Béla Fleck takes to stage with Great Falls Symphony for Americana concert tonight

World renowned banjo player Béla Fleck is joining the Great Falls Symphony tonight in one of this season’s highlights.

Fleck has won 15 Grammys and is “arguably the best banjo player on Earth, so getting him to Great Falls is a really big deal. He’s going to be on stage with our symphony and that’s really cool,” said Grant Harville, symphony director.

Born in 1958 and raised in New York City, Fleck got hooked on bluegrass and banjo while watching The Beverly Hillbillies. But banjo didn’t become a full-time passion until 1973 when his grandfather bought him one.

“It’s a sound that no-one else in the orchestra can make. It brings its own unique sonic signature and history as well,” Fleck told The Electric about what the banjo brings to symphony performances.

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Fleck plays all over the world, sometimes with the Flecktones, a band that combines jazz and bluegrass, with other artists, symphonies and solo performances.

As far as joining symphonies goes, “I love getting into the more remote areas, bringing the music and getting to know folks. I feel like its a part of what I should be doing,” Fleck said. “When you play in a big city, it carries pressures, and expectations. I always enjoy traveling off the beaten track. I think it’s more special for the folks when I come, and I am more relaxed and often play better.”

Music and the symphony “can be a meeting place, an opportunity for a shared experience, and a chance to build a warm community,” he said.

In his travels, Fleck has noted differences in communities with vibrant arts and those without.

“It usually comes down to a small group of people who see the importance of a robust and varied arts presentation. Those visionaries can shape a whole town, and educate the people about the great big world of the arts,” Fleck said told The Electric. “Everyone who partakes in these offerings grows and expands their awareness and ability to appreciate.”

Fleck attended New York City’s High School of Music and Art. He began studies on the French horn but was soon demoted to the chorus, due to his lack of musical aptitude, according to his biography.

Since the banjo wasn’t an offered elective at the school, Fleck sought lessons through outside sources and his instructors included Erik Darling, Marc Horowitz and Tony Trischka.

Music education is important, Fleck said, since “if we want music and great musicians in the future, we need to nurture the young ones now.”

Fleck takes to the stage with the Great Falls Symphony at 7:30 p.m. at the Mansfield Theater at the Civic Center. Tickets and more information are available here.