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Grant helps Bemidji teen-ager build and play new ukulele

Bemidji High School senior Carl Graefe, left, and his mentor, Jeff Berger, who helped him build his ukulele. Graefe was a recipient of a Region 2 Arts Council Artist Mentor Grant and worked with Berger to create "Mae." SUBMITTED PHOTO

BEMIDJI - The Bemidji High School spring senior recital in Thompson Recital Hall was the debut of Carl Graefe and his new ukulele, an instrument he has played since he was 3 years old.

Carl did take a little time off to try the cello, but the ukulele won out and this year's performance is the culmination of a lot of work by Carl and his mentor luthier, Jeff Berger.

Carl was a grant recipient in the 2010 first round of the Region 2 Arts Council Artist Mentor Grants for high school students.

He plans to attend St. Olaf's College in Northfield this fall and will be taking a "lady" close to his heart with him.

"Mae" is a ukulele with an ebony keyboard, mahogany neck and peghead, a rosewood bridge and body of black ash harvested in the north woods of Minnesota and handmade by Carl.

Carl's mentor was in the audience to hear his student close the senior recital with a song on his ukulele and publicly thank Berger for his mentoring. Berger also complimented Graefe for his dedication.

"Carl always showed up with enthusiasm for the work ahead," said Berger. "Watching Carl play and sing with his new ukulele was fun. It's really the goal and the best reward in building an instrument."

Those who have received this year's grant allotments to study with mentors of their choice range in interest from graphic arts to song writing.

It is the largest group to receive the grants as the Region 2 Arts Council Board voted to increase the budget allocation, allowing for more individual grants.

Students with a serious interest in improving their skills in the arts with a professional mentor should keep an eye open for the announcements next spring for the Artist Mentor Grants applications for the 2013-14 school year.