A weekend full of music, laughter, camaraderie and a few tears marked the 2019 Guitar Summit at the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts.
The namesake himself, Wayne Henderson, was on hand for much of the festivities and for the solemn dedications Saturday afternoon honoring two of his friends.
Some of those tears were shed by Catherine Schrenker, director of the Henderson, as she led the dedications of the Gerald Anderson Lutherie and the Helen White Jam Room.
“The mission of The Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts is to preserve, promote and provide a learning experience that has its roots in the culture and heritage of our Southern Appalachian Mountains,” Schrenker said to the large group gathered in the foyer at noon on Saturday. “The Henderson is about community, and I have always considered this school as an extension of Wayne’s home and I work hard to make sure when you walk in you feel a sense of community, a sense of family, welcomed and appreciated for visiting.”
“The Henderson is about passing down traditions, specifically the craft and music that encompasses the culture of this region we call home,” she continued. “Wayne and I began our relationship with a phone call. I had been on the job six weeks and the phone rang, it was Wayne. ‘Hello Catherine, This is Wayne Henderson. I’m getting kinda embarrassed telling people I haven’t met the new schoolhouse director, mind if I come over?’ Wayne and Herb Key visited and got a tour of the school. He was more interested in the exposed wood than my vision for the building. When it was time to start a lutherie program, Wayne sent Don Wilson over and he evaluated the space and what I needed. I then became overwhelmed and in a panic, and that is when Wayne sent the cavalry: Gerald Anderson.”
“This gentle and beloved soul,” said Schrenker, “spent countless hours explaining tools and process, never once made me feel inadequate, incapable, instead he encouraged, led, suggested, taught.”
Schrenker said that in the four previous workshops, there were four generations of luthiers: Wayne taught Gerald, Gerald taught Spencer Strickland, and Spencer taught Josh Reese.
“With Gerald gone, I knew Wayne was a bit concerned about the flow of the workshop and what happened was exactly what Gerald would have wanted,” she said. “Spencer and Josh brought Marty Howard into the fold and the three of them came over and spent an entire day with me going over what we would need for the November workshop and making sure that Wayne had what he needed to make the workshop successful.”
“The torch was passed seamlessly.”
“The real magic began as throughout the week I could hear them saying ‘Wayne does it this way’ or ‘Gerald had this technique’ or telling a story associated with what they were doing. It was exciting to have a young one in the workshop. Nick Cargill is just 19. Gerald was very happy when I mentioned that Nick was going to be in the class. These days any young one wanting to learn the craft is a precious gift for our future. Listening to ‘the guys’ as they instructed Nick in certain techniques, I realized that the term ‘Gerald’s Passing’ takes on an entire new meaning.
“We dedicate this workshop to honor Gerald’s wisdom, his humor, his craft, and his dedication to tradition and we pass this on to the next generation.”
Anderson, 65, passed away June 20 at his home in Troutdale.
Schrenker said they were also taking this opportunity to honor Helen White by dedicating the room where the Junior Appalachian Musicians program takes place.
“When we first opened the school, JAM was the very first program I implemented,” she said. “Helen was instrumental (no pun intended) in establishing this program.”
“She has been a touchstone throughout the process and growing pains of the program. With her help and the trust and support of our own Steve Kilby, we have managed to create a solid, wonderful program with guitar, fiddle, ukulele, bass, mandolin, banjo and string band.”
“Helen believed that children who are actively engaged in traditional mountain music are more connected and better prepared to strengthen their communities for future generations,” said Schrenker of the JAM program founder. “We are proud to honor Helen, and this room has a magical quality. I say magical because through a casual conversation, I bounced the idea of moving our Henderson JAM to Monday, since we had our new Monday night jam. Helen agreed that this would give the young musicians the opportunity to learn from more ‘seasoned’ performers in a traditional jam environment. It worked, and you can see every Monday, kids staying after their lessons to pick with the musicians. Some of our videos are pretty amazing.”
“Once in awhile, while on Facebook live, I could see where Helen was watching online. That meant a lot.”
White, 69, of Mouth of Wilson, died Oct. 14 at the Alleghany (N.C.) Memorial Hospital.
Schrenker said in closing that this past Monday the JAM kids were learning new songs and you could hear the music throughout the school.
“Later I came upstairs to go to my office and I watched some of the JAM kids leaving carrying their instruments (some as big as they were) down the steps as our Monday Night Jam folks made their way up the steps and in the door. I sent a smile and a nod to Helen. It all comes full circle, and that circle is unbroken.”
The Guitar Summit on Saturday and Sunday included a multitude of demonstrations, lectures, live performances, and workshops celebrating the heritage of the guitar in Appalachian music.