Students at Virginia Tech have many hobbies that provide them with an outlet for creativity and allow them to de-stress after a long day. For Monty Campbell, a sophomore studying physics, playing instruments during his free time gives him an enjoyable break from his physics and math classes.
As if being a 16-year-old in the Honors College did not make Campbell stand out enough, he can play four instruments in total. Campbell has been playing the banjo for three years, the low D whistle for two years, the mandolin for a year and the concertina, a free-reed instrument that is similar to an accordion, for six months. Although he could not bring the concertina to campus due to a lack of space and a case, he was able to bring his other three instruments. He practices about eight hours per week, and students might even see him strumming his banjo or mandolin around campus when it is warm outside.
“I think it is more relaxing to play outdoors because I do not want to annoy the people in my dorm (East Ambler Johnston). The building carries sound very easily, especially in the lounge, so I play the banjo and mandolin outdoors because they are loud instruments. However, I can play the low D whistle inside since it is not too loud. I usually perform old-time and bluegrass music near D2, but I have not played outside as much recently because it has been cold,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s mother has a D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) in flute performance, so he grew up in a household full of music. His parents wanted him to play an instrument, so he learned the banjo first because his mother had a banjo that she did not use often. Since Campbell enjoyed playing it, he decided to pick up more instruments. His mother has been influential in his pursuit of music by giving him new instruments and advice.
“My mother got the concertina from an auction, and I was able to learn a tune overnight. She has taught me the importance of tuning and playing instruments on time. Also, she demanded that I should memorize the music, which has helped me to avoid messing up in the middle of a performance and maintain steady rhythm,” Campbell said.
Campbell has Irish heritage on both sides of his family, and his mother performs at a traditional Irish music session at a pub in Harrisonburg every Sunday afternoon for two hours. About two months after learning the banjo, he started performing at the music session with his mother. He enjoys getting the opportunity to play all four instruments at the pub.
“I improve my skills by learning the technique from the other musicians, while I teach myself the actual music. A mandolin and banjo player named Dave Nealon (one of the other pub performers) inspired my picking and backup chord technique. The same group of musicians usually comes every week, and we are a solid group in terms of our ability to play together. We typically practice individually since the session is more recreational than a formal performance,” Campbell said.
Throughout his experiences of performing, his happiest moment was overcoming the challenge of learning a benchmark tune, “Gravel Walks,” which is often revered as difficult. He was able to play it on his mandolin during a music session without making a mistake, which made him feel accomplished. In the future, Campbell hopes to save up enough money to learn how to play the bagpipes because he thinks that they sound cool and he likes to play traditional Scottish and Irish music.
As a result of Campbell’s musical upbringing and the opportunities it has given him, music holds a special place in his heart. He also has advice for aspiring musicians.
“For people who want to learn how to play an instrument, you should always tune your instruments. Also, if your fingers hurt, and you feel that your music needs improvement, then you are doing it right,” Campbell said.