Austin Tate knows about learning music as a child. The Marion resident, who played on the Grand Ole Opry three years ago, took up the mandolin when he was eight years old. Starting next week, he’ll help local youngsters follow in his footsteps and take up the mandolin.
The mandolin is the latest instrument to be added to those taught through the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts’ Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program that serves interested Smyth County students in fourth through eighth grades.
The four available mandolins are available thanks to the generosity of a Blountville, Tenn., man, who learned about the Henderson’s work through area friends. After visiting those friends, he stopped by the downtown Marion school and donated the needed funds.
“People are so wonderful,” reflected Catherine Schrenker, the Henderson’s executive director. Having just marked her fifth anniversary in the post, Schrenker said she still gets choked up at how much this community embraces its kids and the school. “This community doesn’t know how great it is,” said the former University of Notre Dame professor as she noted how Mountain Lynx Transit helps provide student transportation from Marion’s schools to the Henderson and how the school system supports the program from allowing special programs promoting JAM to providing after-school snacks for the students.
JAM strives to preserve mountain musical culture by offering low-cost lessons to students in fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass in small groups after school.
Classes meet at the Henderson on Mondays from 4-6 p.m. This year, classes will begin Sept. 16.
JAM requires a commitment from the students that they’ll attend all their classes – 10 lessons each semester. Parents must pick up students at 6 p.m.
Costs depend on the child’s family annual income. The fees are $5 per week for students from families with a yearly income under $25,000 and $10 per week for students with a higher family income.
The return on the investment far exceeds even the musical skills students may acquire.
Schrenker said JAM students’ most significant growth often comes in the form of increased self-esteem and confidence and their abilities for self-expression.
Often when the students first come to the JAM lessons, Schrenker said, they’re often shy and aren’t sure they want to put themselves out there by performing, but as they learn and as they realize how special it is to the older generations that they’re learning a traditional stringed instrument, their confidence grows.
One student came to mind.
Schrenker said he was too shy to play with the other students initially, but he was diligent and now he often stays and plays with the adults when their turn to jam comes Monday evenings. “He doesn’t hesitate,” she said.
Schrenker believes that confidence carries over to other subjects in school.
Tate recently did a tour of the schools to share information about JAM. Schrenker said there was a sense of pride from the past JAM participants when he asked them to play in their schools.