Keep Old Time Music Alive!
by Terry Carstensen, banjo instructor, FloydJAMS

What better way to keep Old Time music alive than to teach it to our children? In Floyd, Virginia, young people gather once per week after school to learn to play the fiddle, guitar or banjo. The FloydJAMS program is one of 40 JAM programs in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee that teach traditional old time and bluegrass music to children.
Some students have listened to family members play the traditional tunes, while some have had no music in their homes, but want to learn to play an instrument. Either way, all children, ages nine through twelve are welcome at FloydJAMS. The JAM instructors strive to give each child individual attention to help that student gain the confidence to play a new instrument. Every week’s session is augmented by a class in dance, a performance by a local band, or an interview with a well-known musician like Rhoda Kemp, Mac Traynham (who is also a JAM instructor) and Buddy Pendleton, each of whom describes their own personal musical journey.
On the first day of the semester, many children are wide-eyed, nervous and unsure of themselves. However, during the ten weeks they soon make new friends, gain confidence in their ability to learn new songs, and play those songs with others in a group. At the end of ten weeks, these same nervous students are standing on stage proudly playing their instruments in a standing-room only performance for friends and family. Many young musicians return year after year, and some have formed family bands, bands with friends, and competed in music festivals and fiddlers’ conventions.
Parents of JAM students have expressed their appreciation that there is an organization that passes down the traditional music of their region and gives their children a sense of place and personal history. One parent commented, “playing music is something that can enrich one’s life at any age and can be continued throughout one’s lifetime.” Another mother said that her daughter had taken private lessons in the past, but, “learning with other children was more fun and better for my daughter’s skill building and timing.” She added that, ”playing alone, you can easily reinforce your mistakes since ‘practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”
When I asked the students why they enjoy JAM, many enthusiastically said, “Because it’s fun to play tunes with friends!” Others commented, “I get to stomp my feet,” and, “When I become a famous basketball player I’ll keep playing my guitar,” and, “it’s like learning history the fun way!” Since the inception of JAM in 2000, thousands of children have learned the traditional music of the Southern Appalachians.
Floyd JAMs will be offering a Summer Week 2016, June 27 – July 1, 1-5 p.m. daily at the June Bug Center in Floyd, VA. Renowned fiddler Erynn Marshall will be leading the students in old-time music jamming fun, for fiddle, banjo, and guitar students ages 8-18. For more information, please contact Stacy Hairfield at [email protected] or (540) 745-6550. The June Bug Center and FloydJAMS Program floydjams