Happy birthday to you… Last week that melody played over and over in my head as I began teaching some talented youth how to play the fiddle. While I have not taught in years, my friend Mark Wheeler of the three-time Dove award nominees – Marksmen Quartet asked me to help with his annual Marksmen Mountain Music Camp near Dahlonega, Ga. where children have the opportunity to get their feet wet playing a string instruments of their choice – guitar, mandolin, bass, fiddle, banjo or piano – or furthering the skills they already have by playing with seasoned professional musicians who work to inspire the musician within.
The youth also learn to read and sing to shape notes, take voice classes and learn about the tools used in playing such as tablature, music and the Nashville number system.
When you face a class of youth at different ages with varying levels of skill from never to wanting to move to the next challenging step in their growth, it can be a daunting task but Mark assembled an able group of instructors. Among them were Edgar Loudermilk, Sarah Ward, Brent Barber, and Clint and Donna Kerns and current and former members of the Hall of Fame Marksmen – Earle Wheeler, Darrin Chambers, Aaron Johnson, and Keith Chambers.
You might wonder what inspired me to tell you about this adventure, well plain and simple, I had a ball. I had forgotten how rewarding it is to see the light bulb come on in the eyes of a youth as they succeed in a musical task and proudly show someone what they have learned.
It gave me even greater respect for the talents and patience of Dr. Donald Grisier, who started me how to play in elementary school.
When I taught in years past it was one student at a time – not in a class setting, which gives me greater appreciation for skills Dr.Grisier had to employ to keep us focused and learning.
Schools seldom focus on the traditional instruments of the Appalachia and the Ozarks, and the convention style of singing with hymnbooks is disappearing from church pews, so youth are not being exposed and taught how to sing.
While the art thrives in some circles, thousands of American youth are no longer getting the exposure to America’s musical roots at the critical point in their lives when the greatest learning occurs.
Instead they see the song’s words projected on the wall and often hear music played from recorded tracks rather than by a live musician. Of course, the music is different as well and likely reflects what current pop and contemporary artists are doing.
While this is also a viable form of music that youth could pursue, even that is out of reach to many because the tools to learn it are not being fostered within the church, school and home.
I want to encourage you if you have a musical talent, share it with it with the youth in your community. If you are a church, consider hosting a special camp like the Marksmen do. Otherwise, for those of us who do wish to continue traditions from our music, where will the church pianists and organists come from or the person that plays the rhythm on the guitar, mandolin or bass.
I am sure that if this is a desire of your congregation’s heart, the Marksmen would be open to work with you in your area to encourage. For more information, visit http://www.mmmcamp.com/ or like the Marksmen Mountain Music Camp on Facebook.
When the youth reach graduation and go off to college, do not forget my Share America Foundation from which they can apply and if chosen could receive the Pearl and Floyd Franks Scholarship for their work to continue the traditional music of Appalachia.
Visit www.shareamericafoundation.org for more information or to donate.
Now let’s see the next tune is “Oh, Little Liza, Little Liza Jane….”