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6-5-18 — Finger Picking Bluegrass at Olathe North

June 5, 2018 ~ During the lunch hour at Olathe North High School, you might have heard the finger plucking sounds of bluegrass echoing through the music hallway. Twice weekly during Power 50 (known as Eagle Halftime), a group of students met in the orchestra room and played a collection of bluegrass songs. Olathe North orchestra director Cecily Mahan created the group for students to participate in nontraditional musical ensembles and often attracted students who are not part of band or orchestra but those who simply enjoy making music.

“I have been playing in several different bluegrass and Celtic social groups in the Kansas City area this past year and I’m having a blast,” Mahan said. “The groups that I play in are so much fun and the people are so genuine, so I thought to myself, ‘Why aren’t I teaching this?’”

In recent months, a few staff members joined the group. Not only are students learning a new form of music, but some are even trying new instruments. Violins, guitars, banjos, bass, mandolin and a hammer dulcimer are just a few instruments that have been played.

“My hope is that students from all over Olathe North hear about his group and want to join,” said Mahan. “If you can play one chord, then you can participate.”

Mahan says that the group will continue next year and she hopes to expand and perform for school and social events, noting that they have already played at eighth-grade orientation and the Olathe North Culture Fair.

Not only does the bluegrass group allow for students to decompress in the middle of the school day, it allows them to expand their musical abilities and connect with previous generations.

“This type of music encourages creative improvisation and provides a safe and fun group to jam with,” said Mahan. “Bluegrass teaches musical form, music theory, excellent technical skills. Playing these songs help students and adults continue playing the songs that our fathers and grandfathers knew in their youth. How can you go wrong with that?”