Hope, Heroes & The Blues via Blues in The School conductor Tj Wheeler

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Tj Wheeler has been conducting Blues in the Schools (aka…BITS) for 46 years. His multi-award winning program “Hope, Heroes & the Blues” has reached over a half a million students across five continents. The Missouri Blues Association first brought Tj to mid-Missouri 14 years ago. They connected Tj with Richard King as plans for the first Roots & Blues fest were being made. With the additional aid of Pam Sisson of Grant Elementary School, and the Missouri Arts Council, the first Columbia BITS residency occurred, cumulating with a performance at the inaugural Columbia Roots, Blues & Barbeque Festival. Since then Tj has come back annually, with the program expanding to more students and schools each year. Tj’s motto is “We sing the Blues to lose the Blues” ...mid-Missouri students have been singing the Blues, as well as his praises, ever since.

Photos Tj selected here of BITS in action, reflect the results of different uses and the diversity of his students. One is a photo of an elementary school performance. “I always bring a variety of small percussion instruments,” says Tj, “many of which come from various locations around the world, from which my program has brought me to. During the last 10-15 minutes of my program, I call on roughly 15 -20 students up to play those hand percussion instruments, and then invite the rest of the audience to “get on up” and participate in our Jug Band/New Orleans “second line’ dance.

Another picture depicts a middle school cumulative residency concert. “The students were taught Blues progressions, scales, the basic concepts of improvisation, the “number” system of music theory, ensemble etiquette, and several songs.”

“The last picture is of a Christmas concert I was doing for a special needs audience,” says Tj. “That’s Washboard Johnny keeping the beat! I have been working with special needs students (from infants to the elderly) for well over 20 years.”

“The last 2 pictures depict important aspects of my program that have been underutilized and that I’d love to see included more often,” says Tj. As the old saying goes …”A picture says a thousand words” so I’ll say no more.



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