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Late classical guitarist John Jervis inspires program that will offer free lessons in Lawrence

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Before his death last year at age 77, John Jervis touched countless people through his classical guitar performances and lessons in Lawrence and beyond. 

One of those people is Casey Green, owner of guitar-focused retail store and music lesson space Guitarma. Green has recently been inspired to start a program to provide free guitar and ukulele instruction to anyone with the desire to learn. 

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Green opened the store at 726 Massachusetts St. in August 2019, and Jervis quickly became a frequent visitor. 

“Almost daily, he would saunter into the shop for a chat or a cup of hot tea. It wasn’t long before he was showcasing his skills on the classical guitar, serenading customers and employees alike,” Green wrote in information provided to the Times Friday. 

Jervis soon began to give Green twice-weekly lessons. “He would have preferred to teach for free,” but Green insisted Jervis take a $10 bill after each one. 

The lessons had to cease when COVID-19 hit and stay-at-home orders prevented in-person meetings. The two resumed meeting once the store reopened — but occasionally, rather than almost daily. “The pandemic had taken a toll on everyone, especially John,” Green wrote. 

Jervis died on March 26, 2021. 

“After his death, nearly 100 of his friends, acquaintances and ‘patrons’, as he often called them, gathered to celebrate his life,” Green wrote. “… Many had been graced, in one way or another, through John’s artistic gifts.

“John lived by a willingness to share his talents – and expect nothing in return. It’s this unspoken credo that inspired the John Jervis Memorial Guitar School,” Green wrote. 

Green and Guitarma have partnered with Hazlett Henderson and the Lawrence Public Library to launch the program and offer free guitar and ukulele lessons. Guitarma will pay the instructor, provide instruments, and establish a general curriculum; the library will provide the lesson space and establish checkout and signup systems. 

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Each 25-minute lesson will be one-on-one with longtime guitar instructor Matthew Mulnix. Students can pick between novice, intermediate or experienced levels. Each will have a different curriculum. 

Lessons will be scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Study Room 5 at the Lawrence Public Library on the following Saturdays: March 5, March 19, April 2, April 16, May 7 and May 21. 

Registration is required. Find more information and sign up for a slot via the library’s website. As of Sunday, a few slots remained on March 5, and several were available on March 19. Signups had not yet been posted for later dates.  

Jervis — also a poet, artist and composer — was born Jan. 1, 1944 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He died last year in Lawrence, where he had lived for more than 20 years, according to his obituary

“Typically seen in his telltale suit, he always had his guitar ready to teach or perform at a moment’s notice.” 

Michael L Pomes/Contributed Photo In this photo taken August 24, 2019, classical guitarist John Jervis plays at Signs of Life in downtown Lawrence.

He would frequently perform at local cafes, Signs of Life, and the Lawrence Public Library, and each year at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center’s Blintz Brunch. 

“He would often share historical anecdotes related to the guitar pieces he was performing, which usually included music by his favorite Renaissance, Baroque, Early Modern Spanish, and South American composers,” according to his obituary. “… Along with curious historical tidbits, he loved to share tales of palling around with the likes of Tiny Tim, Peter Tork, Chuck Berry, and Bob Dylan.” 

Hear recordings of Jervis playing in this tribute from Cordelia Brown, classical music director for Kansas Public Radio. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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