My Davidson | A Student Blog Joining the Appalachian Ensemble

Appalachian Ensemble playing at the Verna Miller Case Symposium

The Appalachian Ensemble playing at the Verna Miller Case Symposium

About the Author

Vincent Scauzzo '24 is a Classical Languages and Literature major who also enjoys courses in political science and physics. In addition to his role in Appalachian Ensemble, he is president of Episcopal Student Fellowship and enjoys going on runs in the neighborhoods around Davidson and fishing at Lake Campus.  

When I arrived at Davidson, I didn’t know how to pronounce “Appalachian” the correct way. 

I didn’t know who Maybelle Carter or Bill Monroe were, nor the profound history of the songs and instruments they played.

I’d never touched a string instrument in my life.

Only after taking Dr. Bill Lawing’s class on the music of the Southern Appalachia (I know how to say it now) did I become familiar—indeed, fall in love—with the unique sound from this part of the country. Because of that class, I have become a proud novice banjo player, taking my instrument with me everywhere I go, hoping to have others see the light like I did. Today, I play in the Appalachian Ensemble here at Davidson. If ever there were a musical group that epitomized the joyful, contemplative, oh-so North Carolina experience of attending Davidson College, this is it.

I assembled my first banjo from a kit I purchased for $105. To this day, it is the best money I have ever spent on a material item. On this beautifully simple lightweight model, with its head made from sturdy cardboard and poplar, and neck carved from Nicaraguan mahogany, I learned my first song, the ancient spiritual “I’ll Fly Away.” After this tune, I learned a handful of other similarly eternal acoustic classics like “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” and, of course, the introduction to the Dueling Banjos song from the film “Deliverance.” I played these tunes for hours in my dorm room and on benches all over, much to the eventual annoyance of those close to me, I’m sure. But I never tired of them. Only when I returned from abroad to Davidson and joined the Appalachian Ensemble did I understand the boundless potential of the instrument, and the greater capabilities of my playing.

The Appalachian Ensemble performed at the 2023 Farm Formal

Students dance to the Appalachian Ensemble
Vincent Scauzzo '24 performs with Jon Singleton and Jon Hill

“AE” is unique among Davidson’s musical groups (as far as I know) in that every song we play is learned completely by ear. In my first rehearsal, with my quiet little kit banjo, the band’s big sound, combined with my lack of knowledge of the tunes, was intimidating. It was also mesmerizing. The chance to eventually play along with similar confidence and harmony made me determined to put as much time into my instrument as I could. To learn the songs, I spent one-on-one time with one of Davidson’s gems: the band’s leader, Mr. Jon Singleton, a scruffy old man who I can only describe as the kind of guy you want to teach you the banjo. Within just a month, I was picking along with the rest of the group.

The high point of my first semester with the band came in April of 2023 when we played the “Farm Formal” at the Davidson College farm. Standing around in a half-circle outdoors with a big group of my friends cheering and dancing to the music, I felt truly connected to my instrument for the first time. One after another, we ripped through tunes seamlessly and with perfect chemistry. I was calling songs and was able to listen to the band instead of having to concentrate on my own playing. Here, with the Appalachian Ensemble, I felt my mind become liberated from the daily frustrations of college student life, and I found complete contentment in that moment. I also understood what this kind of music can do for other people. Something about that bright acoustic sound is honest, and I think people appreciate that. The music we play in the Appalachian Ensemble reminds folks of their innocence—the joys of the simple and natural.

Appalachian Ensemble playing at the production of Bright Star

The Appalachian Ensemble recently performed in the 2024 production of BRIGHT STAR. The award-winning musical is accompanied by a bluegrass and country score composed by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved in some musical group—either choir or jazz band—for most of my life. As I’ve mentioned, picking up the banjo and playing Appalachian music was a complete departure from my normal repertoire. And yet, I’ve never felt prouder to be in an ensemble than I do now with AE. I feel honored to play an instrument whose legacy is so intertwined with the history of this region. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring joy to all who listen. And really, I think that’s the point. The Appalachian Ensemble, with its sweet sound and humble instruments, just makes you happy. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?


  • March 25, 2024