Be-In-A-Band with Crystal Reeves and Syd Smith

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Teachers Syd Smith (at center left on guitar) and Crystal Reeves (at center right on violin) step up to play a song.


I discovered the Be-In-a-Band Workshop while browsing local events on the Internet. The premise of the class seemed straightforward enough: learn to play music with other people over six two-hour sessions, culminating in a final public performance.


Musical collaborations often lead to wholly unexpected feelings and relationships, to say the least. In my own experience, it is this intensity of new emotions that makes or breaks a band.  The band either rises to the challenge of their collective potential, or burns out under the pressure of the petty details. I was curious as to how these teachers might guide an inexperienced musician through these uncharted and emotionally charged waters, and how their students might cooperate in crafting some genuine art.


The final performance—held at the Roxy Anne Grange in East Medford on March 16—was by invite only, but teachers Crystal Reeves and Syd Smith were kind enough to give me a photo pass to the well-attended concert.Â

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The students were arranged in three different bands, playing mostly acoustic guitars, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, violin, and a few other instruments. Each group featured a lead vocalist, as well as a compliment of backing vocals. The bands played cover tunes and a few originals of their own choosing, overwhelmingly of the bluegrass and folk variety.


Early in the concert, Reeves left her post at the soundboard, approached me, and said of her pupils, “Most of them have never been on a stage before.”

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It hadn’t occurred to me yet just how green these students were. Whenever I meet or hear a musician older than myself, I usually assume they are veterans. It dawned on me that while so many of us play an instrument or sing, often we must divert our energy towards other avenues in life. Perhaps family, work, school, or some other calling that demands our attention. Playing music is about being in the moment, but finding the time to get there is no simple matter.


I missed my opportunity for an interview with Crystal due to other appointments, but she was kind enough to find time to write in this interview piece:



Tell me about some experiences that inspired you to teach and play music.


I was lucky enough to have a wonderful violin teacher in college named Christopher Kimber who, at one time, was the Concert Master of the Boston Pops Orchestra. He encouraged me to explore a variety of musical styles, as well as learning standard classical repertoire. His inspiration and passion for music gave me guidance to begin improvisation on the violin. After many years of performing with a variety of bands, touring the US and Canada, and recording, I was given the opportunity to teach at a music camp. I discovered that I could put my own skills and experience to good use by sharing what I had learned with others.


My mother and aunt would sing and play ukulele and harmonica around the campfire and at family gatherings. I was fascinated with the instruments and started playing them at a young age. In the fifth grade, my elementary school offered a music program. It was at age nine that I started playing violin after my grandmother, who was a violinist, encouraged me to play. I played in school, community, and youth orchestras, and later in the college orchestra and ensembles. My three brothers and I still sing and play together when I visit my hometown of Columbus, Ohio.


Tell me about your approach to teaching.


I have a twofold approach to teaching music. I teach violin and mandolin in my Ashland and Medford studios, and encourage my students to learn proper technique using my own classical training.  Also, how to read and comprehend music and music theory. For those who want to apply this knowledge to improvisation, I show them ways to utilize this training to access their own musical creativity, and include tools to help them have fun playing with their friends and family.

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Tell me about your students.


When teaching private lessons, students range in age from ten to eighty years old. Many are in their school orchestra, the youth strings or youth orchestra, or the adult orchestra in Ashland.


The people who attend the Be-In-A-Band Workshops and Classes are adults who have reached a point in their lives that they are able to devote some time to developing a musical passion. Some are retired, and others can take time off their busy schedules to get together with others and have some fun.


Tell me about your teaching partner, Cyd Smith.


I met Cyd Smith perhaps fifteen years ago when we were both on staff at the California Coast Music camp, and then later at Puget Sound Guitar Workshop. Cyd is anaccomplished and versatile guitarist, and also plays electric bass and sings. Her teaching style is based on years of experience and considerable knowledge of instruction and performance. Since she recently moved to Oregon from Seattle, we decided to start an adult workshop based on the philosophy of the camps.


It is so much more fun and motivating when you have a group of people to play and sing with, as opposed to sitting at home alone and practicing.  The performance aspect provides a motivation for actually working on group skills to learn how to play introductions, solos, fills, and vocal harmonies as a unit so there is a sense of ensemble.  We are continuing to develop these workshops and hope to be teaching them regularly every year.  For more information, or to be on the mailing list, contact Crystal Reeves at 541-621-6335 or email to

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Until next time.


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I am a musician, a journalist, and a music fan. Life is awesome. I play music, write about music, photograph music, listen to music, and ride my big bad motorcycle. I also cook and wash dishes for rent money.

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