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Bryan Station guitar class picks up volume; ensemble chosen to perform at KMEA concert

Students taking guitar as an elective focus intently during classroom lessons and rehearsals at Bryan Station High School. (Photos from FCPS)


By Tammy Lane
Special to KyForward

Don Hicks’ enthusiasm for guitar has spread at Bryan Station High School, where his original class of 16 has grown to a full schedule with more than 100 students in a strong program earning wider notice. These days, he’s busily preparing an ensemble for a Feb. 7 performance at the Kentucky Music Educators Association state conference.

“You’ve got to live it, learn it, love it, breathe it, know it. You’ve got to add a little more effort to make sure it goes smoothly,” Hicks urged as teens rehearsed one of the handful of pieces they will play in the half-hour mini concert.

"Some like belonging to a group, and some really love the instrument and want to play on their own. It’s a variety of different things," said instructor Don Hicks, who started the guitar program in 2007.

Bryan Station’s ensemble is the first high school guitar group ever invited by KMEA, which welcomes bands, orchestras and choirs from various schools as well as all-state groups.

“It is probably the most prestigious performance opportunity for any music group in the state,” said Hicks, who submitted an audition tape.

Jamie Monck, a senior and a third-year guitar student, is not particularly nervous about the big stage. As an eighth-grader, he played at the KMEA event with Beaumont Middle’s jazz band. He’s an accomplished musician, having started with piano at age 5 and added percussion in sixth-grade. He plans to major in jazz and classical guitar performance.

He smiled wryly when asked about novices who sign up for Hicks’ intro class. “A lot of people enjoy playing Led Zeppelin and don’t realize what’s about to transpire,” Jamie said, referring to the rude awakening.

“He gives us a chance to play crazy things and also classical music, so it’s a good balance,” he added.

Fellow senior Abbey Blackburn found that guitar dispels boredom and provides a certain balance in her life. “It sounded fun, and I just wanted to try it,” she said of taking up a new instrument in 10th grade. While she doesn’t intend to carry on with music like Jamie, “I’ll teach my own children how to play (guitar) and continue it as a hobby.”

Having been in the flag corps as a freshman, Abbey was well-acquainted with the hard work and long hours required in marching band. While the guitar students focus in class and in occasional after-school sessions, their practices are not so intense. Still, Abbey expects they’ll be ready for the KMEA spotlight.

“We got the majority of this music in August, and we’ve been working and building on it since then,” she said.

The back story

The guitar program began in 2007 when Hicks was assistant band director at Station. Within four years, he was teaching guitar full-time, with half a dozen sections ranging from an introductory class to Advanced Guitar. Three-quarters of his students are not in band, orchestra or chorus, so the guitar program has increased the number of teens involved in music by roughly 6 percent.

“Guitar is a popular instrument and a more individualized instrument. You don’t have to have 20 people in a room to feel successful at it,” Hicks said. “Some like belonging to a group, and some really love the instrument and want to play on their own. It’s a variety of different things.”

The only prerequisite for his class is that students have a guitar at home to practice. Some teens have never touched the instrument before; others strum a little but don’t read music. While the numbers drop off dramatically after the intro class, “At least we’ve exposed them to some music, and they have an appreciation for playing an instrument,” Hicks said.

“Hopefully, they’ll be able to use that experience on the guitar in some way outside of high school,” he added. “The chance of my kids pulling the guitar out from under the bed and playing a lullaby or playing for a church service is probably greater than in some other areas.”

Jamie agreed, saying, “Unlike the piccolo or whatever, it’s really easy to play guitar at home with your friends.”

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