Monday, October 01, 2007

A Weekend With The Banjo

I just spent an amazing weekend at the North Carolina Center for Advancement of Teaching. If you haven't been there and you are an educator, I would recommend going there. You have to possess three years of teaching experience in North Carolina before taking this wonderful journey, and wait three years before returning. They pay for your substitutes, reimburse travel, as well as feed you wonderful meals.

I took a seminar: "From Africa to Appalachia: Celebrating the History of the Banjo". My fellow teachers, (from all over the state) and I learned how to make a "canjo" banjo out of a tin can. We learned the process of putting together a banjo from the older tradition and the new. We learned about the African roots of the banjo and talked about some of the surving African-American banjo players. This is definitely something I'll be able to share with the kids at school. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a jazz or string unit with the banjo included.

I met some wonderful people and musicians. I met teachers across the state, from the mountains to the ocean. I met the author of African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, Cecilia Conway. I was introduced to a whole new world of bluegrass I never knew. I heard some outstanding bluegrass from famous musicians: Mary Jane Queen's family-who passed away in June, Frogtown Four, Sam Bush, Balsam Range, and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I brought home lots of goodies including two signed CD's from the Chocolate Drops and Balsam Range, and a signed copy of the book from Dr. Conway.

I was really impressed with the two groups, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Balsam Range. If you get the chance go to their site and read about them. If you get the chance to hear them, don't pass up the opportunity.

The Chocolate Drops (pictured above) are trying to keep the old traditional style of African-American pickin alive. They think highly of their mentor Joe Thompson, who is said to be the last traditional black fiddle player.

Balsam Range (above) was also a great group, with Tim Surret from the Kingsmen and Marc Truett, a Grammy Award-winning banjo picker. Buddy Melton is the lead singer in the group. He has a excellent voice for this style. Balsam Range's new CD, Marching Home, includes lots of bluegrass picking and singing, as well as some Gospel tunes.

I really enjoyed my time in the moutains of western North Carolina. The people have such wonderful hospitality there, and the mountains always remind me of God's serenity. From the Sam Bush concert, to sitting on the couch, to the Mountain Heritage Festival at Western Carolina University, the music was something to remember. In my own words, "Ya'll must go listen to some Carolina banjo pickin'."

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