JAM program

During an enrichment activity, Sarah Nucci, curator of education for the Wytheville Department of Museums, leads students in Wythe County’s Junior Appalachian Musicians program as they snap and clap in unison to improve their sense of rhythm.

Wythe County’s Junior Appalachian Musicians wrapped up their first season Thursday, filling the Fourth Street Civic Center with dancing, rhythm and mountain music. The event brought an end to the group’s 10-week session that started in January.

JAM is an after-school traditional music education program for children in grades 4-8. Local musicians serve as teaching artists with the primary goal to educate students on the history and culture of Appalachian music and dance. Students selected the instrument they learned to play with choices of fiddle, guitar or banjo. During the classes, they also learned about ballad singing, mountain dance, playing in a group or band, and a variety of additional topics during enrichment activities.

“We signed up 65 and ended with 63 students,” said Rural Retreat musician Jim Lloyd, who serves as the regional program director and leads the local classes. “I think that’s pretty good.”

The Wythe County JAM program is the 45th affiliate in a four-state area that includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

During Thursday’s session, the children played games like Pat-a-Cake to help them develop and understand beat and rhythms. Next, they danced to some old-time tunes. Then, it was time pull out their instruments and play some music: “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” and “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss.”

“They learned two songs in just 10 weeks, which is pretty amazing,” Lloyd said.

Most of the students, like Brooke Jones, had never played an instrument.

Jones, 11, is a fifth-grader at Max Meadows Elementary School.

“I wanted to learn to write a song because singing is my whole life,” she said. “I love music and singing. And I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar.”

And learn, she did; Jones received the best guitar player award.

“I loved the class because it was fun,” she said.

Like Jones, Dietrich Walker, 10, learned to play the guitar.

“I like the classes because I’ve been able to meet new people and make new friends,” the Sheffey Elementary fifth-grader said. “I’ve also discovered a joy for music and learning new things each week.”

From the very start, Lloyd said parental involvement and encouragement is imperative for the children to learn to play their instruments. Jones and Walker said they practiced, on average, from 15 to 30 minutes every day.

“Our instructor (Casey Lewis of Rocky Gap, guitarist for bluegrass band Cane Mill Road) challenges us with a different chord every week,” Walker said. “We come back to class and, in a way, get to show off what we learned.”

Jones and Walker said Lewis keeps the class entertaining.

“He’s funny,” Walker said. “We both like country music and listen to the same kind of music.”

Next year, the JAM program will run throughout the school year. This summer, advanced JAM students will continue to meet for classes. There is no charge for the instruments, which are loaned to the students. If the instructor agrees, students can keep their instruments as long as they are in the program.

During each weekly, two-hour class, students get a snack, and then attend an enrichment class and a music class. The enrichment classes focus on the history, types and demonstrations of Appalachian music and culture.

In addition to Lloyd, who teaches fiddle, and guitar instructor Lewis, the other Wythe instructors are Daniel Boyer from Fries who teaches banjo; and Wytheville resident Debby Larson who instructs the bass players.

“Our number one goal is for the kids to be enriched,” Lloyd said when the program started. “The number two goal is to help preserve our music and help preserve our culture.”

JAM is partnering with the town of Wytheville Department of Museums for the program. Additional partners include the town of Rural Retreat, town of Wytheville, Wythe County Historical Society and Wythe County Schools.

For more information on the JAM program, call 276-773-0573.

To contact Millie Rothrock, call 228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com.

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