Preserving the arts

Wheatland scholarships make the arts accessible for all

 

 

REMUS — Although Ayana Bott, 10, Makiaya Reeves, 9, and Nyeannie Reeves, 8, have only been playing music for a short time, it didn’t deter them from taking the stage and performing for an audience for the first time.

PERFORMING: Susie Russell (from left to right), Nyeannie Reeves, 8, Ayana Bott, 10, Makiaya Reeves, 9, and Glynn Russell perform at Wheatland Music Organization’s 3rd annual Winter Wheat event on Jan. 7 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids. Glynn teaches the three girls mandolin and guitar which is paid for by a scholarship from Wheatland. (Courtesy photo)

 

The sisters and their cousin were part of a group of performers at Wheatland Music Organization’s 3rd annual Winter Wheat event on Jan. 7 at The Intersection in Grand Rapids.

All three are taught by Wheatland instructor Glynn Russell at his home in Evart. Russell and his wife, Susie, performed with the girls in an effect to display some of the students Wheatland works with.

“It was just about my happiest day in about six months,” Russell said. “I get emotional about it. I love to hear them play and learn like that. I am so proud of them because they are so young, cute and really good kids. They are good students.”

Not only are the lessons provided by a Wheatland instructor, the organization also made it financially possible for the girls to learn.

Through the Wheatland Music Organization’s Elyce Fishman Scholarship, funding is awarded to assist Michigan children and adults in improving improve their skills in the areas of traditional music, dance, arts and crafts. Russell applied the girls for the scholarship that now pays for their lessons.

JAMMING: Glynn Russell plays the mandolin at his home in Evart. Russell teaches two sisters and their cousin at his home through the help of a Wheatland scholarship. (Pioneer photo/Kyle Leppek)

“It gives them a chance to hold the instrument in their hands and really do something they might not get in school anymore because they are cutting so many programs like that,” Russell said. “Wheatland is so anxious to preserve the arts, and music is part of the arts.”

Ayana is a fifth-grader at Chippewa Hills, while Makiaya is a third-grader and Nyeannie is a second-grader at Crossroads Charter Academy. Each said they don’t have many opportunities in their respective grades for a musical education.

It wasn’t soon after their grandmother, Christine Conley-Sowels, started taking mandolin lessons from Russell that the girls followed suit, oldest to youngest. Ayana and Makiaya also play the mandolin and Nyeannie plays the guitar.

“The scholarship is really crucial,” Conley-Sowels said. “It is crucial that they have this opportunity because it costs money to take lessons, so this afforded them to take lessons for free.”

In addition to the scholarship program, Wheatland also has a fund to help youth ages 3 to 18 to purchase the tools — like musical instruments or art supplies — they need to participate in school, community, church and other personal arts pursuits.

The scholarships and funds are made available because Wheatland is passionate about preserving the traditional arts which can only be passed down from person to person, said Pamela Burke, who serves on the committee that awards scholarships.

The three girls have attended Wheatland’s fall festival with their families for most of their life. Widening their horizons to all styles of music is important, Conley-Sowels said. When they first started taking lessons, the girls learned old-time gospel songs. The organization and their scholarships have helped the girls become well-rounded individuals.

“Too often, young people only focus on the music of the day,” Conley-Sowels said. “Through exposure to various artists and types of music, they are going to have a much broader perspective on what music is.”

The girls performed six songs on stage in Grand Rapids. Playing for 20 minutes, the girls performed longer than any other of the students featured at the concert. They hand-picked the songs, including two of their favorites: “Worried Man Blues” and “Dead Skunk (in the Middle of the Road).”

Russell teaches the girls together a few times a week. Ayana said she likes playing with her cousins because when they make a mistake they all laugh together. She also is thankful she has the opportunity to take private lessons.

“It means a lot to me because I get to learn some musical instruments and other kids can’t,” she said.

Ayana hopes to learn the piano or guitar next, while Makiaya wants to learn violin and Nyeannie hopes to learn to play the drums soon.

No matter the instrument the girls continue to play, it was through the help of a Wheatland scholarship that the girls caught the musical bug.

“I would recommend anyone who has a child, or even any individual, that is interested in learning more about an instrument, especially preserving the old-time traditional music, that Wheatland is the place to seek that help,” Conley-Sowels said.

For more information on Wheatland scholarships, or to download an application, visit www.wheatlandmusic.org/giving-and-receiving/scholarships.

 

Wheatland scholarships are open to individuals of all ages. Not all applicants will be awarded a scholarship. Applicants increase their chances by:

  • Requesting funding for activities that fit the scholarship fund’s stated purpose and clearly name the skills to be gained.
  • Completing the application themselves.
  • Being a first time applicant.
  • Demonstrating the greatest financial need and/or the greatest potential for growth.
  • Showing commitment by having raised a portion of the funds needed.

Two reference letters also must be submitted by individuals who are not a family member and won’t benefit financially from the scholarship. A letter by someone in the traditional arts and knowledgeable of the applicants potential also is preferred.

If the scholarship is to attend an event, a brochure or registration form also should be attached.

If possible, the application package should be sent in two months prior to the activity or event.

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