCM, I joined the guitar orchestra (now known as LAYGO), under the direction of Felix Bullock, who also directs an ensemble for younger guitarists at PCM (J-GO). Students graduate from playing in Suzuki group classes into the Junior Guitar Orchestra, and from there they can progress into joining LAYGO. To me, playing in chamber groups and ensembles is an extremely important part of being a well-rounded musician, so I was thrilled to be around so many young guitarists just like me. Although there are several guitar ensembles for college-age students, the youth guitar orchestra at PCM is one of very few groups for middle-school and high-school age guitarists.
The Los Angeles Youth Guitar Orchestra (LAYGO) at PCM has given me the rare opportunity to collaborate and perform with other guitarists my age, and for that I am so grateful. Our committed and inspiring director, Mr. Bullock, selects diverse and challenging repertoire for us to master and perform. He often even undertakes the difficult and time-consuming task of arranging music originally written for other instruments in order to fit the format of a guitar ensemble, such as the beloved Brandenburg Concerto by Bach. Our 16-member group rehearses every Wednesday night for two hours, working hard so that every piece we perform is as close to perfect as possible. During our rehearsals, we dissect our repertoire piece by piece, doing sectional work—led by the accomplished guitar faculty—and then we put it all back together. The triumph we feel when we go on stage and perform a piece of music that we have spent weeks polishing is a feeling like no other!
LAYGO is made up of a diverse group of Los Angeles kids with something big in common: A passion for the classical guitar. Without LAYGO, I would never have met the group of amazing young guitarists that I have the honor to work with every week, and I would have never had the wonderful performance opportunities that the orchestra has given me. It has also helped me immensely with my ensemble skills, as well as my ability to read and learn music much faster than I could before joining the orchestra. Also, the sense of community that we get from our group is rare and invaluable, and I know that even when we have all graduated, LAYGO will be something we will all remember fondly.
It saddens me already to think that I have only one more year at PCM before I graduate, but for the rest of my life when I pick up my guitar, I will know that I owe it all to the incredible teachers, mentors, and peers I have met through the Conservatory. Without Connie Sheu, my absolutely phenomenal private teacher, I could never be anywhere near where I am today. She has helped me grow not just as a musician, but as a person, and has supported me through the sometimes difficult artistic journey. Without Felix Bullock’s mentorship as an instructor and as the conductor of LAYGO, I could not be where I am today either. PCM means so much to me because it is an organization consisting of people who are deeply passionate about their art. On behalf of the students here, I want to take this opportunity to thank PCM faculty and staff for all we have learned and will continue to learn, and for all the marvelous opportunities the Conservatory has given us, from master classes with guitar greats such as Scott Tennant, Pepe Romero, and William Kanengiser among others, to a LAYGO trip to Germany, the Pasadena Conservatory has perhaps the most robust pre-college classical guitar music program in California, if not the country.