PRESCOTT - Chino Valley High School student Cheyenne Jasper, 14, quit the guitar and took up a fiddle, and now she says she is ready to fiddle her way around the county as part of Sharlot Hall Museum's new Cultural Arts History Conservatory.
"Playing the guitar was not in my best interest," Cheyenne said during a pre-audition session. "So I switched to the fiddle and everything just clicked. Now it is a big part of my life."
Kent Gugler, a music teacher at Heritage Middle School in Chino Valley and the director of the Heritage Middle School String Band, is leading the 12 students selected to form the band. The conservatory is for student musicians ages 10-18 years old.
Gugler envisions the group as "an honors program from the school music programs." The conservatory will focus on central Arizona music from the 1800s through recent time.
"Ultimately, this program will not be simply a survey or memorialization of the musical tradition of this area," Gugler explained. "In the education and development of young performers, it will represent a continuation of that tradition into the future."
Jody Drake, education curator at the museum, said museum staff had the idea five years ago to form a conservatory group of top-notch student musicians.
"The conservatory is a continuation of the Folk Music Festival, which we put on every year as a way to preserve the music of the central Arizona highlands," Drake said. "The group is going to not only learn to play better under Kent, but it is going to be highly involved with the centennial festivities."
And in keeping true to history, the young musicians will give audiences lots of Irish music filled with the sounds of fiddles, guitars, standup bass and mandolins.
"I love Irish jigs," said Cheyenne, whose strawberry blonde hair and fair skin reflect her Irish heritage. "I love everything about Irish culture and music."
Seventh-grader Cole Driescher, 12, started playing guitar in sixth grade at Heritage Middle School and is a member of the school's string band. His favorite music is blues.
"There's something about it that when I play, I can put my feelings through the music - it's a sort of freedom," Cole said during a recent rehearsal. "If I get into the band, I think it will be neat to know what country the songs are from, and how old they date back to."
After Gugler feels the musicians are ready to strut their stuff, the group will perform shows in and around Prescott, including Sharlot Hall Museum, and he wants to eventually take the show on the road.
"The conservatory is intended to be an educational program exploring the historical and contemporary musical tradition of central Yavapai County," Gugler said. "This will involve student research, musical instruction, arrangement of materials, rehearsals, and ultimately perform our material in a variety of venues."
Cheyenne is so excited about the conservatory, she can hardly wait to audition and start playing.
"I just can't get away from music," she said. "Everyday of my life is like a music class."
Gugler is equally excited about Jasper's fiddle and violin talents, and specifically asked her to audition.
Auditions for the conservatory start at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at Sharlot Hall Museum, 415 W. Gurley St., in Prescott. Students must provide their own instruments and already have a certain level of skill.
"We will elevate their musicianship and give them a life-long thrill," Gugler said of the future band. "We're going to display our cultural heritage to the community and help preserve this music."
"I'm a little nervous about the audition, but I want to keep playing," Cole said. "My grandfather wanted me to carry on our family's guitar tradition."
For more information about the cultural conservatory and the audition, call Gugler at Heritage Middle School, 636-4464, or Jody Drake at Sharlot Hall Museum, 445-3122.