Every Wednesday night, on the eighth floor of Dodge Hall, a soft banjo sound envelops the hallways as students gather for weekly rehearsal. This is the setting of James Kerr’s bluegrass ensemble course, a class that endeavors to learn about bluegrass music and develop a setlist of traditional bluegrass songs to be performed at their end-of-semester concert. Kerr, who holds a doctorate in classical guitar performance, has been leading Columbia University’s Bluegrass Ensemble for the past five years. The ensemble is made up of students from across the University, and though the group is mostly comprised of undergraduates, Kerr has also taught doctorate and master’s students. No matter their academic endeavors, however, the students have one thing in common: They all share a curiosity about bluegrass music. While some students have been dedicated bluegrass instrumentalists for years, others are completely new to the genre. Kerr aims to create a space that is welcoming for all, regardless of the students’ experience levels, and even engaging as a member of the group by playing the Dobro—a guitar-like bluegrass instrument dating back to the ’30s. The Dobro achieves a louder, more sustained effect than a guitar, projecting over a band through a resonator cone located inside of the instrument.” - Bella Bromberg

Columbia Spectator