Though they have played together for four years, three high school students from McPherson and Newton did not expect to take home a first-place finish when they competed in Oklahoma City University's Guitar Festival and Competition.

"This was the first guitar festival that OCU has had, so it was kind of neat to get in on the ground floor of that," said guitar instructor Jean Kennedy.

Kennedy teaches classical guitar at Kennedy Guitar Studio and at McPherson College.

"Guitar education is really on the rise," Kennedy said.

McPherson High School senior Kristin Anguiano and sophomore Jackson Schrader, along with Newton High School junior Conner Puckett, rehearse together weekly.

"Making music is really fun. I love to hear everybody together. It sounds so different to play with other people rather than just by yourself," Anguiano said.

Each guitarist has their own individual style, and even though they all play the same instrument, their techniques differ. As they play in an ensemble, the music is divided among the players who must listen to each other to combine their efforts in harmony.

"You have to learn how to work with people and learn how they play," Schrader said.

To prepare for the competition, the trio played three pop-up concerts at Mojo's Coffee Bar in North Newton, Norm's Coffee Bar in Newton and Craft Coffee Parlor in McPherson.

"We were so appreciative to all the coffee shop owners who welcomed us," Kennedy said.

Performing in front of audiences gave the trio confidence to play in front of the competition's judges.

“Playing for judges, that's definitely nerve-wracking," Anguiano said.

Oklahoma City University's Guitar Festival and Competition gave middle school and high school participants the opportunity to attend concerts and workshops.

"It's a big program; they have a really healthy guitar studies program," Kennedy said. "They've drawn students from all over the place to go study with the teachers there."

Students from across the country came to the event.

"We were up against some tough competition," Kennedy said. "We just had the attitude of, 'We're going to go as prepared as we can, have a great time, play as excellently as we can and the results don't really matter, it's a learning experience.'"

"We did not expect to win, to be frank. We were just going to go out and have some fun," Schrader said.

All four were surprised when they learned they won first place in the high school trio category.

"I was speechless. I was kind of shell-shocked," Kennedy said. "It was a very special moment."

"It was crazy. I was not expecting it," Anguiano said.

Kennedy said she was pleased with not only the students' performance, but their attitude, as well.

"They just really put their whole selves into it," Kennedy said. "I think so highly of these three; their commitment to playing well and to each other, the friendship that they've developed throughout the years."

Kennedy Guitar Studio students will present a free fall recital at 6 p.m. Nov. 19 at First United Methodist Church, 1200 E. Kansas Ave. in McPherson.

For more information about Kennedy Guitar Studio, visit http://www.kennedyguitarstudio.com or call 316-305-8940.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.