The Members of the Band
Hal, the banjeurine man

Hal Allert first heard a banjo in 1964 when a friend played the Kingston Trio for him. He was hooked, learning the popular folk tunes of the day and dressing only in madras sport shirts. His exposure to folk music eventually led to bluegrass.
Playing bluegrass in the Midwest as well as being the first American member of a Japanese bluegrass band in Yokohama set the stage for performing in professional bands in the Northwest.
He discovered the Classic banjo style in 1988. At once, a new direction in life opened up and Hal set himself upon this road to banjo excellence. Being the only one to play this style in Spokane was lonely, so Hal began to teach his students some of the easier songs in the Classic style.
Eventually, several students were proficient enough to play together. It seemed like the right time to perform this style in public; the stalwart and foolhardy came together to make music and the New Criterion Banjo Orchestra was born. Since then, the group has performed for international audiences to great acclaim both far and wide.

a little decorative vine flower

Ken Brann has been a guitarist and folk singer since he was 11 years old. He grew up during the Hootenanny years of the 60s and 70s and that folk tradition has been the cornerstone of his musical passion ever since.

Over the years Ken described himself as a "closet musician" since he never played in a band and rarely performed for an audience. When, at the age of 45 he decided to do something about his growing feeling of musical stagnation, he turned to America's folk instrument,the banjo. After a year of private lessons, during which he learned bluegrass and other banjo styles, Ken was ready to come out of the closet. He joined the New Criterion Banjo Orchestra in September of 1996 as their new cello banjoist. In 2000, Ken switched to the second banjo in the group when one of the other members moved on.

This experience provided Ken with a real appreciation for the classic banjo style that was played over 100 years ago. He also purchased an authentic replica of a circa 1850 minstrel style (fretless) banjo and taught himself to play the stroke style that was commonly used in the first half of the 19 century. Throughout it all, Ken has remained true to his folk roots and truly is enjoying his own musical renaissance.

Ken, the cello player
a little decorative vine flower

Michael Mogen joined the New Criterion Banjo Orchestra in 2001 as the new cello banjoist. Raised in a musical family, Michael played trumpet and baritone in the school band and was even a reluctant piano student as a youngster.

He got his first guitar at 15 and spent the entire summer learning chords and imitating the finger-picking styles of Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. He has played stringed instruments and sung vocal harmonies ever since with friends and family. He first played banjo as part of a country band that entertained in small-town taverns in Montana. "I played a few banjo tunes along with autoharp, harmonica, and guitar--whatever the patrons wanted on a particular night."

Classical style banjo was something completely new for Michael. "The Cello is really the bass of the banjo orchestra (it is tuned an octave lower than the others). I like holding the rhythmic fort while the others trade syncopated licks. It's a real kick playing a turn-of-the-century ragtime tune on these classic instruments!"

Return to Main Page