Classical guitar orchestra strikes a chord with the locals

By Claire Harlin

Solana Beach resident Lisa Margolin-Feher has always been intrigued by the sounds of the guitar, for years imagining herself strumming chords every time she heard music featuring the instrument’s classical riffs. But it wasn’t until five years ago when Margolin-Feher joined the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra that she felt her dream was within reach.

“I’d hear a piece of iconic classical guitar music and I would think, ‘Wow, I’d love to be able to do that,’ but I always thought, ‘No, that’s too daunting,’” she said.

Founded in 2005 by local award-winning guitarist Peter Pupping, the community group of about 30 members is not only performance driven, but it offers a way for guitarists of all levels to strengthen music-reading skills in the same way members of traditional orchestras and symphonies excel. Beginning on Feb. 25, the orchestra will start a new session rehearsing on Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m., and Pupping is inviting local players to join. Culminating with a performance on May 17, the session, called “A World Folk Music Celebration,” will explore a variety of folk music styles, including Afro-Cuban, Calypso, South American, American folk, Irish and Spanish. A world music specialist will also be joining the group.

“Each session is a different theme,” said Margolin-Feher, who has been taking part in every session, twice a year, since she first joined. For example, last session had a holiday music theme to coincide with the season.

Margolin-Feher, who has lived in Solana Beach for more than 20 years and works independently as a public relations specialist, said the $300 cost to be part of a session is minimal compared to the amount of instruction she receives, as well as the camaraderie.

“We perform solo pieces in front of each other and that can be nerve-racking, but everyone wants you to succeed,” she said, adding that her involvement in the orchestra, as well as playing the guitar, will be a lifelong pursuit.

“The more I learn about the instrument, the more I realize what I don’t know,” she said.

Pupping has arranged the orchestra into five sections, and often adapts chamber music to be played by his group of guitarists, who range in age from 14 to over 70.

“I always say, ‘We take anyone, 5 to 75,’ but once I had someone who was 76,” Pupping said.

Guitar orchestras are unique, especially the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra that is united at the community level. Pupping said similar groups are popular in countries such as Spain and Japan, and many have popped up in music schools at universities around the nation.

“There are classical guitar societies around the country, but they are mainly associated with schools,” he said, adding that he once saw a photo of an 1,000-member guitar orchestra in Japan.

Often guitarists practice solo, with other types of instruments or without learning to read music, Pupping said, so the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra offers a completely different training experience, especially for those interested in classical guitar.

“It is not necessarily better than the way people practice in contemporary bands, but it enhances a musician’s skills,” said Pupping, who has 15 albums under his belt and plays concerts, weddings and corporate events around San Diego County. Pupping hold a master’s degree in music, has been playing for 43 years (since he was 9) and has been nominated for two separate honors at the San Diego Music Awards.

But in addition to excelling in his own music career, he said he gets much of his fulfillment from passing on his knowledge and being part of the learning process of others.

I genuinely love teaching,” he said. “I’m teaching because I love it and I do it regardless of what my performance career is doing … I enjoy watching people grow, and as much as I love the sounds of a guitar, seeing a beginner succeed is equally exciting.”

For more information on Pupping, visit or For more information on the guitar orchestra, visit