By John Philip Wyllie
While Mariachi bands are springing up in schools everywhere from Oceanside to San Ysidro, only a handful of local students have ever been taught to play another traditional type of music: bluegrass. Eleven year old violinist, Dalia Miguel, from Vista’s Olive Elementary School is one of them. Mi-guel was one of about 30 students to take advantage of an extraordinary opportunity last weekend at the Second Annual Summergrass Bluegrass Festival held at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista.
In addition to receiving the opportunity to hear performances from some of the top local, national, and international bluegrass bands, Miguel participated in the festival’s special camp for kids conducted by members of Alaska’s award winning band, Bearfoot. The three-day camp allowed Miguel and her classmates to get up close and personal with this group of amazingly talented young musicians. During the three-day camp she learned fiddling techniques and blue-grass nuances that would be otherwise difficult to acquire.
Bluegrass is not a style of music often favored by Hispanic musicians. In fact, Miguel initially set out to play Mariachi music when she took up the violin. But after being exposed to bluegrass music for the first time at a school concert, Miguel wanted to learn more about it.
“My teacher taught me to play a bluegrass tune on my violin and I got to do it as a performance,” Miguel said. Impressed by her ability, another teacher told her about a bluegrass group that meets weekly on Thursday nights in Encinitas at Today’s Pizzas & Salads. Her parents brought her over and Miguel joined the group. Pizza and bluegrass has become her family’s new Thursday night tradition.
“None of my friends have ever seen a Mexican girl playing bluegrass music before, so some of them think it is weird, but others think it is cool. I really don’t care what they think. I can play whatever I want,” Miguel said.
Miguel’s interest in Bluegrass has motivated her father who plays the mandolin and her brother, who plays the piano, to also explore the genre.
Bearfoot fiddler and vocalist Annalisa Woodlee was impressed with Miguel’s enthusiasm and ability after working with her during the camp. For the last several years Woodlee and her bandmates have been on a mission to expose students around the country to the joy of bluegrass music.
“One of our goals is to keep these camps going every year,” Woodlee explained. “We were once students at a camp like this one, then we became counselors and now we are teachers. With the number of camps increasing every year it is getting to the point where we are not going to be able to teach at all of them. Bearfoot is hoping that other musicians will step up to the plate and become instructors too so that we can keep these camps alive.”
Miguel hopes to one day follow in Woodlee’s footsteps and become a professional musician. At some point along the way she hopes to perform in a mariachi band. Regardless of what genre she ultimately chooses, this positive first exposure to the world of music will only help her in the long run. For Woodlee, it was a treat to work with such a highly motivated student.
“Dalia is very clean and careful with each of her movements. Each child’s personality is reflected in the way that they play. She thinks about every movement and performs each one to the best of her ability rather than just trying to play it faster. Her sound is really mature. She is getting a good tone out of her fiddle and that is very important.”
Judging from the enthusiasm generated by this year’s Summerfest Bluegrass Festival and Camp chances are good that the fledgling festival will turn into a San Diego summer tradition.