LEXINGTON, Ky. - Public high school students with an interest in music generally have three class options: choir, band, or orchestra. Over the past few years a school in Lexington has expanded its music department to include another opportunity. Brenna Angel has the story of the guitar ensemble at Bryan Station High School.
By 8:30 in the morning, the advanced guitar class at Bryan Station High School is tuned up and ready to go.
The group led by teacher Don Hicks is preparing for a big concert Thursday afternoon in Louisville at the Kentucky Music Educators Association's annual conference, the first time ever a guitar ensemble has been invited to perform. It’s a big honor for a class that started just five years ago.
“When I came here to Bryan Station they let me start one class to kind of help fill out some elective classes and one class turned into two, and two turned into four. And by the fourth year we had a 128 students and I was a full-time guitar teacher,” says Hicks.
Learning to Play
Junior Tanner McDaniel had never played guitar when he signed up for the course, and he laughs now at how naïve he was when he first started.
“I didn’t realize that every instrument could be written on music. I thought that maybe it was just band and orchestra. And when I got into guitar class and he handed me a sheet of music, I’m like ‘what am I supposed to do with this?’”
Just like their band, orchestra, and choir counterparts, the students in the guitar ensemble do learn how to read music.
“In his class I’m getting to learn how to listen and play notes and stuff like that,” says sophomore Aijalon Lott.
Plucking away on the nylon strings of the classical guitars and nylon strings, the students also learn a variety of musical styles, from soft pizzicato, to ragtime, to folk music.
Part of the appeal for students taking the guitar class is that it’s different, and maybe a little bit cooler than learning something like the flute or violin.
“And it’s an instrument where you don’t have to sit in a room with 45 other people and play in order to be successful at. You can play this sitting in your room, sitting on your front porch,” says Hicks.
A Growing Program
At Bryan Station, Mr. Hicks has just as many students, if not more, than the band and orchestra. But guitar isn’t taking away from those traditional programs. Around 80% of the guitar kids were previously not enrolled in a music class.
“And there are multiple avenues as far as being able to play this instrument outside of what we do as a school ensemble. I have kids that play in church, I have kids that play for parties and weddings, I have kids that play in rock bands.”
Some states, such as Virginia and Florida, have well-established guitar programs in their schools. Hicks says there a few other teachers he knows of with guitar classes in Kentucky, and he’s hoping Thursday’s performance at the music educators conference will inspire other schools to get involved.