TRITON — When students in Triton Regional High School’s guitar class come into the band room this year, they’ll be greeted by 15 new classical guitars, donated by musician and Triton alum Eric Clemenzi.
The guitars replace a bevy of busted ones, many of which had holes, were missing strings or parts, or had broken headstocks or necks.
“Actually, we had only one working one for about 2 years, so every time someone wanted to play a guitar, we’d all rush over to the one that worked,” said junior Andrew Pesaturo, 16. “It’s nice to be able to walk in and actually just be able to pick any one up and have it work.”
(Editor's note: After the story was published, school officials contacted The Daily News and reported that Triton had 10-12 guitars in working order at any given time).
Pesaturo, a member of the school band, has been taking guitar lessons from Clemenzi for several years and said he looks up to him as a musician and as a person.
“Eric is a guy that just never forgets where he came from and where he started, and I think that’s something very honorable,” Pesaturo said. “Him caring enough to give back to where he came from — where he’s become a lot more successful after high school — is a great thing to see.”
Triton Music Parents Organization vice president Denise Pesaturo said the aging guitars — some of which were 30 years old — had far-exceeded their life span and so she reached out to her son’s guitar teacher to get an idea of how much new ones might cost.
“Eric said ‘I can help you out instead,’” Pesaturo said. “He loves to give back to the kids, and loves to give back to Triton. Donating guitars was all his idea, I didn’t even ask him for it — he’s that kind of guy.”
Clemenzi, who grew up in Byfield, was a member of the jazz band when he was at Triton, and remembers playing — and repairing — the broken guitars himself.
“My purpose in life is to get as many people playing the guitar as possible, so when someone says, ‘Hey, we don’t have enough guitars for our guitar program,’ my thing is, let’s take care of that,” said Clemenzi, who grew up in Byfield. “It was just something I wanted to do.”
Benefitting will be 19 students signed up for this year’s guitar-based music class, music teacher Sue Densmore said.
“It’ll be nice to hand them nice new guitars to play with,” she said.
Densmore has been teaching music for over 25 years and counts Clemenzi as one of her students.
“He’s a phenomenal musician, and when somebody needs guitar lessons, he’s still my first phone call,” Densmore said. “When I got here, he was maybe a sophomore or junior, and even then, he’d sit back there and do these complicated jazz voicings — most of the other guitar players in school were like, ‘just let me strum a G chord for 20 minutes and I’ll be happy!’”
Clemenzi began playing guitar at the age of 8. It was a visit from the Triton jazz band and hearing “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson that prompted Clemenzi to pursue music on a more serious level. He began instructing other guitarists from his parents’ basement while still in high school, and after graduating from Berklee College of Music, he continued to teach at the Musical Suite in Newburyport and his home in Byfield, and eventually started his own teaching studio in Haverhill.
“This is all that I’ve done since I was 12, so I don’t really know anything else,” Clemenzi said. “It’s given me an outlet for pretty much my life, so that’s kind of how I look at it. The thing is, you don’t necessarily have to do it as a career to get enjoyment out of it — I think most people don’t. You can get home from school and just have a great time playing and making music and getting together with people, and that’s really to me what music is about — it’s about enjoyment. At the end of the day, it’s about making music and making a statement and having something that’s your own.”
Densmore said that a show of support like Clemenzi’s is what helps a program hang in there in times of dwindling education budgets.
“Things like that help you do the bigger stuff you can’t always do,” she said. “Like, I can’t go out and buy 15 guitars — that’s just not usually in the budget. Once in a while, somebody comes along and suddenly something’s possible that wasn’t before. And, the morale boost for the kids when they see people caring, it means a ton to the students. They’re going to walk in and see these new guitars and be blown away.”
In addition, the Triton Music Parents Organization lends support and aid to the school music and performing arts program in the form of awards, scholarships, or funding for special activities or updating the instruments for the music program. Some instruments still need replacement and/or repair, Densmore said, including replacing the marimba, updating the marching drums, getting additional keyboards, and upgrading the timpani for the middle school band program.
Clemenzi is also helping replace the guitars in the middle school. Anyone who comes into Clemenzi’s shop in Georgetown and buys a guitar, if they mention they’re with Triton, he will donate $25 from the sale until they reach 10 more guitars for the middle school.
To raise money for the band’s annual Disney trip, the Triton Music Parents Organization will also be hosting its annual electronics recycling day fundraiser on Sept. 19 from 6 to 10 a.m. at Triton Regional High School. Supporters can bring anything with a cord to Triton, and proceeds will benefit scholarships, awards and general support for the Triton Music and Performing Arts.