By MORGAN KING – STAFF WRITER
What music ensemble on campus performed before Huey Lewis and the News, and on the Vice Presidential Debate Festival stage? It is a group dedicated to the sounds of the bluegrass on the festival stage: Centre’s Kentucky Music Ensemble, comprised of iconic bluegrass string instruments and bluesy vocals as well.
“It is really important to have those traditional instruments like fiddle and banjo,” Associate Professor of Music and director of the ensemble Dr. Nathan Link said. “They are the roots of string band music. Guitar is also really nice to have in the Ensemble. Mandolin is an instrument that fits really nicely with our sound, and we have one player. The upright bass is a good instrument too. In the traditional days of this music, it was impossible to carry an upright bass or a grand piano in the mountains, but those sounds fit nicely into the resonance now. And, of course, vocalists as well.”
The first inklings of the group began in Dr. Link’s first year at Centre. His CentreTerm class, “Folk Music of Kentucky,” studied traditional music and learned about the unique culture that created the music. Dr. Link’s passion for bluegrass style music began in his childhood.
“When I was little my parents both played in a string band,” Dr. Link said. “So I grew up with that kind of traditional music, music of the American South. Through that CentreTerm class, a lot of people were interested in playing that type of music. So, in my second year, we put together an ensemble.”
The Kentucky Music Ensemble performed at a variety of events throughout this year, including the Family Weekend music showcase, the Smash Mouth show in the Norton Center Foyer, and the Hub Coffeehouse open mic night.
The group provides a unique opportunity for students to participate in the music program without being a Music major.
First-year Aja Leachman is a lead vocalist in the Kentucky Music Ensemble and is extremely thankful for the opportunity that the group provides.
“My advisor recommended me to this amazing group in the first week of classes because of my previous music background and my love for all things musical and unique,” Leachman said. “This is an experience I have never had before, opening my eyes to so many other kinds of music and people who are so musically talented, and supportive that even in the short time I have played with them I have been pushed to grow as a musical artist.”
The Kentucky Music Ensemble is split into two groups, one meets during the day and the other at night. The split occurs because a majority of the Ensemble participates in athletics and by having a night rehearsal, it works out better with their schedules. The talent between both groups is equally distributed.
Junior Jeri Howell, another lead vocalist in the group, appreciates all the group has to offer.
“My favorite part about it is playing good, solid, folk music with new people each semester and having the opportunity to create those unique, irreplaceable bonds that are made when you make music with people,” Howell said. “I get to do that with Centre students and professors. It’s really incredible. And I get academic credit for it.”
The Kentucky Music Ensemble is currently preparing for their concert in Newlin Hall on Nov. 22. This concert will be a convocation and the campus community is encouraged to attend.
“We hope with this convo the word will spread about us on campus. So someone who does play an instrument can join up” Dr. Link said. “This upcoming concert will be more than 50 percent contemporary material, including music from Lake Street Dive and Ben Sollee. However, the ensemble will still remember their traditional roots and be playing music from the 50’s as well.”
Sophomore Riley McCormick, who plays mandolin, enjoys the variety of the Kentucky Music Ensemble’s repetoire.
“My group of the Ensemble plays everything from soul music to instrumental bluegrass to newgrass,” McCormick said. “We add a little bit of twang to most of our songs with the banjo and the fiddle and we are usually very high energy.”
The Ensemble has several noteworthy events on their schedule. They were asked to play at the Inauguration of Kentucky’s new Lt. Governor, Crit Luallen (Centre Class of 1974), in Frankfort, KY, on Fri., Nov. 14.
“Lt. Governor Luallen requested for us to play at her Inauguration. So I got together some alums from the past years that have experience playing,” Dr. Link said. “We rehearsed Friday morning and then went and played this huge event. It was very high profile for us.”
After that, Dr. Link has big plans for the Kentucky Music Ensemble.
“I would like to do another tour at some point,” Dr. Link said. “When we get solid with our material, I would like to do a recording and have a CD with just a few of our songs. Basically, I want to stay active with the Norton Center. It is nice for them to include us with their shows. And when things show up around the region, like this Inauguration, I want to keep doing that too.”
The Kentucky Music Ensemble wishes to broaden the horizons of its members and all who hear their sound. They encourage the Centre community to explore bluegrass music and reevaluate preconceived notions of the genre.
“I have found a new place for bluegrass music, not a big place, but there is one now that wasn’t there before,” Leachman said. “I have listened to more music with banjos and fiddles on purpose in the last two months, then all the years I have heard them, even on accident, in my entire life—and I’m not complaining.”