"I borrowed money on credit cards and looked for those offers that let you pay it back at zero percent interest," Dunn said. "I bought about 60 acoustic guitars for the schools. They're good, entry-level models that hold their pitch and cost only $45 each. They're probably going to look like they've been through a war shortly, but that's OK."
Some schools and organizations which provide after school programs have chipped in money for the project; some parents have as well. In the future, Dunn may file for nonprofit status, which could open up funding sources.
For now, he seems to be managing — and making his mark. School officials give his project high grades.
"Students were thrilled to have this program here," said Geraldine Swann, director of community outreach at Hampstead Hill Academy. "And parent feedback has been positive. They all say the same thing: 'My child loves Mr. Chris.'"
Parents who cannot afford private guitar lessons for their children have expressed particular appreciation for Face to Face, Swann added.
Similar stories can be heard at Commodore Rodgers, which offers Face to Face in association with Elev8 Baltimore, an organization that partners with city schools to support enhanced learning opportunities.
Nikiea Redmond, Elev8 Baltimore's coordinator of out-of-school-time programs for Commodore Rodgers, reports that "parents are excited that the guitar has given their children a chance to learn something that will stick with them throughout their lives."
One of those children is Pria Crooms, 12. She had studied violin before trying out the class and took to the guitar. "The most difficult thing is probably reading music, but I'm getting used to it," Pria said. "My parents got me a guitar for Christmas after I started taking the class."
It's too soon to tell how far any of the students will go with the instrument. One of them sounds at least open to the possibility of a musical future. Jawon Burch, 12, got his first experience playing guitar through Dunn's class at Commodore Rodgers.
Jawon showed promise from the start, enough that Dunn gave him a guitar so he could practice at home (the instruments are usually stored at the school for safer keeping). Asked if he was thinking about a musical career, Jawon hesitated.
"I'm thinking of being a basketball player," he said. He thought a few more seconds, then added: "Can you be rich and play the guitar? Like a million dollars?"
Students spend some time during each class gathered around the chalkboard, as Dunn tests their abilities to read music notation and, through clapping drills, get familiar with rhythms.
But most of the class time is spent with hands on guitars, learning chords and playing through short pieces, including the "Ode to Joy" theme from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
"It's a simple approach, but it lets them play a song, teaches them some chords and lets them improvise," Dunn said of his teaching method. "The challenge is to keep them mentally here for 90 minutes."
Whenever he demonstrates a passage for the class, Dunn's own credentials are on display. His teachers at Peabody included Manuel Barrueco, one of world's foremost classical guitarists, and that top-level training is reflected in Dunn's refined technique and vibrant expression.
He tries to instill some basic professional concepts along with the rudiments, including the value of silence before and after playing a piece. That lesson doesn't always hit home (various conversations are apt to break out around the room as attention drifts), but Dunn's amiable manner and evident enthusiasm help get the kids to focus.
"I've taught privately, and that's ideal for learning," he said. "But some good things can come out of class guitar. Kids can get inspired by others."
To stoke that inspiration, Dunn, using his iPhone, regularly records students playing a song and makes CDs of the results to give them. They also get a goal to work toward — a mini-concert for the whole school. And Dunn whips up certificates for everyone who competes the class.
During the after-school sessions, Dunn frequently tries to bolster the students' confidence.
"If you make a mistake, keep going," he told a recent class at Commodore Rodgers. "No one will notice. Let it go behind you."