Student By Day, Musician By Night: The Colorado College Bluegrass Ensemble

By Joshua Kalenga

At least once in our lives, some of us have dreamt of being in a band. There is something deeply alluring about the idea of creating music. The Colorado College Bluegrass Ensemble allows some of CC’s students to live this dream. At its most basic level, the CC Bluegrass Ensemble is an instrumental and vocal band in which students create bluegrass — a genre of American roots music. For its members, however, it is much more than that. 

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Camille Newsom ’20 plays the fiddle for the ensemble and is also the student assistant for the bluegrass department. Previously, she played the classical violin from age 5 to 16. Evidently, music is an important part of her life. She joined the ensemble last spring and as a member, she has had the opportunity to create music, as well as to perform it. 

Commenting on her favorite memory since she joined the ensemble, she said, “Last spring, we played at a festival in Durango. It was incredible to be surrounded by such high-quality musicians and to be able to jam and learn new songs from them.”  

Newsom cited Tim Crouch and Stuart Duncan, two bluegrass fiddle players whom she described as “amazing,” as her inspiration. 

It may appear as though the ensemble is open only to experienced musicians such as Newsom. However, there are three different levels of bluegrass ensembles at CC. According to the bluegrass ensemble website, the beginner ensemble does not require an audition, and focuses on bluegrass vocal harmony, rhythm, and lead playing in an informal group setting. The intermediate and advanced ensembles require an audition and move further into the performance realm.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

When asked what long-term goal she would like to see the ensemble achieve, Newsom said that she hoped for more CC students to join. 

“I hope that students continue to join the bluegrass program and become exposed to bluegrass music both from playing and listening,” Newsom said. “Keith Reed [the director] is an incredible professor and resource at CC, and I hope that more students, regardless of their musical background, try out bluegrass lessons with Keith and maybe join an ensemble.” 

In a sense, the phrase “student by day, musician by night” is not an accurate description of the members of the ensemble. As a matter of fact, being part of the ensemble is also an academic activity. All three ensemble levels — beginner, advanced and intermediate — provide students with academic credit. 

However, being a part of the ensemble does, of course, require one to commit their time. In preparation for performances, the advanced ensemble usually practices two to three times a week for one to two hours each day. Given the intensity of the Block Plan, this may seem like a difficult commitment to make. However, considering that it provides students with academic credit, as well as the chance to achieve one’s dream of making music, it may well be worthwhile.          

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Realistically, not every CC student will want to join the ensemble. Nonetheless, every CC student can get involved in the ensemble by going to watch their performances. Their next performance will be on Friday night, Dec. 6, in Manitou Springs. That may well be the perfect chance for CC students to enjoy some bluegrass, all the while supporting the musical dreams of the people behind it. 

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