MARY CLARE EDWARDS — Denison students once again took to the stage in Newark to perform live.
The Denison Bluegrass Ensemble opened for “The Barefoot Movement” at The Midland Theatre, a beautifully restored, 1200 seat, 1928 performance hall in Newark, Ohio last Friday. In previous years the ensemble has opened for bands like the “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” “The Steeldrivers,” and just last year, “The Steep Canyon Rangers.”
In addition to The Midland, Denison Bluegrass plays gigs on admitted student days, prospective student days and they even got to play on the Athens WOUB radio last semester.
Anyone who is part of the ensemble has a busy schedule. In addition to gigs and performances, the ensemble meets to practice just as often as regular class. Directed under Dr. Schlenker, the students spend hours weekly learning new music.
Gene Otto ‘22, an econ major, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania shared his thoughts on being a part of the ensemble.
“It’s awesome! For me, it was a great way to get acclimated to social life at Denison. I’m so glad that I am a member, as I have found it to be a really tight and caring community. The upperclassmen–who are all great musicians–were all really helpful with adjusting to life on campus, and it also gave me an opportunity to meet other first-year students who are equally extremely talented! I think it is a super cool way I can continue my development as a musician, while simultaneously playing really cool music and learning how to function in a group dynamic.”
Bebe Blumenthal ‘20, a music major from Chicago, Illinois talked about what it’s like practicing with the group.
“The ensemble is super friendly and low-pressure, but it’s also educational. We probably learn one new tune per week on average, so by the end of the semester we’ve acquired a lot of new material. It’s also a great place to get comfortable improvising since almost all bluegrass requires some sort of improv from each instrument.”
Otto ‘22 also explained why he loves bluegrass.
“I find it super catchy! I think a large part of this comes from it being simple, but deceptively so: it is easy to get into but really really difficult to master. As a guitarist, the rhythm section of every song is usually comprised of similar chords, and the strum pattern that emphasizes the beat at the beginning of each measure is really satisfying to play. Soloing is also super fun, and it can be as simple or complex as one wants; as emphasis in bluegrass soloing involves taking established melodies and embellishing upon them, and I really enjoy the opportunities for self-expression. I find playing Bluegrass challenging, but very rewarding. Also, playing Bluegrass has enhanced my initial appreciation of the genre as a whole.”
The members of the ensemble are looking forward to the annual Bluegrass Festival on campus from February 15-16. The group is slated to open for the festival both days in Swasey Chapel. There will also be a variety of other great bands and musicians performing as well as free workshops held throughout Saturday. The ensemble will also have its cumulative end-of-semester performance on Friday May 3 at 7:00.