This week a documentary film changed my perception of the banjo forever. The film? Béla Fleck’s How to Write a Banjo Concerto. I always thought of the banjo as an odd-looking, although fun to listen to, device esteemed by country musicians. After all, The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as a stringed instrument having a head & neck like a guitar, but a body like a tambourine.The film made me listen differently, and I rediscovered the banjo.

What do YOU think of when you hear the word “banjo”? Do the entwined tunes of Dueling Banjos dance around in your head? Do you remember listening to Earl Scruggs and other bluegrass greats? Or, perhaps the comedy routines of Steve Martin come to mind?

I realized that in the fingers of a skilled performer, the banjo exhilarates and thrills, no matter the music genre.

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck accepted a commission to compose a major concerto—for one banjo and an 80 piece symphony orchestra. The performance date with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra was set—he had one year to complete a massive, personal musical challenge. Throughout most of 2011, filmmakers documented the process. From idea, to playing excerpts for peers, to rehearsals with the orchestra, watch the concerto generate and grow. Along the way, learn about Fleck’s life and enjoy his friendship with his idol Earl Scruggs. Above all, hear swells of music, culminating in snippets from the premiere.

The film itself doesn’t broadcast the whole concerto performance, but the piece, entitled The Imposter Concerto, is available to check out from The Urbana Free Library on compact disc.

Want to binge on the banjo? The library offers a variety of materials, mostly sound recordings, including more Fleck albums, plus info on constructing a five-string banjo and how to play it. Discover our selection of Earl Scruggs related recordings—both with him as the artist or as the composter. 


If you need help finding or reserving any of these banjo items, just ask! We’re happy to help.  or 217-367-4405.

Not into the banjo? Ask about other music documentaries in the library collection.