ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CN) — What would you do with 1,000 guitars? Gordon Close, an 81-year-old jazz guitarist on the outskirts of Denver, is sending them to the troops overseas and to disabled veterans at home. He designed the guitars and had them built too.
It all started about a decade ago, when veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came home to Denver on leave and put out a request for guitars through the local musicians’ union. Close, an Army veteran and owner of a music store, volunteered to help.
“We became a receiving station for those guitars,” Close said, in his music store/teaching studio and incipient music museum. “And people, god bless their hearts, donated old guitars they found in their attics or garages.”
But most of the guitars were in terrible shape: bowed fretboards, useless pegs. “And I said, ‘I’m not going to send these to the troops. I’m going to design a good guitar and send them.’”
Close, a former bandleader, sales rep for Martin guitars, and still a hustler, said: “I found a way of making a very good guitar that’s not expensive.” Working with a luthier overseas, his Harvest Guitars “are solid wood, either solid maple or solid mahogany or ziricote — that’s a Brazilian rosewood that’s not endangered.”
Through his Close Music Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, Harvest Guitars for the Troops has sent about 900 Harvest guitars to troops overseas and at home. He started out slowly, sending “about 15 or 20 a year,” eight years ago. But “just last week we put together 49 guitars and are sending them out.”
“For a $250 contribution, we send a package worth $650,” Close said: a Harvest guitar, a soft carrying case, picks, extra strings, a tool to adjust the neck should extreme climate warp it, and a book he wrote on guitar chords.
This reporter ran into Close two weeks ago at the Post Office, as he slid one tall, flat package after another across the counter. Handing the boxes to him was Darrell Johnson, president of the Castle Pines Rotary Club, south of Denver, which adopted Guitars for the Troops as a special project, donating $1,000 a year, and multiplying the money through other Rotary clubs, grants, and the national and international Rotaries.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked. “Selling ‘cellos?”
“No,” Close said. “We’re sending guitars to the troops.”
Harvest Guitars for the Troops
Music as therapy received little or no support from the U.S. government until wounded veterans began returning by the thousands during World War II.
After their wounds healed, surgeons at home and abroad found: “‘This man is well; his wound is healed and he should be ready to return to duty — but still he is not ready!’ Something else was needed,” George Ainlay wrote in “The Place of Music in Military Hospitals,” one of 16 essays in “Music and Medicine” (Schullian and Schoen, eds., 1948).
“Music and Medicine” was the first book-length U.S. compendium with appeal to the sciences on the healing power of music.
Music is still an essential element of healing in Native American culture. The ancient Greeks, from whom Western civilization claims to derive, considered music the culmination of philosophy, an expression of the “music of the spheres,” which governed the circulation of the planets and stars: a key to mathematics, and to a life well-lived.
Beethoven considered music “a higher wisdom than all wisdom and philosophy.” (Beethoven also wrote that the guitar is “an orchestra in itself.”)
For thousands of years, music has been used to bind people together, to seek god, to stir up the troops, and to amuse us in our idle moments.