From Grass Roots to Above and Beyond – Mike Copenhaver

by | Jan 31, 2019 | Closeup

When you begin playing an instrument you have a lot of techniques and skills to learn. Many times, you will fail but the more you practice it, the better you become until you attain mastery. At Sierra Vista Junior High School, Mike Copenhaver welcomes many students each school year into his afterschool program; teaching their open minds how to play guitar. Since it began, Mike has taught several hundred students their way around the guitar.”
The program started in the 2012-13 school year with one class of 25 students, today we have three sections of guitar class: two beginning guitar sections and one intermediate guitar section; we have had over 800 students come through this guitar class.” Starting from a modest beginning, the program has grown with the help of the Santa Clarita Community. “Our whole program has been a very grass roots program, we started off with 20 guitars, and 25 students and immediately our staff stepped up and donated  four or five guitars so that every student could have a guitar to play.” This occurred in the first few months after the program began. Then, non-profit organizations came into the picture to provide more help. “The WiSH Education Foundation brought us tuners, five bass guitars, banjo guitars, speakers, and books, we wouldn’t be where we are without their help.”
Mike is not just a teacher who teaches the subject, he has a deep fondness for the guitar and has loved it since he was a kid. “I asked for a guitar for my 13th birthday, and since then I owe pretty much everything in my life to the guitar.” Moving out to California  when he was 18 to attend music school he learned that he had a hidden talent to teach the instrument. “I started working in local music stores teaching guitar, and I guess I did a good job because people would tell me ‘you have a way with these adolescents’ and would suggest to me that I should become a teacher or work in the schools.” From there one can say he found his calling and became a teacher.
Last year, during the David Fernandez Songwriter Salute Series (DFS3), Mike was recognized for his work in creating this program. This recognition immediately sparked the giving spirit of the Santa Clarita Valley.  “At the Tom Petty Tribute, after I got off stage people came up to me with two-handed handshakes and asked how could they help, how can they get involved.” The program received several donations soon after. This has opened up so much opportunity for students to learn. “We are now at the point where students can come and check out an instrument on Fridays so they can take it home and practice over the weekend.” Through continued support from the Santa Clarita Community the program has been able to thrive and so many students are benefitting from it.
In the near future, Copenhaver hopes that the  program grows even further with more opportunities for the students. “I asked the kids recently, ‘what would you like to see this program grow into going forward?’ I was surprised to hear that they wanted more live performance opportunities. They mentioned that they enjoy playing for people and if we could play at the Senior Center or other community venues, that they would like to share their talents with others.”
If you or someone you know have the means to help this program achieve their next step please contact Mike Copenhaver at Be the reason a child smiles today!

photos by Joie de Vivre photographie