By Nick Worth
Tom Castillo of Holbrook is not your everyday guitar teacher. He teaches the instrument to the young people of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Holbrook, and behind his teaching is a mission.
“I’ve been a musician my whole life,” said Castillo.
Castillo graduated from Holbrook High School in 1975 with a full ride scholarship in alto saxophone to Eastern New Mexico University. Following a year of college, he had the opportunity to go on tour with BB King, though he eventually decided not to.
Instead, he came back to Holbrook, where he worked at Babbitt’s for two years before hiring on at Arizona Public Service Company’s Cholla Power Plant, where he worked until taking an early retirement in 2004. During this time, he also played music on the side.
“I played music here in Northern Arizona since the ‘70s,” said Castillo. “I played disco in the ‘70s, hard rock in the ‘80s.
“When you play for money, you’re playing at the bars with the drinkers and partiers,” said Castillo. “Once I got married and had children I needed to change. I always played music, so I started playing for the church.
“At first it was just me and two other guitar players who weren’t even Catholic,” Castillo said. He added that his daughter Caitlin played piano and sang for the teen Mass at the beginning, and that his son T.C. also played for a couple of years.
Castillo said his wife Carolyn was the one who came up with the idea for the guitar-teaching program.
Under the conditions of the program, the Castillos buy a guitar for young people in the church, aged 10 and over, who are willing to take a pledge to sing and play for the teen Mass every Sunday for a year.
“They take a pledge and at the end of that year, they can keep the guitar,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for about nine years.”
Castillo said he teaches the group once per week.
“They meet with me before the teen Mass at 3 p.m. for lessons and to practice songs for the Mass,” said Castillo. “They learn the basics first.
“Once they start learning the guitar, they know there is a certain guideline they have to follow,” Castillo said. “They know the style of music we’re going to play.”
He said there are eight or nine regular songs the guitarists learn for the Mass. From the time they start the lessons, they also start playing for the Mass.
“They will play at least two of those songs from the beginning,” Castillo said. “I enjoy seeing the looks on their faces when they play a song on the guitar for the first time.”
Castillo currently has seven students in the program, though one student, Kylie Koerperich, graduated this year.
“Cooper Justman is a freshman this year and has been in the guitar program for about four years,” said Castillo. “He’ll be my new leader.”
Castillo said Cooper’s older brother Randall also played with him in the guitar program. Randall is now in college.
“Youth are the future,” said Castillo. “They’re the ones that will be in charge and leading in the direction they were shown when they were young.
“Hopefully, this will give them a step in the right direction. The need is there,” he said.
Castillo also regularly plays at youth retreats in northern New Mexico and in Arizona.
“Music will always be a part of my life and I get to perform every week,” he said. “Getting to help the young people and show them a direction, it’s great.”
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By Nick Worth