Magdalena music teacher Catherine Barela (left) received 15 Keith Urban branded guitars through a music education program supported by the popular country and western singer. Eighth-grader Sara Owen (right) shows off her new acoustic guitar in the school’s music room.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photos

An email from a village resident to Magdalena Schools’ music teacher Catherine Barela has resulted in the donation of over a dozen brand new guitars to the music department by country and western singer Keith Urban.

“What happened is, I received an email from a community member and she said that she happened to be friends with Keith Urban’s tour manager, Chuck Hull,” Barela said. “He said that Keith Urban does this program where he likes to give guitars to schools or children that wouldn’t normally be able to afford one. Would our school be interested in getting involved in this program?”

That got Barela thinking. The music department has limited funding, and since the pandemic started her students haven’t had instruments they could take home.

“I said absolutely we’d like to be involved,” she said. “We are always thankful to be receiving any kind of donations of any kind. I asked her to send me more information and we’ll see if we can take part in this program.”

Barela eventually was contacted by the tour manager, and details were exchanged.

The headstock of one of the acoustic Keith Urban guitars given to the Magdalena Schools’ music program. Some students chose to learn to play on one of Urban electric guitars.

“(Mr. Hull) emailed me himself. It was pretty awesome,” she said. “He said are you interested, and I said yes, I am. Totally. I sent him our web page and a description of our school to give him an idea of our community and the kids that come to school.

“I also told him most of our kids that come to school here, a lot of them, are from a very low income and they wouldn’t have a lot of money to get a guitar, even if they wanted one,” Barela said.

She said she told him music program she teaches is predominately guitars. The school has already provided a few guitars for students to practice at home, but not enough to go around.

“Guitars, basically because band instruments are really really expensive,” Barela said. “I told him our school is too small for a lot of interest like that, so I figured guitar would be a great way to teach kids because they can take them home and use them.”

The next thing she knew, 15 Keith Urban guitars were being shipped to the school.

Barela learned that aside from being “signature brand” instruments, Keith Urban guitars also possess excellent qualities and are perfect for beginners. Urban even on his website said that “these units are ideal for those who want to learn how to play the guitar.”

She remembered a few years back that Keith Urban had an infomercial where he was selling his own branded guitars, along with a DVD collection, 30 Songs in 30 Days.

“Well, that’s basically what these are,” Barela said. “So a lot of the guitars that we received are collector’s editions. Some of them even came with the disc collection of 30 oldies and classic rock songs.”

Since there were not enough of the Keith Urban guitars to go around, Barela decided to have her students write an essay on “what it would mean to you to learn to play the guitar.”

Barela teaches two middle school classes and two high school classes.

“The kids are very excited to get these Keith Urban guitars,” she said. “They are very special.”