Smile Politely

Happy 10th Anniversary Bow-Dacious String Band

Maybe you’ve heard the name but haven’t yet had a chance to hear the band live. Maybe you’ve seen them in concert at a local festival like Blues, Brews and BBQ Fest, one of the Sunday library concerts, or opening show for Baroque Artists (BACH) and didn’t really know what it was about. But they sounded good. Or maybe you do know the band and you’re just not telling.

Bow-Dacious String Band (BSB) is arguably one of the best kept secrets in C-U. If you don’t have children, you may not have given the band much notice. For the past ten years, BSB Summer Camp (happening this week at Community Center for the Arts on Race Street in Urbana) welcomes out-of-town families and visiting artists from half a day’s drive just to be part of the program.

BSB started in the summer of 2003 as a lark, just a fun little week of playing to introduce my violin students to new kinds of music they could play, mostly folk tunes from the US and around the world. At the end of that week they informed me that we would keep the group together and that they would invite their friends to join.  We’ve never looked back!

Over the years the band has grown: it’s gotten larger and added staff. We know more tunes, and we’ve added other instruments. What hasn’t changed is the kind regard band members have for each other and their unbridled enthusiasm for playing and sharing music with each other and with our community.

The energy that gathers around the Bow-Dacious String Band was the driving force leading to the founding of the Community Center for the Arts, and the band’s philosophy of fostering individual excellence in the context of a group collaboration and  is at the core of all of our programming.

You can read more about Bow-Dacious at our website, and catch our next performance at the Urbana Sweetcorn festival on August 24.

–Robin Kearton, director of Community Center for the Arts (C4A) and Bow-Dacious String Band (BSB)

Kearton, just like the color of her hair, lights these kids on fire. The band ranges in age from six (able to proficiently play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) to seniors in high school. What’s amazing besides Kearton’s ability to get the multi-age band together is that each student gets a rich experience out of it. Kearton chooses music carefully to ensure the advanced children have just as much chance to tackle a challenge as the younger kids, and everyone gets an opportunity to play a solo. A common repertoire keeps the band playing longer. She can keep the band (and audience) engaged for two hours at some concerts, playing songs they all know by heart and love.

When BSB was just getting started a pattern that quickly emerged was older students encouraging the younger ones and helping them learn how to play tricky parts in our tunes.

The practice of seasoned players helping younger players expanded to include acclimating newcomers to the band and continued to develop until, at a certain point, it seemed that we should designate student teachers, who were dubbed ‘mentors.’

In its official capacity, the mentor program has become more standardized; mentors are paired into teams — one melody player and one rhythm player — and each set of mentors is in charge of directing its own mini-band for a part of our weekly rehearsal time. Mentors meet with the director to discuss the progress of their groups, receive instruction on teaching, and just hang out and jam together.

Our formalized mentor program is in its fourth season; last year’s mentors were Ashish Bhatt, Celia Faux, Stella Faux, Emanuel Hope, Marina Hope, Bridget Mueller-Brennan, Paula Norato, and Ali Slaughter.

Kids who play in Bow-Dacious learn life skills that go beyond the tunes they play: responding in the moment, presenting yourself confidently, stepping up when it’s your turn, looking out for each other, stage deportment, and more.

–Robin Kearton, director of C4A and BSB

Sylvia Sullivan, owner of Sylvia’s Irish Inn on Green Street is one of several local supporters of Kearton’s mission with BSB and the larger non-profit organization, Community Center for the Arts (C4A): “I want the school to grow so it can help more children learn music, and I want to give back to this community that has been so good to us. Most of all, I like music.” 

You can catch Bow-Dacious several times this summer. This week’s concerts will take place at Urbana Free Library on Friday at noon, Phillips Recreation Center on Friday at 7 p.m., and Lincoln Square Food Court on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Upcoming performances are happening August 23 at the Virginia Theatre and August 24 Urbana’s annual Sweetcorn Festival.

For more details, please visit the website, and follow on Facebook or Twitter. You can also call us at (217) 384-5150 or email.

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