Concert highlights regional music

March 31, 2010

Local students heard traditional Appalachian music — and learned about a program that promotes it among people their age — on Tuesday during a concert at Patrick Henry Community College.

More than 250 local students attended the performance at PHCC’s Walker Fine Arts Center. It was coordinated by The Harvest Foundation to find out if there is community interest in establishing a Junior Appalachian Music (JAM) program in this area, said Debbie Robinson, who is working with Harvest on the project.

JAM holds small group instruction in instruments common to the Southern Appalachian region. Its programs exist in counties along the Appalachian mountains in North Carolina, South Carolina and Galax in Virginia.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group that specializes in black string band music, performed Tuesday with members Dom Flemons, Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson.

Anne White, founder of JAM, said that between 1930 and 1960, there was a thriving African-American music scene in Henry County and Martinsville.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops seemed to impress the audience with their singing, flat-footing and musical instruments such as a jug, kazoo and an African ancestor of the banjo, the ekontone.

Chytashia Martin, a sixth-grader in the MHC After 3 program, said she would try to learn how to play an instrument if a JAM program were offered locally.

“I like the music. It sounds different from what I normally listen to,” Chytashia said.

Giddens told the audience that although many of the songs her group played were older, students could use the same instruments to play newer songs. The band also answered questions from the students on what age they began to play: Robinson was 8, Flemons 16 and Giddens 26.

Montana Young, a native of Henry County who attends Patrick County High School, also performed and answered questions. Young told the students she began playing the fiddle at age 4. She said that many doors have opened, and “I have made many friends” through music.

The crowd cheered after each song Young played. She said that although it might not be obvious at first, “there are a lot of local musicians in the area, and students could get involved” if a JAM program were established here.

Young played the fiddle and sang during her last song, which excited two small girls in the audience. They stood at the end, clapping and jumping up and down. During the intermission, the girls thanked Young for her music.

“We loved your playing,” Grayson Russell, 5, told Young.

“Yes, it’s great,” agreed Hailee Moore, 3.

Wayne Henderson and White, the JAM founder, also played Tuesday. Henderson told the audience they would be playing what some consider “old-timey” tunes, which were played in the area historically.

“The Jam program is great,” Henderson said. “I’ve been pickin’ since I was 5. I remember how much how much fun it was when I learned to play; that’s how we used to entertain ourselves.”

While White and Henderson played, a group of five students from the Alleghany County, N.C., JAM program entered the stage and began to flat-foot behind the musicians. The children from Alleghany’s JAM program also performed music Tuesday.

White said the JAM program has been operating in Alleghany County since 2001. She said there could be a local program here soon. “If there is enough interest, a program could start in the fall,” she said.

Before that could happen, a nonprofit agency would have to come forward as the fiscal agent, she said. A fiscal agent would be responsible for managing the funding and would help the advisory board raise funds for the program.

Surveys that will provide feedback on student interest in JAM were distributed at the concert and in city and county schools.

Anyone interested in supporting the JAM program may contact the Harvest Foundation at 632-3329.


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