Tuesday, March 09, 2010
In Louisville today, it's not hard to find bearded hipsters playing their interpretation of Appalachian mountain music while sipping craft beers and mumbling about moving to New York some day. Few, however, have the training and skill of a trio of pluckers who only recently earned their license to drive.
Nora, Ben & Eli are a group that never would have happened without early arts education. A decade ago, they were fortunate enough to join the Louisville Leopard Percussionists, the nonprofit program for elementary school kids where they learned how to play instruments, improvise and work together.
Nora Grossman, Ben Scruton and Eli Kleinsmith, all of whom play multiple instruments, were originally part of a post-Leopards group whose members fell away until only the three were left. The well-educated group evolved into a string trio exploring Appalachian, Irish and Eastern European folk music.
“Somehow, we all figured out that we all liked this kind of music,” said Kleinsmith, a 17-year-old senior at St. Francis. “I think it was because Ben and Nora had been going to the Hindman Settlement School. I started going to that, and we explored Appalachian music from there.”
At the school in Knott County, the group found mentors who helped influence their direction. “There are just so many nice people who are good musicians, too, and that's how we got the Appalachian style,” elaborated Scruton, 17, a senior at duPont Manual.
“One of the most important things we can do is to get people our age into this kind of music. Most are not aware that it exists,” said Grossman, a 16-year-old junior at duPont Manual.
They're still influenced by jazz, too. Scruton said, “Nora and I grew up listening to that style of music, from the Leopards, so we've got that in our minds. It translated to the other instruments, but we're not — we don't sound like Miles Davis or anything.”
Leopards founder Diane Downs is proud. “It's been great to hear them grow into monster musicians,” she recently told a packed house at the Leopards' annual fundraising concert, where Nora, Ben & Eli were featured guests.
They maintain a steady schedule now, but the boys will begin college this fall. None of the trio is planning to pursue a career in music, but they will all continue to play, even just for fun, for the rest of their lives.
Nora, Ben & Eli will perform at Sunergos Coffee on Saturday, March 13th, at 7 p.m. Free, all ages.
photo by John Rott
c. 2010 Velocity Weekly