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GUITAR MASH Is a movement. From metal shredders to acoustic aficionados, Guitar Mash uses live events and social media to create opportunities for amateur and professional guitarists to play together.

Guitar Mash was founded in 2012 with the goal of creating opportunities for people to be actively involved in ...

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Ryan Dawes

Mark Stewart's Passion for Music Making

If you meet Guitar Mash’s Music Director Mark Stewart, even in passing, and you’ve got a moment, you may walk away with your first guitar lesson. Stewart has been known to show perfect strangers a simple chord and encourage them to have fun with it.

“I’ll be in a taxi cab and the cab driver will see my guitar and say, ‘I always wanted to play the guitar but it’s so difficult,’” says Stewart. “Who told you it was difficult? If you want to play like Hendrix or Segovia, yeah, you’ll need to spend some time. But you just want to give your friends and family joy, if you just want to play, you’re five minutes away from it. Really!”

With such persuasive enthusiasm, it’s no surprise that Stewart is one of the driving forces behind the non-profit Guitar Mash, an organization that emphasizes the guitar’s simplicity and ability to bring people together to make art and have fun.

Inclusive music making is a powerful passion for the multi-instrumentalist and music director for Paul Simon. Stewart has played with some of the greatest names in pop (from Stevie Wonder to Paul McCartney) and has made a significant impact on the world of contemporary classical music, not only as a performer (he’s worked with Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Meredith Monk) but as an engaged advocate and member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Stewart sees music as a communal endeavor, one that brings out the best in people of all abilities. He comes by this perspective honestly, as he began making music with his family. “My family was a family that sang together,” he recalls. “Wherever we were: at home, riding our bikes, walking down the street.” Stewart’s mother would invent songs and Stewart and his siblings would riff on them. “We had one rule at the dinner table: no instruments!”

Stewart’s deep yet diverse musical interests led him to study both guitar and cello at conservatory, though he eventually found himself most drawn to the electric guitar. A skilled and inspired musician, Stewart’s heart lies in sharing his love with others, in engaging in the beautiful and complex compromise of social music making.

This mix of skill and love made Stewart the perfect music director for Guitar Mash. “The idea was Rebecca Weller’s,” Stewart explains, referring to Guitar Mash’s founder. “We planned for this hootenanny, with guests dropping in and adding their color. When we came out to play, there was the audience and everyone had a guitar on their laps. We all got going on a G chord. Two hundred guitars! It was a whole new sound. That’s the beauty; it’s so inclusive.”

Some of these guests are Mark’s old friends, like Nels Cline from Wilco and Larry Campbell, and some are new, like Vernon Reid and “Captain” Kirk Douglas of The Roots.

“As music director of the house band, I speak with potential guest artists and say, hey, you’re going to dig this. The thing that’s the hardest to explain is just how simple and perfect the union of the leader, the audience and the band is. How comfortable the ride is, how perfect the synergy,” concludes Stewart. “Performers are used to showing what their heart contains, the fruits of their labors. But not everyone is used to saying, ‘Here’s my heart; want to play along?’” Stewart and Guitar Mash enable playing along, and do it with incredible heart.