Lyon County's Kate Ward wants to play at the Grand Ole Opry at some point in her life. It's on the bucket list.
She's well on her way with performances at the Kentucky Opry in Draffenville, Carson Center and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville -- aka "Mother Church of Country Music" -- already under her belt at age 16.
The homeschooled Kuttawa teen started violin lessons with Kentucky Opry owner Clay Campbell when she was 8 and it morphed into a talent that sees her traveling to different states for fiddle competitions, including Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia. She serves as a staff fiddle player for the Kentucky Opry, among other activities.
Her August visit to Ryman Auditorium as a performer in "Bluegrass Nights at the Ryman," proved particularly memorable. It was validating and surreal to perform on the same historic stage where many influential artists have played, Ward said. "I got to open for Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder as part of winning a fiddle contest that I went to back in May," she said. "That was probably one of the best nights of my life. I got to meet Ricky Skaggs and his whole band and James Taylor was even in the audience, so I got to meet him too, which was really cool."
The Grand Ole Opry is a future dream, although Ward noted, it's hard to get to do that. "If people don't know what the Grand Ole Opry is, I kind of compare it to the Carnegie (Hall) of Country music," she said. "It's the venue that if you've made it in any way, you play there."
Ward, daughter of Michael and Janet Ward of Kuttawa, is the Paducah Bank Teen of the Week.
Every Monday and Tuesday, The Sun publishes profile stories on area high school students who are chosen from a pool of nominees for Teen of the Week recognition. Around the end of the school year, a selection committee will name one of these students as Teen of the Year, which carries a $5,000 scholarship. Another student will receive an Inspiration Award and a $1,000 scholarship.
Ward is homeschooled by her mother through the Ward Academy. Her academic achievement includes a 4.0 unweighted GPA and composite 35 ACT score. She attended Governor's School for the Arts and the Governor's Scholars Program during the past two summers for music related subjects.
Ward plans to study music education or music performance after finishing high school. She's unsure about exact career plans, but she might be a high school orchestra conductor or "go the performance route" and teach in college.
"Music education is just really important to me because it helps with your cognitive skills," she said. "It helps with teamwork with playing in an orchestra, helps with leadership when in an orchestra, helps with persistence and determination."
She's had some "amazing" music teachers in her life and expressed a desire to do that for others. She hopes to work on both classical violin and fiddling with her future students, so they can have a more diverse repertoire. "I really look up to my violin teacher, Kathy Gardner," she said. "Her personality is always sweet and kind, but she also can tell you what you need to do and when you leave a lesson with her, you know exactly what you need to work on. But she always makes me feel at home in lessons and she is an absolutely amazing player too."
Outside of schoolwork and violin, Ward enjoys playing piano and reading mysteries. She's excited about going to college, but hasn't decided on one yet, citing Murray State University, Austin Peay University, Western Kentucky University and Southeast Missouri State University as places she's applied to.
By KELLY FARRELL