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Spreading Bluegrass!

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Pete receives a touching letter from a Grade School Music Teacher

You won’t remember me, but I was one of the teachers who attended the teachers’ workshop at the Joe Val festival in Framingham, MA last year. I have to tell you that your playing banjo workshop was the highlight of the festival for me. I decided I’d just have to get a five string banjo and learn to play it, and by the beginning of April I had got one and started learning to play, practicing every chance I got. By the summer I had been to a couple of slow Jams. In September, I found that my new teaching schedule included chorus and Kindergarten music classes in addition to the band and general music classes I had been teaching for a few years. I don’t play piano worth a damn, so banjo has become my main tool for general music classes at the middle school, grades 5-8, and especially in the kindergarten.

The Friday night concert was especially effective, I thought. It puts a bit of pressure on everybody, and it’s truly motivating. Who’d have thought a dozen banjo players could play one piece together, and sound good? It was also very helpful (though painful) to view the game tape on the final day.

In the fall, one of my eighth graders asked if he got a banjo, would I help him learn to play it, so we’ve been using your book and CD. He started out with a beat up 40 year old Kay, but his mom bought him a new banjo for Christmas. I fixed up the Kay – strings, bridge, adjusted the neck, took a dent out of the head, cleaned and polished it up before he gave it back to the neighbor he borrowed it from- a little lesson on musicians’ professional courtesy. So far I’m keeping ahead of him, but I expect he’ll outpace me soon and have to move on to a more experienced teacher (he really loves the banjo and does not have to be nagged to practice).

I’ve been leading the classroom kids in traditional songs, using my banjo, and have also been composing songs for our use in the classroom- some short, topical ditties a la Mister Rogers, some chorus and multi verse songs on topics the kids suggest.

This weekend was the Joe Val festival again, which I attended again, but this time as an “advanced beginner” banjo player. I got to peek in on the teacher workshop again. While I was there the workshop organizers asked me if I would say a few words to its years’ attendees, whereon I was happy to express my gratitude for the program and then play a couple of short tunes for them, including the penguin song. I got to play in some jams this year as well as to hear some great bands on the stages and my student attended Sunday with his mom to check out the Kids’ Academy- all of this because I attended your class last year.

So, Thanks, Pete- I just thought I’d let you know how the ripples from that one splash have started to spread out.

— Bob C., Grade School Music Teacher & Advanced Beginner Banjo Player

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