CORDOVA -- His personal journey began in childhood, when his fingertips first coaxed the basic chords of popular music from his guitar.

Less than a decade later, the artistic evolution of Christopher Jenkins continues. Today, the classical guitarist shares his passion not only through playing, but by guiding area students on their own voyage of instrumental and performance discovery, as well.

"I think that this area is not overwhelmed with the arts," Jenkins said. "That actually makes (the students) more interested in a lot of ways. They are used to other forms of music. They are not used to seeing some guy playing classical guitar.

"In some ways, it's kind of a curiosity."

Jenkins and his wife, Melinda, both graduates of George Mason University in Washington, D.C., live in Cordova, where Melinda serves as music director at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

"My wife is studying at Charleston Southern University to get her certification as a music therapist," the 25-year-old Virginia native said. "We actually met as church musicians in Virginia before we went to George Mason."

Jenkins is currently working on his master's degree, studying with University of South Carolina classical guitar professor Christopher Berg. His plans include earning his doctorate and teaching at a university.

"(Berg) is a great performer and teacher, and he is great at training other teachers," Jenkins said.

Earning his musical "chops" on church and rock music, Jenkins also played classical piano as a child. When offered a choice between classical and jazz for his college major in music, Jenkins says the selection was simple.

"I chose classical because I was more familiar with that music," Jenkins said. "That's where it started, and I just followed that path. The more I got into it, the more interesting it was.

"The classical guitar covers all eras of music, from Baroque to the Renaissance and modern interpretations all over the world. It is very diverse, and you can always explore new things."

Last August, Jenkins and fellow USC student Brett Floyd formed The Coda Duo, which has played at venues locally and in Virginia, Texas and Indiana. Already lining up concerts for the fall, the pair is also working on its first CD.

Floyd said Jenkins' gift as a performer directly connects to his teaching approach. Jenkins listens to his students' needs and desires, from which he is able to craft individual lessons that keep them engaged, excited and progressing.

"In classical guitar, quality of tone and musical expression is important to me," Floyd said. "(Jenkins) has both of those. He has a warm and inviting tone. It's his interpretation of the music that makes it come alive.

"There is often a stigma associated with classical music. As a duo, we can provide South Carolina with music selections that are very accessible. The great melodies attract audiences and allow them to enjoy the genre."

Jenkins said teaching students is crucial to his own growth as an artist. He has taught at the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center since January and teaches every Saturday at the Columbia Arts Academy.

"That's the thing that is often overlooked," Jenkins said. "We all end up teaching because it's hard to make a living just playing."

He says adult and child students bring something different to the experience.

"With kids, their parents are often making them do it," Jenkins said. "Most adults played when they were younger, and they want to revisit the guitar. They are in it for the love of it. For me, that's what makes the lessons so enjoyable.

"You learn a tremendous amount from the students. If you are pursuing an instrument and you get to a certain level, you tend to forget your own development. It's really important to revisit the basics through teaching."

OCFAC Executive Director Beth Thomas said Jenkins' formal introduction to the community came in the fall.

"We had a mini-concert (at the Arts Center) in October," Thomas said. "It was beautiful. ... He has had a good little following ever since."

Paul Mezzina of Orangeburg has taken lessons from Jenkins since the fall. He began studying classical guitar with his father when he was 7.

Mezzina last studied with an instructor in 1982, but said he felt he needed to go further.

"In a short time, (Jenkins) has helped me quite a bit," Mezzina said. "He always finds alternative ways to attack difficult problems and overcome playing difficulties. He has a lot of good suggestions that I wouldn't think of.

"(Jenkins) is playing and performing, and that's where he helps me get the things I need to know."

Jenkins said picking up classical guitar is a natural progression from playing other genres of music, like rock.

"Music is great because there is never a point you get to in which you can't learn anymore," Jenkins said. "Especially on the guitar, which is another reason I play. You can literally play any style of music.

"Most everyone starts out playing popular music. Once you get that down, classical guitar gives you somewhere else to go so you can grow as a musician."