David Pelham has a passion for guitars – whether it is playing one, building one or listening to others perform. This ardor is what led him to the small mountain town of Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico 15 years ago for its annual Festival de Guitarra.
“I have attended the festival about 12 times between 2002 and the present and I have gotten to know several of the best guitar makers,” said Pelham, who has lived in Idyllwild for 30 years. “I feel at home there, having made many friends within and beyond the guitar community.”
Pelham decided to share the experience with others who can’t attend the festival by offering the musician who attained the highest level within the competition for a player in the age group of 15- to 17-year-olds an all-expenses-paid trip to Southern California to put on a concert at the Idyllwild Arts campus.
Juan Pablo Sixtos, winner of this award at the 42nd Festival de Guitarra de Paracho held Aug. 6 through 11, will be featured at “The Art of the Guitar in Mexico” at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Lowman Concert Hall at the Idyllwild Arts campus.
Juan Pablo Sixtos won a Southern California concert performance opportunity at the 42nd annual Festival de Guitarra, held in Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico in August. (Photo courtesy of David Pelham)
A giant guitar greets visitors to the guitar-making town of Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of David Pelham)
Mariana Gómez, artistic director for the annual guitar festival in Paracho, will be joining Juan Pablo Sixtos for concerts at Diamond Valley Arts Center in Hemet and Idyllwild Arts this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Jesus Cornejo)
A view while heading south on a main street in the guitar-making town of Paracho, Michoacan, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of David Pelham)
David Pelham, of Idyllwild, tries out a guitar built by grand master Vicente Barajas. (Photo courtesy of David Pelham)
Sixtos is from Paracho and began his studies in 2009 at the age of nine under the tutelage of the Maestra Verónica García Ayala. In 2014 he became a student of the Maestro Luis Molina Gutiérrez and in 2015 he entered the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Michoacán where he currently studies under the tutelage of the Maestra Eva Pleskova.
Sunday’s concert will also include selections from guitarist Mariana Gómez, who began her studies at the age of seven at the Center for Research and Development of Guitar in Paracho.
In 2013, Paracho’s mayor awarded her a distinction as a “woman with an outstanding career as a promoter of the guitar culture in Mexico.” Today, she serves as artistic director for the Paracho guitar festival. Pelham invited her to chaperone Sixtos to America and to share her talent with concertgoers.
When the trip winner was announced during August’s festival in front of a full auditorium, Pelham said the “place went wild.”
“Juan ran down the aisle and gave me a big hug as he bounded up onto the stage, all smiles,” said Pelham, 76. “He is a nice kid and very popular so the whole experience was very moving and as great for me as for Juan and all his local fans.”
Pelham hopes it will become an annual award.
Although he has played other styles, classical remains his favorite to listen to, play and teach.
“I love the mellow but so expressive sound of the classical (nylon) string guitar and I love the music in its repertoire,” he said. “I just developed a passion for everything about the instrument.”
Pelham has built several guitars since finishing his first one in 1975. As a special education instructor and director from 1986 to 2006 at Morning Sky School in Mountain Center, he didn’t have the time he would have liked to devote to the craft. He is currently working on his 14, 15 and 16th projects.
Discovering the town of Paracho and its reputation for masterful guitar making drew Pelham to learn more.
“It has become a tradition in Paracho, handed down through generations,” he said. “Over the past 30 to 40 years the masters of the craft have studied the great masters of Spain, Germany, France and have greatly added to their skills and reputation.”
He said the wood used, the finish, the design and very careful construction are all crucial factors in making an outstanding instrument. Performers in the festival buy the best they can afford.
“The study of the music is all-consuming if you intend to be a great performer,” Pelham said.
Sixtos and Gómez will also perform in concert at a smaller venue at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Diamond Valley Arts Center, 123 N. Harvard St. in Hemet. Doors open at 1:30. Admission is free but donations will be accepted to support Music At The Center.
If you go
What: “The Art of the Guitar in Mexico” classical guitar concert
When: 2 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 12
Where: Lowman Concert Hall, Idyllwild Arts, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild