by Stephen Pitalo
The Kids of Chords of Grace are Hitting All the Right Notes
The task of playing the classic “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” or the saucy “Whiskey Before Breakfast” could be daunting for any musician, but Chords of Grace took those and many others on with an added challenge: being siblings ages 11 to 17.
These members of the Voeller family — Shannon age 17, Emily age 15, Daniel age 13, and Molly age 11 — formed a bluegrass band two years ago and with their debut CD, these kids are poised to take the bluegrass scene by storm.
Besides participating in Silver Dollar City’s Youth in Bluegrass competition for the past two years, Chords of Grace performed this year at the Southwest Pickers Bluegrass Festival in Red River, New Mexico. They recently became a featured band at the Pickin’ and Grinnin’ Bluegrass Festival in Bellville, Texas, and performed at the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, in Divide, Colorado. Earlier this year, Daniel placed in the top five for the Texas State Banjo Championship for all ages.
Eldest band member Shannon, who hopes to pursue an English degree after graduating high school, answered a few questions for The Bluegrass Standard about Chords of Grace.
Which bands did you grow up listening to?
When we were little we listened to a wide variety of music. I remember listening to Norah Jones’ earliest albums and watching mom and dad dance to it. However, we mainly listened to country, bluegrass, hymns, and classical music. The band that really influenced us in the bluegrass direction was “Red Molly”. They are spectacular, and we learned a lot about harmonies and instruments from listening to their music. We were also inspired by listening to Nickel Creek, Allison Krauss, and Ricky Skaggs.
When did you and your siblings first start playing as a group?
In 2017, Dad heard about the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Competition held in Silver Dollar City yearly. He came home from work and suggested that we needed to form a Bluegrass Band. We played our first gig that October at a local Library.
How has your hometown influenced your music, and your songwriting?
We live in a little community (Garden Ridge, Texas) located just outside of a very big city (San Antonio). Our town has been extremely encouraging to us, and we are fully supported by our mayor and city council members. In fact, Molly has adopted our Mayor as her uncle and now calls him “Uncle Larry”.
Do you enjoy playing in competitions, or do you prefer just an audience?
We each have our own preferences. I personally prefer avoiding competitions. I don’t like the idea of being judged against other bands when really, we are trying to create our own style of music. However, we do believe that competitions help us increase our skills by giving us a deadline.
How much do you rehearse together?
We try to rehearse together about forty-five minutes to an hour a day, but we all have busy schedules and different pursuits outside of the band. I volunteer at a therapy horse ranch and am in my final year of high school, Emily is also working at the same ranch and preparing to study midwifery, Daniel is an advanced pianist, but also loves basketball and other athletic activities, and Molly loves to practice step-dancing and works on crafts and presents for family and friends.
Is it difficult to be in a band with your siblings?
When Dad and Mom encouraged us to form this band, one of the goals they had in mind was for us to form stronger relationships with each other. We are homeschooled, so we do spend a great deal of time together but practicing and performing together takes it to a whole new level. As with any group project, everyone has opinions and ideas, and sometimes we all react immaturely to each other. However, by God’s grace, we are learning to work together, and have grace for each other.