UGA trio will travel to Kazakhstan for youth orchestra, bluegrass

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Dr. Skip Taylor, associate professor of music in string education at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, will soon be trading East Campus for the Eastern Hemisphere. Taylor is going to Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Nov. 14-23 to conduct a youth orchestra during an inaugural international music symposium at the Almaty International School.

John Christian, the instrumental music conductor at Almaty International School, knew Taylor and his work and invited Taylor, the chair of the School of Music’s Music Education area, to lead Almaty’s first event of this kind. 

Taylor, who has many years of experience with directing and conducting youth orchestras, accepted, but an off-hand remark between the two conductors set wheels in motion that would make this trip even more special.

“We were just talking and I said, ‘It’s too bad you don’t want a little bluegrass music,’” said Taylor. “And [Christian] said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I told him, ‘I’ve got two TAs here who are both very fine players and we could do some fiddle music with these folks from these different countries.’

“And he just said, out of the blue, ‘I’ll find housing and food, you get the flights.’”

After receiving the support of School of Music Director Dale Monson, Taylor went to two of his graduate students, Danny Bermel and Damon Postle.

“I've always wanted to visit Kazakhstan,” said Postle. “The city we're visiting, Almaty, was a Bronze Age settlement 3,000 years ago and is also part of the Silk Road that Marco Polo traveled. This is an amazing opportunity to bring bluegrass music to that part of the world.”

“It’s a great opportunity to go see what people are doing on the other side of the world,” said Bermel. “It’s an opportunity to get a different perspective and do some more teaching in a different setting that will help me grow as a person.”

The trip, then, is a two-fold honor for the trio: they will be an integral part of the Almaty International School’s first-ever international music symposium, and they will be presenting students from more than 20 countries what will likely be their first taste of bluegrass. But why bluegrass? 

“In my teaching career, I've taught bluegrass band classes to great success,” said Postle. “We learned instruments and played music by ear and there was a drastic improvement in all of their aural skills. Suzuki Method and Gordon Music Learning Theory emphasize sound before sight and bluegrass/folk is a tradition that is almost exclusively sound before sight.”

“I think it comes down to the music and what it does to us physically,” said Bermel. “It really puts a beat in your body and is upbeat and emotional for kids. If you pick the right tunes, it gives them a chance to be successful and have everyone on different levels being successful at the same time in large groups and it’s great.”

The trio will have several other opportunities to play bluegrass while in Kazakhstan, including a “jam session” with Kazakh musicians and, potentially, a performance at the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan.

“I am calling this bluegrass diplomacy,” said Postle. “It's a huge responsibility to present this music that we love in a manner that will encourage students to continue playing bluegrass after we depart. Maybe one day we will be able to host bluegrass musicians from Almaty or hold a bluegrass festival in Kazakhstan.”

For more information on music education and the School of Music at UGA, see


Photo: Damon Postle, Dr. Skip Taylor and Danny Bermel prepare to practice outside the Hugh Hodgson School of Music in October.