George French was skeptical.
On the recommendation of his older sister, he applied to join a residential performing arts program called Minnesota 4-H State Arts-In. He wanted to play the saxophone in the show band. But when he got a letter from the director, he was disappointed. There wasn’t a spot from him to play sax, but he was welcome to come as a bass guitar player.
“I had never played the bass guitar and I didn’t want to learn,” recalled George, a 14-year old from Crookston. “I played the saxophone and the cello. That was it. Kirstin said that I could learn, but I wasn’t interested.”
Kirstin Delp is the director of State Arts-In and it was her idea for George to try a new instrument. The show band was missing a bass guitarist, but her suggestion was rooted in something deeper than that need. She wanted George to set a goal and challenge himself to grow.
“George’s past experience with the cello meant he had the skills to learn the bass guitar,” Delp reflected. “It was an opportunity for him to step out of his comfort zone. This is a core value of 4-H. I knew he was capable if he believed in himself.”
George wasn’t initially convinced. He thought about turning down the opportunity. But after some conversations with family, and a dream that helped him realize how much he wanted to be part of the band, he agreed. He’d give the bass guitar a try.
Saying yes, again and again
When George said yes to the bass guitar, he wasn’t just agreeing to playing a new instrument. He was signing up for 22-day, immersive experience that would change his life.
“I’d never done anything like that before. It was a long time to spend away from home,” said George. “I missed some of my soccer season and really didn’t know anybody when I showed up. I was excited, but sort of nervous too.”
Every day of his Arts-In experience challenged George to grow. With the guidance of the Arts-In director team, he set goals, spent hours practicing the show music with other band members, and said yes to every opportunity to make friends and explore ideas for his future.
“4-H creates a community that is safe for youth to challenge themselves and work hard for the greater good,” said Delp. “It is not just about the end result, but the journey – the successes and frustrations along the way.”
The first few days are hard – they are long days of rehearsal and it takes time to get to know people. George was hesitant and frustrated – he was learning a whole new instrument, his fingers hurt, and he didn’t know many people.
George asked several times in the beginning to switch to saxophone. "About halfway through the experience, George stopped to tell me thanks – thanks for allowing him the opportunity to play bass guitar in the band," said Delp. He not only learned a new instrument, he learned that much is possible if one is willing to work through the hard parts.
An unexpected transformation
After nearly 50 performances, George’s Minnesota 4-H State Arts-In experience came to an end. It was time to say goodbye and head home to begin his 10th grade year at Crookston High School. George was surprised by how sad he was to leave the friends he’d made from across Minnesota but is glad that social media helps them stay connected.
He also left with a surprising passion for the bass guitar. He’s since bought his own and plays it nearly every day, including in his church band.
“I’m glad I agreed to try something new,” George reflected. “And I see how important it is to be brave. I discovered another instrument that I really like. I also gained confidence in myself and I’ve learned to be joyful even when things are hard. Saying yes was definitely worth it.”
Learn more about 4-H performing arts.
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