There was a time not so long ago that studying music on guitar in the classroom was basically unheard of.
Oh sure, you could study French horn, saxophone, trumpet, flute, cello, violin, viola, bassoon, oboe, tuba and any number of other wind and string instruments, not to mention percussion, but not guitar — the world’s most popular instrument. That has changed, and Michael Quantz is a major reason why. The professor of music at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who came to the Valley from North Texas in 1995, has been called a “pioneer in guitar ensemble curriculum and curriculum and classroom education for guitar students” by the National Association for Music Education.
Quantz created, directed and produced the Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival & Competition, which during its 16-year run reached prominence as the second largest classical guitar event in the United States. With a doctoral degree in musical arts from the world-renowned University of North Texas College of Music, where he was one of the first UNT students to take guitar for credit, Quantz’s first job in Brownsville was as director of guitar studies and Estudiantina — a large ensemble of singers/instrumentalists performing traditional Spanish music — for Lopez High School’s Fine Arts Academy.
At the same time, he landed a part-time gig, which turned into a full-time gig, teaching guitar at the University of Texas at Brownsville-Texas Southmost College. He founded the guitar festival and competition in 2001 in partnership with UTB-TSC, the Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts and other benefactors, and it wound up becoming a catalyst for changing the whole idea of teaching music on guitar, Quantz said.
“People came from all over the country came to that and experienced such a positive series of things in our community with that event,” he said.
Quantz said the “deep and lasting impact” the festival had on those who participated produced a ripple effect throughout the country and “really added a lot of momentum to the idea that teaching guitar in a classroom is a profession.” In 2018, the National Association for Music Education invited him to conduct the first ever All-National Guitar Ensemble, featuring top players from high schools around the country. The group performed at Disney World in Florida.
“It seemed like a giant welcoming of all of these new brothers and sisters new to music education,” Quantz said. “The other conductors were just wonderful in their praise. We had like 1,200 people in the audience for that show. … I’d never experienced anything like that at a national level. That’s when I knew that the whole idea of adding (guitar) to the wonderful experience of learning and art had arrived. The momentum nationwide is, I think, not only sustainable, I think it’s permanent. So many folks did so much heavy lifting. I was a small part of that whole effort.”
The last Brownsville guitar festival was held in 2017. Quantz said it had become too difficult to sustain after UTB and TSC split and the university was made of the newly formed UTRGV. He thinks the festival may rise again, however.
“Just this past February we had the Texas Guitar Quartet come in and, for three days, play at three different high schools in our district and the George Ramirez Performing Arts Academy downtown for the community, and give a free concert, free master classes to 20 of our leading guitar students, and a round-table discussion that was just brilliant. That is I think the beginnings of a new iteration of guitar festival. I still get comments and emails about when are you going to do the festival again from people all over. We’re working on it.”