The Blues In The Schools (BITS) program is back stronger than ever under the guidance of Retta Yarborough, Blues in the Schools (BITS) Programs Director for the Grand County Blues Society. According to Yarborough, “We are on the right track” as we strive to bring musicians and educators together to assist in sparking interest and teaching students about Blues music and its culture.
Yarborough said, “I think the BITS program introduces kids to a very tangible look at music & musicians.” They get to hear from a professional musician what it’s like to do music as a full time job. “Our program brings the music that they hear everyday via radio or wherever to a real life level.” The program gives them a chance to envision what it might be like to pursue a very creative life in music. It also exposes them to different styles of music-as most of the performers we bring in do a number of different styles of music in addition to blues.
In a recent event, Denver blues musician/teacher Jonah Wisneski visited Fraser Elementary and shared his songwriting simplicity with the kids. Wisneski is an accomplished front range musician playing in several bands. He said, “Giving back to the kids is a great feeling especially if we can connect” adding “Music is my everything. I love all genres of music and love sharing music with young people. It’s fantastic.”
One of the BITS program goals is to interact with the kids. Performers teach styles, tones, instruments or whatever they want to highlight. On this day, Wisneski and several students chose topics and formed song variations over a blues standard as the kids clapped along. Wisneski told the kids, “Blues is a great way to get your feelings out.” he added, “I like to sing about my life and what is happening around me.” He had kids pick topics and make up short lyrics. A couple of crowd favorites were “I Hate Homework” and “I don’t want to clean my room.”
The Program Director for BITS is trying to bring a musician up to Grand County at least once every semester-to as many of our elementary & middle schools as possible. This year the Blues Society presented three shows that included Fraser Elementary and Indian Peaks Charter School. Yarborough said, We want to bring the music to all Elementary and Middle Schools throughout the county. If they have time we want to be there.”
“I am very proud of the work we have done over the years” said Maria Chavez, President of the Grand County Blues Society. “We have taken Blues in the Schools to every school in Grand County and shared the history of the blues with kids of all ages and hopefully inspired a few along the way.”
James Chamberlin PhD, and Principle of Fraser Elementary said, “It is a great partnership. The Blues Society helps inspire kids and you never know, maybe the next Paul Simon is in our audience!”
The BITS program is only a small portion of the Grand County Blues Society mission but the educational enrichment program designed to bring one of our country’s first music forms to the kids, either in classroom settings, after school programs, or community events is always a highlight for the kids and teachers alike.