Retired West Meadows resident Gary Brosch understands the power of music. It brings people joy, lifts people’s spirits and, he says, it brings them closer to God.
Which is why Brosch and his wife Barbara work so diligently to spread that joy through their 501(c)(3) nonprofit No Fret Guitar, where underprivileged children are not only taught to play the guitar during a one-week camp, but get to take home that guitar afterwards.
Since 2016, No Fret Guitar has given away more than 325 guitars to kids who might never be able to afford an instrument who have participated in the camp, while providing free lessons.
Tomorrow — Saturday, January 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. — Brosch is hosting a free concert and art guitar sale at St. James United Methodist Church on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Tampa Palms to raise funds for No Fret Guitar.
The benefit concert will feature “The Electric Rev” Jimmy Bratcher, who once opened for the Doobie Brothers, and Christian blues artist Skip Frye, who was inducted into the Florida Blues Hall of Fame in 2012.
Alumni from Brosch’s No Fret Guitar camps also will perform.
The Birth Of An Idea
The idea for No Fret Guitar was spawned thousands of miles away, in South Africa, where, in 2015, Brosch was on a church mission in an impoverished area to help establish satellite-based internet service and provide digital tablets to children.
In his spare time, Brosch, a former transportation researcher who plays the guitar at services at St. James, had bought a few guitars in Johannesburg, and decided to try and teach a few of the children there to play.
“They loved it,” he says.
That moment stuck with Brosch all year, and the following summer, when he and Barbara were deciding about where to take their yearly mission trip, he yearned for something different. An old saying was kicking around in his head — “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.” — and, in this case, Brosch saw teaching music as teaching the kids how to fish.
Barbara recommended he teach kids the guitar in the University of South Florida area, but Gary wasn’t sure that would count as a “mission.”
Some of his pastor friends, however, disagreed.
“They told me it would be a great mission,” Gary recalls. “All religions use music to connect with God.”
Brosch found 1 Body Global Ministries, a small church operating out of a field house next to a soccer field behind the James A. Haley Veteran’s Administration Hospital near USF. There were more than a dozen kids playing soccer when Brosch approached them to ask if anyone wanted free guitar lessons. A chorus of “pick me, pick me” rang out as every kid raised their hands.
The Universal Language
His first camp at 1 Body Global — two hours a day for five days — had three boys from Thailand, and three girls from the Congo. Everyone seemed eager, except for two of the girls, who were unresponsive.
After trying unsuccessfully to teach them, Brosch discovered during a break that the girls had just arrived in America and did not speak English, only Swahili.
That night, he went on YouTube and searched for Swahili folk songs. Brosch found a simple three-chord song — the same three chords he was teaching — and the next day showed the girls the song on his iPad.
“Their eyes just lit up,” Brosch says.
They eagerly urged Brosch to teach them the song. The girls ended up learning to play it by the end of the week.
“How cool is that?,” Brosch asks, his own eyes getting a little misty.
When Brosch started No Fret Guitar, he had considered asking for donated guitars, but knew that some of them would not be in the same condition as others. So, he bought six new guitars with his own money for that first camp.
No Fret Guitar was here to stay.
The camp at 1 Body Global Ministries was one of three Brosch taught that year — the others were in Temple Terrace and at St. James.
In 2017, as word slowly spread about the camp that teaches guitar and lets students keep the actual guitar they learn to play, Brosch and a group of volunteer instructors did eight camps with 48 kids.
“It was phenomenal,” says Chris White, the worship and creative arts director at North Pointe Church in Lutz. “It was very well done, and the kids loved it and were playing 2-3 songs by the end of the week.”
Growing No Fret Guitar
Brosch started to wonder how big No Fret Guitar could become, and created a program that other churches could use. He went to a guitar trade show in Nashville, and ended up ordering 300 custom-made electric acoustic guitars for 50 camps, again paying for them with his own money.
Each guitar was branded with “Matthew 6:25,” one of Brosch’s favorite New Testament bible verses, which says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
Now, all Brosch needed were more churches to participate. And, for a while, he wondered where they would come from. He says an early marketing effort fell flat when he sent an email to 20 churches in the Tampa Bay area offering free guitars and lessons, and only received one response — “Please unsubscribe me.”
“I was devastated,” Brosch says.
Word of mouth was a powerful tool, though. Brosch convinced a Temple Terrace pastor after 45 minutes to host a camp, and he was later able to convince five others. Friends from Ohio and Texas helped spread the word and get camps started there. Throughout Florida, the opportunity to host a No Fret Guitar camp was suddenly growing in popularity.
Last year, No Fret Guitar camps, with a host of volunteer instructors, were held at 45 churches, including St. James and North Pointe, providing free guitars and lessons to 270 kids.
David Smith hosted one of the camps at his previous church in Citrus County, with six boys. Smith did not tell them they got to keep the guitar, and after the end-of-camp mini-concert for the parents, gave each of the boys a guitar pick and tuner for participating.
“Then, I told them they were going to need those because they get to keep their guitars,” Smith says.” All six of their mouths just dropped.”
While No Fret Guitar continues to be free to churches, Brosch does ask them to pray on giving donations. Last year, 12 of the 45 contributed to the camp.
While Brosch has dipped into his retirement savings to purchase basically all the guitars for his camps to date (with some contributions from churches), Saturday’s benefit concert is the first for No Fret Guitar. He said friends suggested he charge for the concert, but instead there will just be forms to make donations.
“I like free,” Brosch says.
Attendees also can bid on three hand-painted guitars that will be auctioned off.
Brosch said No Fret Guitar is planning to hold 50 camps in 2019.
“It (music) is such a powerful gift,” Brosch says. “This is something I started doing just for fun, but now I plan on doing it forever.”
For more information, visit NoFretGuitarCamp.org.