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Grand Island's Grayson Shelp on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall.
Grand Island's Grayson Shelp on stage at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Grand Island's Grayson Shelp finally gets his Kleinhans Music Hall moment

Sat, Mar 19th 2022 07:00 am

Article and Photo by Michael J. Billoni          

When Grayson Shelp was in third grade at William Kaegebein Elementary School on Grand Island, he became interested in Mrs. Ells optional orchestra class. When asked to select a string instrument to learn that year, he was torn between the cello and string bass.

The son of Edwin and Kimberly Shelp went home and explained his dilemma to his mom. Instinctively, she told him they would hold a blind hearing with him listening to solos featuring each instrument.

“I like the smooth, connected notes on both, but the bass sounded more distinctive,” explained the 12-year-old sixth-grader at Veronica E. Connor Middle School.

Grayson enjoyed playing the string bass as a third-grader and took summer lessons on the 5-foot-tall string instrument. He currently stands 4-feet-9.

“The bass is the least played instrument of all string instruments,” he said. “When I first started playing, I had to look up to it. But I just love everything about the instrument, and especially its sound.”

 He continued playing in fourth grade, during the spring of 2021, and through fifth-grade practice and tryouts, which were held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had virtual meetings, which were different – and many of our students quit – but I stayed with it,” said Grayson, who also carries a 99 grade-point average and is an active member of the chess team.

In early 2021, Mrs. Ells introduced the students to the All-County Music Festival, sponsored by the Erie County Music Educators Association, which has been serving music education since 1949.

All-County occurs each March and encompasses five weekend festivals, with seven choruses, four orchestras, four bands and four jazz ensembles showcasing the talents of school-aged musicians from throughout Erie County.

Last year’s tryouts were held virtually. Grayson earned a perfect 100 on the level one song he performed, “March of the Giants.”

Sadly, he could not perform on the stage at Kleinhans Music Hall because of the pandemic.

“Not being able to perform at Kleinhans was disappointing, but trying out virtually was much easier, because you do not have to play in front of anyone,” Grayson added.

As a sixth-grader, he continued with the orchestra. His teacher is Mrs. Ells’ husband, Matt, who brought students to Sweet Home High School on Jan. 22 for tryouts.

Grayson moved up to level three and received a 95 out of 100 score after performing “The Jolly Dutchman.” Four weeks later, he was notified he qualified with five other string bass players for the select group to perform in the 73rd annual All-County Music Festival at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Nora Murnane-Robertson of West Seneca was the conductor. Jennifer Haag of Hamburg and Anneke Ieda of Williamsville are the co-chairs who led rehearsals for 36 violinists, 11 students playing the viola, 12 on the cello, and the six string bass players at Sweet Home four afternoons prior to the concert.

During the concert last Saturday afternoon, they performed to perfection the following songs: “Brandenburg Concerto No. 5” by Johann Sebastian Bach; “Variations on a Sailing Song” by Carl Strommen; “Amadeus from Symphony No. 25” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Three Scenes From a Green Valley” by William Harbison.

“It was a great honor to be on that stage, and I did not feel nervous,” said Grayson, who was well-dressed with black slacks, white shirt and black tie.

As he reflected upon that experience, Grayson said he looks forward to continuing to qualify for this annual event – and eventually advancing to the state competition as he gets older.

“I credit my bass profession to the Ells family. If it wasn’t for Mrs. and Mr. Ells, I would not be here today,” Grayson said. “Learning how to play this instrument under them as teachers has helped me considerably in school with my studies and, overall, I have become a much better person. I have also learned self-discipline because of these trainings.”

Grand Island Superintendent of Public Schools Dr. Brian Graham said, “We are very proud of Grayson. He is an extraordinary student who excels in academic excellence, personal growth, social responsibility, entrepreneurship, and the fine arts! We wish him all the best on his journey with the Erie County Orchestra!”

Grayson also is a member of Boy Scout Troop 630 at St. Stephen’s Church. Last fall, he was featured in the Dispatch for his popcorn selling in front of Gui’s Lumber. He sold $15,005 worth of items, ranking him first in the district and second in the U.S. For the past three years, dating back to when he was a member of Cub Scout Pack 425, he has sold over $30,000 of popcorn items. Grayson is also a young entrepreneur with his Healthy Eats mobile wagon, where he delivers freshly grown vegetables from his backyard garden to neighbors.

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