Moments of Joy

Donor generosity ensures classical guitar studies continue to thrive

José Luis Puerta ’09 ’16 playing guitar

The love Phyllis and Sanford “Sandy” Bolton had for the University of Arizona’s guitar program was nothing short of extraordinary — so much so that they ensured that guitar studies at UArizona would be supported during and long after their lifetimes. They set up an estate gift to endow the program through the Bolton Trust, and today, the couple’s enthusiasm for classical guitar is an integral chord that sets the tone for the program’s success.

When Phyllis passed away in 2011, the guitar community rallied around Sandy, who was alone after nearly 60 years of marriage. Guitar students even played for him, making him more comfortable, when he spent time in the hospital before his death in 2012.

“Sandy was like many of us, looking for moments of happiness and moments of joy,” says David Russell, a Grammy Award-winning guitarist and UArizona artistin-residence. “And I think with us, with the guitarists, he often was a happy man.”

Sandy’s background as an educator shaped his interest in giving. He understood the impact of a transformational gift, says Thomas Patterson, the Sanford & Phyllis Bolton Endowed Chair for Classical Guitar.

“Sandy had a vision of how their gift would protect the guitar program during lean times. He knew about budget shortfalls, faculty research needs and community outreach programs,” Patterson says. “He knew their gift would ensure we could do things for current students and also attract the best students, to make a model guitar program.”

Thanks in part to the Boltons’ transformational support, the Bolton Guitar Studies program is one of the best guitar programs in the country. The program offers unique opportunities to students, including masterclasses with Russell that are open to both students and the community. It was part of Sandy’s vision to keep Russell an active part of the guitar program, Patterson says, and his annual weeklong residency is funded for a lifetime by the Bolton Trust.

“Being able to study with an artist of such high caliber and recognition as David Russell on a yearly basis during my student years was a privilege and an honor,” says José Luis Puerta, an ethnomusicologist and assistant professor of practice in general education at the Fred Fox School of Music. “Not only is David able to demonstrate and share his musicianship and technique with the students, he does it in such a welcoming and kind manner that makes the most nervous student give his best.”

“I would always leave the masterclass with a sense of accomplishment as well as a sense of inspiration and encouragement,” Puerta adds. “With David Russell, you learn how to be a better performer and teacher and a kinder person.”

“I hope the students receive education and details of how to do things,” Russell says. “But mostly I hope to teach them enthusiasm and excitement to continue to make good music — and for them to develop their own personalities. When they play in public, I hope they can share their enthusiasm with the audience.”

Thanks to the flexibility of the terms in the Bolton endowment, Patterson can use funds at his discretion for the good of the program. In 2015, Patterson and Russell established the David Russell Bach Prize. Judged by Russell, students perform Bach’s works to compete for a new classical guitar; costs for such a quality instrument can range upwards of $15,000.

“The David Russell Bach Prize brings together Sandy’s interest in supporting David and elevating the education of the students,” Patterson says. “The prize makes students reach higher.”

“There is a legacy that has been created by Sandy and Phyllis’s endowment here,” Russell says. “What Sandy has done for the guitar department — it’ll be here long after we’re gone. It’s something that is going to be a part of the guitar world for the foreseeable future, and I think it’s marvelous.”

David Russell with another guitarist