Editor's Note: The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music was established in 2000 and has hosted many students with different levels of expertise and stories that lead them to KCTM. This series will highlight some of those stories and how they are learning to share the music tales of this area's cultural heritage.
Music is passed on from generation to generation and for Tyler Mullins, a senior at Morehead State University and Kentucky Center for Traditional Music student, it was his mother that originally inspired his aspirations.
“My mom played the piano and guitar and sang at our church. She said that I sat on the front pew with a toy rattle that I would pretend to be playing along to the music,” said Mullins. “She taught me a few chords on the guitar when I was about 4, and I've been playing since.”
Mullins' choice of instrument is the banjo.
“My grandmother bought me a banjo from a flea market when I was 5,” said Mullins. “I had a guitar and banjo sitting in my closet. It seemed like a lot of people played guitar and I really wanted to do something different.”
He continued playing as he grew up, joining an after-school Bluegrass Club in his hometown of Sparta. He would go on to play with a band called Kentucky Sassafras for five years. That is when he auditioned to play banjo for Larry Sparks, who has been in the Bluegrass music industry for 50 years.
He said that while looking at schools, MSU and the KCTM really stood out.
“I visited several campuses but when I came to Morehead it just felt right,” said Mullins. “A group was rehearsing and president Wayne Andrews was working with them. There was just a rhythm and a groove in the room that was so thick, and I knew if the president was invested in the program that was where I was suppose to go.”
Mullins balances touring with a professional musician and being a traditional music performance and multimedia production student.
“Luckily a lot of our performance dates are on the weekends but I have definitely learned time management,” said Mullins. “The professors are professionals who are actively working in the music industry. Not only do they have the musical credentials, but they also have a passion for teaching.”
He added that he is able to use the knowledge he gains in class directly in his professional music career.
“It is constantly amazing to me to see the things I learn in class applied in the music industry,” said Mullins. “You see things differently when you have an education and professional background paired. It teaches you how to think about the industry, the art and philosophically as in what musics role in society truly is.”
Mullins said that traditional music is a family thing.
“Traditional music lends itself to a family atmosphere and it is a community that is always interested in teaching and passing on the traditions and stories,” said Mullins. “This music connects past to present and tradition is ever-evolving. That is the importance of those that play it, the music itself and the program.”
He picks the strings of his banjo, playing them soft and then with force. For Mullins, who also plays guitar and mandolin, the banjo is his favorite.
“People have preconceived notions about the banjo and I hate those stereotypes and I want to stop them,” said Mullins. “There are so many possibilities with it, there is something soulful about the banjo that people miss out on.”
Mullins is looking forward to the new experiences that graduation will bring.
“Playing is like a puzzle piece, you have to find where and what to play to solidify the group and to place yourself inside that song so that the story and emotions can be shared with the audience,” said Mullins. “Realizing you are creating something that is a part of yourself, but something that has been around forever, and that makes yourself and others happy. It is something to always strive to do."
Shayla Menville can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 784-4116.