For students of classical guitar, Tucson is the place to be.

Young would-be guitarists come to southern Arizona to attend the University of Arizona's Bolton Guitar Studies Program from as far as Brazil, France and the Philippines.

The program was founded in 1974 and Tom Patterson has been its director since 1980. He says it is now one of the top classical conservatories in the U.S. It enjoys admiration and recognition due to its staff, programs and students--many of whom have won international competitions.

"It's been a real pleasure watching it grow from its infancy to being one of the best in the world now," Patterson says. "It's exciting."

Patterson and other professionals and fans of the guitar work in conjunction with community groups like the Tucson Guitar Society, where Julia Pernet was recently chosen as the new chairman.

"We're a small group of people who love guitar music. Some of us play, some of us don't," she says of the society. "I, for example, don't have a musical bone in my body, but I love it. We have community events, we encourage people who like guitar to come and listen to those who play, whether they are professionals or amateurs."

And Patterson says he's optimistic about the program's future, since its international acclaim and economic support continue to grow. Sandy and Phyllis Bolton recently donated $3.1 million to the program.

"The intent of the gift was simply to make us the best program in the world," says Patterson. "His mission, what Mr. Bolton asked me to do, is make it so if a student was deciding between New York City and Tucson, he would choose Tucson."