ELLIS — St. Mary’s Grade School students celebrated Kansas Day a little early.
The state will be 155 years old Friday.
Kansas City musician Kelly Werts visited the school Tuesday morning as part of the Hays Arts Council Kansas Day Music Residency.
“It’s always nice to celebrate something that’s really important to us,” said Brenda Meder, HAC executive director.
The performance is a fun way for the students to learn about the state’s history, sixth-grade teacher Jackie Baxter said.
Werts outlined the state’s history with storytelling and songs based on a family of four — Pop, Mama, Junior and Missy.
The four traveled to the state with a covered wagon full of supplies, rolling across the prairie.
The family built a house using blocks of sod, plowed the land and planted crops and a garden.
As Werts played a jawbone with wooden spoons and sang, the children learned about buffalo hunters.
After meeting a cowboy on the trail, Werts said, Junior decided he wanted to be a cowboy, too. After practicing riding and roping, he left the family to pursue his dream.
He later returned to settle down and made a home on land near his parents.
The youngsters were full of questions about the songs and Werts’ musical background.
One child asked how he knows all this “stuff.”
“Well, some of it’s on the Internet, but I get a lot of it from books, and I learn songs from other musicians and from recordings,” Werts said. “There’s a lot of different ways you can learn things.”
A chorus of young voices joined in with the finale, “Home on the Range.”
Werts said he’s always played the music of the Kansas pioneers.
He even recorded an album and wrote a book from information he researched on the topic.
Kids are a unique audience “because a lot of this music they’re hearing for the first time. They’re just very kinda fresh, and they don’t have a lot of opinions yet. When they hear music, they respond very directly and naturally,” Werts said.
Werts also has performed or will perform this week at Lincoln, O’Loughlin, Roosevelt, Wilson and Holy Family Elementary Schools, Hays; Ellis Grade School; Victoria Elementary School; Plainville Elementary School and Sacred Heart Grade School, Plainville and Bikerdyke Elementary School, Russell.