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Bluegrass Band Engages Students Through Music and Across Cultures

Al Qasimi Foundation
March 29, 2016

The Henhouse Prowlers, an American bluegrass band from Chicago, Illinois, brought both music and educational fun when they visited Ras Al Khaimah in March as part of its tour across the UAE.

“The Foundation is always excited to bring live music from a variety of places to interact with Ras Al Khaimah’s rich traditions,” says Mr. Suqrat bin Bisher, the Foundation’s Events Manager.

The group toured the Emirates via an initiative of the U.S. Mission, says Ms. Mona Madgavkar, Cultural Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

“The U.S. Mission to the UAE supports cultural programming like the Henhouse Prowlers concerts as a means of bringing cultures closer together, to speak to each other through music and art.”

The band’s first stop in the UAE’s northernmost emirate was Ras Al Khaimah Academy, where the Prowlers lost no time engaging a full auditorium of primary school students.

The band peppered songs about lost love and homegrown tomatoes with lessons about the origins of bluegrass (in a state called Kentucky) and of the banjo (which was developed from African gourds).

Mr. Dorfman, the band’s guitarist, led the students in tracing the rhythms of bluegrass. Explaining that the double bass, rather than a drum set, sets the tempo of this music, Mr. Dorfman taught his young audience to distinguish between upbeats and downbeats within minutes.

“Bluegrass is a music designed for all people to understand and empathize with its universal lyrical themes and to feel compelled to pick up an instrument and play along,” he explains.

The Prowlers’ dedication to bluegrass music and to building a relationship between musicians and music-listeners wasn’t lost on educators at the school.

“I think this opportunity gives the children awareness that there’s a massive world out there they should explore,” said Mr. Anthony Repetti, a teacher who spent much of the concert singing along with his students. “They’ve had a great time here today.”

Mr. Andrew Lewis, Deputy Head of British Curriculum, agreed and said bluegrass was something students are not used to. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for children to see such a different mix of music, and, hopefully, some of these children will be inspired to take up music.”

A grade six student declared that the concert “was amazing because it was funny and cool . . . and they did really good music.”

A few hours later, the Henhouse Prowlers took the stage at Ras Al Khaimah’s Chamber of Commerce for a second concert that was open to the general public. News about the band had spread through the school, and some educators brought their own children to the evening event. A row of young boys could not contain their excitement throughout the concert.

One parent of those boys, Mr. Tim Russell, described why he took his children to a concert on a school night.

“As parents, we are always interested in exposing our children to arts, and this program was a great opportunity. Whenever we take the kids to see live music, their interest in playing instruments and learning about new genres increases.”

His oldest son, Tony, seemed to agree, “The Dobro (resonator guitar) player was the best. It was like he played a guitar in his lap.”

The fact that Tony and scores of other young people in Ras Al Khaimah are now familiar with the Dobro and intrigued by bluegrass music testifies to the value of exposing students to art as entertainment and as cultural education.

Reflecting on the Henhouse Prowler’s experience in Ras Al Khaimah, banjo-player Mr. Ben Wright said, “Our trip to the UAE was about making connections across cultures through music. Music is what makes us human, and we can use it to find common ground between very different people—even the youngest ones.”