Bryce Van Derveer Shares his Passion for the Ukulele

Kaitlyn Cashdollar, Senior Reporter

Bryce Van Derveer (12) was recently the first person to ever perform an original composition at a Manitou Springs High School band concert. He made up his own small ensemble and played his ukulele Christmas song, titled “Presents Under Palm Trees.”

Van Derveer first got involved with music in 6th grade, when he learned the clarinet. In 8th grade, he transitioned to the bass clarinet, which is his primary instrument in band currently. “Initially, it started off as a required class in middle school, where you had to take either band or choir. I was worried about my voice cracking so I decided to go with band, and it just kind of stuck after that,” said Van Derveer. Along with those, and the ukulele, he also has recently picked up the guitar. “It’s pretty much the same thing [as the ukulele], so I don’t know if I’m considering it a starting point,” he said.

He started learning the baritone ukulele a little less then a year ago. He first got interested in the instrument after watching Youtube videos. “I think it was a James Hill video on Youtube of him playing ‘Voodoo Child’ on the ukulele, and it was a little bit crazy,” he said.

Van Derveer started playing with the idea of writing his own pieces in November. “At some point I hit a plateau, where I wasn’t quite at a point where I could play the really advanced material I was seeing published online, but I didn’t want to do chords anymore, so I decided I should just play around with making my own chords and picking them to write my own material,” he said.

One unique aspect of the song is that the intro was written at a different time then the rest of the piece. It took him around two weeks to write the composition in total. He said, “If I had known literally any music theory, that would have been really helpful, but I didn’t, so I had to play it by ear. I had to try to figure out what sounded good based on what looked good on paper, and that took a lot more time then it probably should’ve.”

Originally, he had planned on playing a different piece, one that wasn’t written by him, for the Winter Band Concert, but there was a change of plans. “It wasn’t originally a Christmas song, and I had chosen a much harder song for the Christmas [band] concert that I had already signed up to play ukulele for. I asked Mr. Leve if I could just put a Christmas title on the song I had already written, and he said yes. The first thing that came to mind was ‘Presents Under Palm Trees,’ and I thought it was clever, and it stuck.”

Along with “Presents Under Palm Trees,” Van Derveer might be interested in writing a song on another instrument in the future. “[The ukulele] is my primary [instrument] at the moment, so I’m concentrating on that one until I can get better. When I get proficient, I might move on to other instruments for writing.” Another way he could step out of his comfort zone in the future is to write a piece with lyrics. “In the future, yes, I would [write a song with lyrics]. At the moment, I cannot sing for my life, so that’s something I’m working on, but it’s not something that’s happening in the near future.”

No matter whether he decides to write another song, it most likely won’t be performed at a MSHS band concert. “They only allow kids to arrange their own small ensembles for the Christmas Concert. [Band teacher Mr. Leve] is considering maybe one more concert at some point soon, but that might not be while I’m still here.”

Van Derveer is going to the University of Oregon next year. He will not be pursuing music as a career. “I think it would be fun in college to make a little money at coffee shops, and playing street sides and such. That’s really all I want out of it. Its more of a relaxation tool than anything,’ he said.