The Capitol Kids

Peggy Lewis

As the Capital Kids Banjo Band (CKBB) prepared to perform in the Sacramento Jazz Festival recently, I reflected on the past 2 years and the growth of this organization. The first CKBB meeting took place during October 1997. Six children showed up at a conference room that had been supplied by the Country Club Plaza Mall in exchange for a Sacramento Banjo Band playout during the Thanksgiving holidays. These six children continue to play in the CKBB and played an important part in our presentation at the Jazz Festival, as did the seven other youngsters in the band.

The idea of developing a children's band began in 1992. In my mind, at that time, I was thinking only of the finished product: small children with banjos, dressed in appropriate costumes, playing their hearts out. The necessity of acquiring banjos, finding a place to practice, advertising, etc. was not even considered. I thought "The Post Office Banjo Band" would be a good name -- there was a barber shop nearby with a similar name and I thought it had a nice ring to it.

About 1995, I presented the idea to the Sacramento Banjo Band. By that time, I was considering that "The Choo Choo Banjo Band" would be a good name. I pictured children with train costumes. I was still giving little thought to banjos, places to practice, etc. The major thing in my mind was the idea of inviting children to play in a band rather than inviting them to learn to play the banjo with one-on-one lessons. To date, I still believe this is a good way to go.

In 1996, I began to get realistic. I had an attractive ad made, bought 6 banjos and had Renee Karnes polish them up and make them playable. At this time also I began working together with Ralph Congdon, leader of the Sacramento Banjo Band, and Barbara Kampe, a tenor player in the Band, planning for the organizing and teaching of such a group.

About this time also, another Sacramento Banjo Band member, schoolteacher Carol Spiker, obtained permission for us to use space at her school to practice weekly. We advertised in children-oriented magazines and in local music stores. After only a month, six children professed interest, the band was formed and we had our first practice. We decided to call the group "The Capital Kids Banjo Band".

The Kids have played in pizza parlors, in a toy store, at a mobile home park, at the Peninsula Banjo Band's Jamboree last September and, of course, each year at the Sacramento Banjo Band's Banjo-Rama in February. Last month they were one of the featured groups at the Sacramento Jazz Festival and played The Baron Von Nickle Boogie, When the Saints Go Marching In, Jada, I'm Gonna Be (a rock tune), The Entertainer and, of course, Oh, Suzanna.

We have gone through many changes in the last two years. The practice times and places have changed and there have been children who didn't continue. Nonetheless, the band has persistently continued to grow. Some of the children receive private lessons from time to time, but the practices and lessons continue to be free

One of the amazing things that has occurred is the response we've received from articles about the Kids Band that have appeared in THE RESONATOR and THE FIGA MAGAZINE. Many banjos have been donated by people from all over the country, in addition to those donated by members of the Sacramento Banjo Band. Also, monetary contributions have been made, including some made in memory of Russ Presting. Additionally, Keith and Mary Presting made a generous donation of 5 banjos (4 plectrums and 1 tenor) during the Sacramento Banjo Band Banjo-Rama in February. The FIGA Foundation has given the Kids Band a grant, which is being used to repair and fine-tune the donated banjos. Another marvelous surprise was a workshop given to the kids by Buddy Wachter.

Originally, we thought the biggest challenge would be acquiring banjos but, through the generosity of both the local and the national banjo family, this part has gone smoothly. The greatest challenge has been arranging the time and place for the practice sessions. It's been difficult to find a time and place that's convenient for everyone. The greatest challenge for the children has been to learn to play both chords and single string notes. They all must learn single string playing early, so they can play their own melody as a band.

Barbara, Ralph and I will soon be reevaluating our entire program. We will most likely change our practice time and location and, once again, advertise for new members. We have high hopes of continuing to contribute to the youngsters' fun, their learning and, especially, to their successes.

Current members are:

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