POLLOCK PINES — For her birthday last year, Emily Gaut received an electric guitar. Since then, the Sierra Ridge Middle School eighth grader has been practicing as much as professional guitar players.
“I’ve always wanted to play guitar,” Gaut said. “I’ve been interested in it.”
Gaut, 13, plays lead guitar and sings in the band, the First Choice, consisting of all Sierra Ridge Middle School students. The group formed last November. Jake Higginbotham, also an incoming eighth grader, plays rhythm guitar and sings, Kayleigh Bunce plays bass and sings and Ryan Croffoot rounds out the band by playing drums.
The quartet is also part of the Sierra Ridge Guitar Club that consists of 12 members from the campus learning how to play chords as well as sing. Randy Head is the guitar club founder and Kelly Croffoot oversees the group. According to Croffoot, most of the students in the club are taking the summer off. Members who were part of the club last school year were Haylee Frame, Christian Anglin, Matthew Theriot, Caleb Petersen, Seth Petersen, Bradyne Abreo, Sarah Stoflet, Mandy Rath, Teagan Maxwell, Amy Dominikus, Kate Curless and Kyle Konetchy.
This year alone, the First Choice and some members of the guitar club have performed at numerous events such as the Fun ‘N’ Fit Expo and various community events in El Dorado County. They are also performing outside the county lines that includes the Howard Park Outdoor Arena in Ione and the Amador County Fair in Plymouth.
Some of the songs the First Choice loves to play are covers of “Sweet Home Alabama” originally recorded by the 1970s rock band Lynard Skynard, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by 1980s rock band Journey and “Let It Be” by another famous 1970s rock band, Wings.
“The classics,” smiled Bunce.
Higginbotham added, “I’m a big Beatles fan. I’m interested in those songs and try to play them.”
Higginbotham, also 13, said he was given his first guitar when he was 6 years old, but started playing seriously in the past year.
“I just thought it would be a neat hobby to pick up,” said Higginbotham, picking up a six-string.
That’s also the same story for Bunce, 13, who wanted to play only so many strings so she opted for the bass after playing the guitar for a short time.
“I didn’t like my hands on the chords, so I decided to try the bass,” said Bunce, “and I really liked that.”
During a recent rehearsal inside the guitar club’s studio on the campus, Bunce plucks her strings instead of using a pick that most beginning to professional bass and guitar players use.
“I can’t hold the pick right and it doesn’t sound the same to me,” Bunce said.
Everyone in the guitar club is supportive of each other in the guitar club, Gaut said.
“They give us an opportunity to perform at lots of different places,” Gaut said. “I feel like everyone here is just part of a family.”
Higginbotham, who now owns two electric guitars, added, “They got me where I’m at right now.”
Gaut is no stranger to music. Before picking up the guitar, she learned how to play the piano, reading music and took singing lessons when she was 6 years old.
The First Choice sings mostly cover songs. Two months ago, Gaut wrote a song, “See Myself With You” in which she also sings lead. The song has been performed at some of the group’s public performances.
“I’ve always loved singing,” Gaut said. “My mother said I use to sing myself to sleep. At random times I get a lyric in my head and just build off that.”
Along with the practice time they put inside the studio, they rehearse on a daily basis — mostly in their bedrooms at their homes. Learning how to play songs off videos seen on TV or YouTube also enhances their guitar playing abilities.
“I spend a lot of time in my room just playing guitar, playing random songs that I’ve learned,” Gaut said.
Croffoot added, “There is much talent amongst these kids. We are applying our knowledge to direct them to the top performance they are capable of. I am excited to see where they will be a year from now.”
The Sierra Ridge Guitar Club is always looking for donations of used acoustic and electric guitars, plus basses and amps to plug the guitars and basses.E-mail Croffoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Mike Bush at 530-344-5079 or email@example.com. Follow @MBushMtDemo on Twitter.