BYU Folk Music Ensemble brings bluegrass to elementary students


    By Leah Elison

    What started as the tuning of a single violin in seconds became the rich strains of the American classic “The Duel”.

    Just as quickly, the song reverted to the chaos of eight tuning instruments as the musicians, all members of the Brigham Young University Folk Ensemble, prepared for their concert on Friday, May 2, at Rose Creek Elementary School.

    “I really feel good that we”re helping the kids to have a good time and getting them excited about music,” said guitarist Spencer Walker, 24, a senior from Hemit, Calif., majoring in accounting. “I remember how excited I was when I found out that I could make music like my older brother. Now I feel like I”m sharing that excitement with these kids.”

    Fat Spence and the Diet Folk, as they call themselves, travel to elementary schools in the Utah and Salt Lake valley to perform traditional folk music in assemblies.

    Their repertoire includes Orange Blossom Special, Boil the Cabbage Down and Red-haired Boy.

    While folk music is their specialty, they do break the mold for a few numbers, like “The Bare Necessities” from Disney”s “The Jungle Book” and “Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid.”

    “Girls, do you want to kiss the boy next do you?” asks Walker two minutes into the song.

    “No!” shrieks nearly every little girl in the gym.

    The Diet Folk also perform the theme song from “Sponge Bob Square Pants” and the Beatles” “Yellow Submarine,” while all the children wearing yellow follow the accordion player around the gym in a yellow parade.

    “I think it was really cool how they could play so fast,” said 12-year-old Kameron Simonson, a sixth grader who was part of the submarine. “It was really fun to walk around and stuff with that guy with the accordion.”

    The group has played at approximately 30 elementary schools this year, from Ogden to Manti.

    Children get to play percussion instruments, sing and dance along with the band.

    “I think the concert was cool,” said 11-year-old Terrance Sherrell, a sixth grader. ” I like that they can play the fiddle really good. I think Spencer was the funniest.”

    While they are having so much fun, they inadvertently learn about the mandolin, guitar, violin, accordion, electric bass guitar and several percussion instruments.

    Teachers say the assemblies create enthusiasm for a schools music programs.

    “This is great because it gets kids interested in music,” said Dee Dee Mower, a fourth grade teacher at Rose Creek. “Kids do not often get a chance to hear music like this these days.”

    The ensemble”s faculty advisor, Mark Geslison, director of Folk Music at BYU, has been traveling with groups like the Diet Folk for the past 9 years.

    He said his goal is to preserve interest in a type of music that has been the root of other genres.

    “If they turn on the radio, they are never going to hear this,” Geslison said. “Folk music has the fewest limits; it encompasses everything.”

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