Jamming with Junior Appalachian Musicians

Mar. 19, 2014 @ 06:00 AM

Molly Barrett called her students to order with a flick of her fiddle bow. She played a short bar of music, smoothly sliding her bow across the strings of a rustic-looking fiddle. The melodic cry evoked summer nights spent chasing fireflies and the stomp of clogged feet matching the beat. Barrett’s four students, three girls and one boy, watched carefully before repeating her movements in turn. Theirs were not as fluid and the sound was not as sweet, but that comes with more practice.

In two other classrooms down the hall, Bob Henson and Alyssa McLean worked with their acoustic guitar students. In Henson’s group, all different levels of mastery sang out, from the flawless strumming of an 11-year-old in her third year of studying to the nervous plucking of students in their first years. Still, all wore smiles.

The students are part of the Junior Appalachian Musicians program, directed by Adrienne Roellgen, program coordinator of the Caldwell Arts Council. The program began in the fall of 2011 through a Traditional Arts Program for Students grant from the North Carolina Arts Council for after-school programs that bring local traditional arts to students, Roellgen said. The JAM classes offer students a low-cost opportunity to study old-time fiddle, old-time guitar, blues guitar, songwriting and old-time mandolin.

Naylen Ryder, 8, studying her first year in guitar, chose the instrument because of her dad, Wesley Ryder, who plays guitar in his band, Scalded Fire.

“I like it because you never get bored with it,” Ryder said.

Ryder hopes that once she is good enough that she might get to play with her dad’s band. Every day, she practices songs such as “She’ll be Coming around the Mountain” and Grammy winner Lorde’s hit “Royals” for 20-25 minutes.

Josie van de Klashorst, 11, has been playing since she received a guitar for her birthday in third grade. She said music is how she expresses herself.

“It’s fun, and it takes a lot of work, though, so you have to be able to put in all that extra time,” Klashorst said.

The students practice at Granite Falls Elementary, Happy Valley School and Downtown Lenoir at 1841 Café.

Children 7 to 17 can participate, and Roellgen hopes to offer adult classes if there is interest. Lessons are $3 to $10, depending on the child’s school lunch rate. Currently, the program teaches 56 students.

Roellgen said “anyone interested in playing old-time, traditional music” qualifies as a Junior Appalachian Musician. In the future, however, Roellgen wants to add to that definition.

“I see the program expanding by offering more traditional arts like clogging and banjo,” Roellgen said.

Roellgen added that JAM does more than get students involved in music, it also preserves the region’s history.

 “Traditional music is part of our culture that has been handed down for years and could be lost without a program like Caldwell JAM," she said.