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Arts Council hosts JAM Program

Article Published: Aug. 4, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Arts Council hosts JAM Program

The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program began in Alleghany County 11 years ago.
The program focuses on teaching the youth of southern Appalachia more about their home culture through music lessons in traditional styles on fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin.

The idea has spread around the region. Today there are 15-plus programs (see for more).

The Watauga JAM program started five years ago, and it is a program of the Watauga County Arts Council, featuring weekly lessons at the Jones House Cultural and Community Center.

Students from second through 12th grade meet for lessons on Thursday afternoons and evenings for group lessons with some of the finest local traditional players. Instructors for the 2011-12 JAM program include Cecil Gurganus, Randy and Deborah Jean Sheets, Amanda Spencer and Jeff Moretz.
Classes will be offered for fiddle, banjo, guitar and mandolin and will meet at 4:30, 5:30, and 6:30 p.m., depending on the instrument and playing level. Class sizes are between four and eight students.

The program is supported through a grant from the N.C. Arts Council and funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. This support, in addition to local donations and fundraising efforts, allow the Watauga Arts Council to offer the classes at a reasonable rate.

Enrollment for the program is $100 per student, which includes about 25 lessons, performance opportunities, guest performers, a lending library of CDs and other perks. Instruments are available for rent for the duration of the program for $25.

Because the program has continued annually, it is already more than half full with returning students, but there are still spaces for all of the instruments and playing levels, and any second- through 12th-grade student is invited to contact the arts council about enrollment.

Program organizers are also discussing the possibility of expanding the program into other areas of the county, perhaps at a school or community center.

Also, in addition to the lessons offered at the Jones House, Deborah Jean Sheets has an after-school club for students interested in playing mountain music. Participating students play more as a band, instead of individual instrument lessons. In fact, Sheets' after-school club resulted in a band last year, High Strung, which already had numerous performance opportunities.

"Getting groups of kids together to play music is a lot of fun, and our instructors are great," Watauga Arts Council folklorist Mark Freed said. "Students end up learning a lot more than how to make chords and play songs. They learn to work as a group and perform in front of an audience. They also learn more about the traditional music of their home area, and perhaps gain a deeper appreciation of where they live, even if some don't realize it yet."

For more information on the program or to enroll a student, parents should contact Mark Freed at (828) 264-1789 or

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