Grade school bluegrass jams are in need of volunteers

Freeform practice introduces youngsters to music

Front, from left, volunteer Kim Menster helps student Jameson Holley practice the ukulele. (Jan. 23, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Each Thursday and Friday, students meet at the Mt. Eccles Elementary School music room. But this isn’t a music class — Morning Music, a program loosely associated with Cordova’s 4H Music Camp, is more of a twice-weekly jam session for kids. Organizers reject traditional hierarchies between learners and teachers, explains volunteer not-teacher Kim Menster.

“It’s not a class,” Menster said. “It’s more like chaos … It lets kids put their hands on instruments and realize that playing is something that they can do.”

The program, run by the Rev. Belle Mickelson, introduces grade schoolers to the guitar, double bass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and ukulele. Students too short to reach the fingerboard of the double bass learn to play using only the strings, developing important reflexes that will serve them well later, said volunteer Aaron Bowman. Bowman himself learned to play bass at Morning Music.

Jan Mayer began practicing guitar at Morning Music as a fifth grader. Now in tenth grade, he helps out as a student volunteer. For a kid, the toughest part is learning to recognize your cue while playing with a group, Mayer said.

“It’s great for little children to know that they can just test musical instruments, that it’s not something to keep locked away behind a glass cage,” Mayer said.

Bluegrass, a genre defined by simple, upbeat melodies and rhythms, lends itself to a program like Morning Music, Menster said.

From left, Aaron and Hasan Bowman play bass. (Jan. 23, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

“It’s not about lyrics — it’s about the music, and it can be played as simply or as complexly as you want to,” Menster said. “It’s a simple thing, but you can take that simple thing to really high levels.”

Like many of Cordova’s signature cultural events, Morning Music runs on volunteer power. But finding recruits has been a challenge, Menster said. Some musicians are night owls, unwilling to show up at a class before 8 a.m., while others are simply unprepared to confront the raw chaotic force of several dozen ukulele-wielding children.

However, volunteers need not be conservatory graduates. Morning Music needs help with putting away instruments, writing out music sheets and other technically undemanding tasks, Menster said. Residents wishing to volunteer can attend a Morning Music session at Mt. Eccles at 7:35 a.m. on a Thursday or Friday, or email Mickelson at bellemickelson@gmail.com.

Morning Music students will participate in Down Home Cordova, a 4H fundraising event scheduled for April.