Posts Tagged With: traditional arts

Jazz apprenticeship of the divine nature

My one-year apprenticeship studying jazz piano with Jay Flippin ended in July. Jay and I went out with a bang with a joint, two-piano concert June 13 at Natasha’s Bistro in Lexington, Ky. One of my friends described the event as an apotheosis, a Greek word meaning “elevation to divine status.”  That night I certainly experienced a period of elation and excitement, possibly bordering on the divine, after a celebratory glass of wine when it was over.

Playing Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite” with Jay on one piano and me on the other was as good as it gets. But this pinnacle celebration could not have taken place without an intense and arduous year of disciplined practice and hard work on my part, along with Jay’s generosity and willingness to share his treasure trove of piano experience and knowledge. So I think this combination of intense study and working toward a goal of playing jazz for an audience, and then actually doing it, was the fruition of a realized dream called an apotheosis. The Kentucky Arts Council Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program allowed me the unparalleled opportunity to devote myself to this task.

I have always wanted to play jazz, and have been a piano jazz fan and dabbler for many years.  I started studying with Jay a year before my apprenticeship began, which was the year I retired from my job of many years teaching art. So I know a good teacher when I see one. Because there were no grades, no pressure except what I placed upon myself, and no deadlines except a faraway collaboration of some sort, Jay’s lessons were always inspiring.

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Jay is a fountain of knowledge about jazz theory, history, jazz players and traditions. Born in a small mountain town, Jay learned jazz the way traditional musicians almost always learn their art. He learned by watching and listening to artists he admired, practicing hours and hours, imitating what he heard and learned, and then taking a risk and going out and playing in public! Most of all, Jay is one of the best jazz piano players around, having won five Emmys for original composition. Not only does he know how to play, but he knows how to tell you exactly what he is playing in terms of jazz theory. That is indeed a rare combination.

I have played the piano almost all of my life. Now I play for contra and swing dances, belong to the Reel World String Band, and have done all kinds of ensemble and solo piano work over the years. All of my piano work is now informed and changed by what I have learned during this apprenticeship. Because I was a teacher for many years, I also know what it’s like to be a good student. Jay said he appreciated me because I actually would do what he told me to do. I would follow his instructions. I taped all my lessons, so I could work with these recordings when I got home. You can’t really cram for a piano performance, so what you do is a result of what you have done, but the practicing definitely got more intense closer to the end of the apprenticeship.

At the beginning of my study with Jay, I was sure I knew what jazz sounded like, but that I would never be able to play it.  Now I know what is involved. I still think that, as Jay and others have said, that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. I know that I am on my way. I have the tools to do it, and it is a matter of refining my skills through practice, interacting with other musicians, and performance.

What I have gained from the apprenticeship and from Jay is the confidence and the desire to share jazz music with other players and listeners. I learned that you don’t have to be perfect to get out there and play, you just have to do it. It is perfectly legitimate to learn from your mistakes, as anyone will tell you. Now when I play, I also have the desire and the ability to educate people about some facet of jazz based on my own experience of the medium. I did not have this knowledge and experience of jazz before the apprenticeship. I thank the Kentucky Arts Council for giving me this opportunity to be a successful student, for acknowledging that jazz is a traditional Kentucky art form, and for creating such a valuable program to connect and showcase master artists and their aspiring students.

Elise Melrood, pianist, Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program participant

Categories: Arts Education, Folk and Traditional Arts, Performing Arts | Tags: , , ,

My Journey Through a Storytelling Apprenticeship

Thanks to a Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, I started on a journey in July that has taken me to worlds I had never before visited. It’s a journey through storytelling. Although I’ve just traveled a short way down the first trail, I’m amazed at what I’ve learned. I’m enjoying this expedition with my friend and guide, Appalachian storyteller Pam Holcomb. She has shown me the way to places I never would have visited on my own. Worlds of fables, imagination and creativity are all ready to come into your life if you open your mind. With Pam’s guidance, I have learned that anything is possible through stories. Teaching youth the truth about difficult topics, talking to an audience about complicated issues, or getting the attention of those you never thought would listen to you; they’re all possible through storytelling.


Pam Holcomb and Gwenda Adkins during their apprenticeship site visit

A spur off our main trail has taken me into an unlit land I never realized was so amazing and misunderstood. Sometimes dark places appear evil and forbidden, but if you conquer your fears and enter the passage, there may be a bright spot waiting for someone to find it. This life event has opened my eyes and my world to a condition that approximately 10,000 babies born in the United States each year will develop. Its name is cerebral palsy (CP), a group of disorders that can involve brain and nervous system functions such as movement, learning, hearing, seeing and thinking.

Why did Pam lead me to CP? It wasn’t just the condition that took us to this place, it was the person. She was born in January 1972 and weighed just a bit more than two pounds. She tried to come before Christmas, but the doctors talked her into waiting a bit. Even so, she was born two months early. She, like Pam, is a native of Harlan County Kentucky. Her name is Kristy “Bee” Barrett, one of Pam’s very dear high school students.

Kristy’s mom felt her daughter’s growth and development wasn’t on time with other babies. The doctors kept saying, “Its because she was a preemie. She just has to catch up.” Kristy didn’t catch up; she was diagnosed with CP at 18 months old. She and her family also began an amazing life journey. Although she didn’t “catch up” with age developmental expectations, Kristy has flown past most people her age when it comes to lifelong achievements.

Kristy is now 41 years old. She and Pam are very close friends. Kristy refers to her CP as her gift from God. She says,”I am the way He wanted me to be.”

Pam tells a story titled “Three Steps.” Through emotional words and expressions, Pam explains how excited Kristy was when she took three steps without the assistance of a walker, wheelchair or other device. She couldn’t wait to tell Pam and all her other friends at school. Just three steps, that’s all she has ever taken. But the races she has won are countless. Those races—along with Kristy’s attitude toward life, people and her gift—encouraged Pam to ask me to join her in telling Kristy’s story as the culminating project for my storytelling apprenticeship.

So this unknown land called cerebral palsy is more than something to pass through. Its a place to pause and reflect, a place to learn and share, a place to listen and grow. I have learned about CP, but my short time with Kristy really taught me about life and how to live it to the fullest. From her, I learned you have to conquer your fears and take chances. Kristy has done both. She can show the world that a person is not defined by a condition, the person defines the condition. Kristy has chosen “Bee Still, Embrace My Gift” as the title for her life story.

I have written four short stories about Kristy and have a couple of others in my mind. I fear there are way too many great things to tell than 90 minutes will allow. What I hope is that Pam and I can wrap our arms around Kristy’s many accomplishments and relay them to the public as an inspirational production that makes her proud and celebrates her life and her gift.

The CP spur is only one pause in my journey, it certainly didn’t stop it. On February 23, I joined my mentor and other Kentucky storytellers for a program in Harlan, Ky. Harlan County extension agents Jeremy and Theresa understand the importance of storytelling, so they host events for the public and invite storytellers to participate. I helped with the Storytelling in the Mountains” spring event and also told a story for the first time to a public audience. Learning by doing is wonderful, but learning by watching Kentucky’s great storytellers perform…priceless.

Only half of my storytelling apprenticeship journey remains. Where will it take me…I dare not imagine because my guide is creative and doesn’t mind to enter untamed territory. Perhaps you and I will bump into each other on the trail. Thank you, Kentucky Arts Council, for the opportunity to blaze a new life trail.

Gwenda Huff -Johnson, storyteller

Learn more about he rjourney on her  blog “Gwenda’s Storytelling Trail”

Categories: Folk and Traditional Arts, Literary Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

Tempt Your Senses: Hear

With over 200 exhibitors working in wood, paint, silver, wool, chocolate, clay, silk and much more, Kentucky Crafted: The Market is a sense explosion. That’s why we chose “tempt your senses” as this year’s theme. We dare you to come to the Lexington Convention Center on March 2 – 3 and be tempted by all of the music, textures, smells, sights and tastes offered by Kentucky’s best artists and crafts people.  It will be impossible to walk away empty handed.

The moment you walk into the Market – even before you purchase your pass – you will notice that art is everywhere. Although buying and selling visual art is the Market’s main purpose, it’s not the sole purpose. The arts council uses this versatile venue to create all kinds of arts experiences: literary art, folk and traditional arts and performing arts. The Kentucky Stage, located in the atrium of the convention center, features a full schedule of diverse musicians from across the state. Not only can we we boast the Commonwealth’s finest art and craft, we also present Kentucky’s most accomplished live performers for the price of your admission. If you like what you hear, you can step over to the Marketplace and purchase CDs.

Hog Operation – Saturday, March 2, 2 p.m.

Hog Operation uses bluegrass instrumentation to explore a variety of American musical styles from reels to rock ‘n’ roll. They play original music as well as country standards and bluegrass arrangements of popular songs. Audiences can expect to hear their favorite bluegrass sounds but should also be prepared for pleasant surprises. Each musician – Larry Raley, Mike Schroeder, John Hawkins and Steve Cooley – is accomplished in his own right. When they play together the sound can be described simply as “tight.” Come early to hear Steve Cooley discuss how he keeps the stringed instruments – that are so vital to the unique bluegrass sound – playing the sweetest possible notes. At 1 p.m., the Kentucky Stage will feature a live interview with Steve, Donna Lamb, Art Mize, Arthur Hatfield and Walter Lay – all Kentucky luthiers who make or repair banjos, fiddles, guitars, mandolins and more.

Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers  Saturday, March 2, 3 p.m.

It began 25 years ago in Covington’s Ninth Street Baptist Church when Ric Jennings formed an a capella quartet from members of their men’s choir. The Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers earned most of their chops in the church and some on the street corners, and the result is uniquely northern Kentucky.  Although they have performed all over the United States and Europe, they are true to the sound created in their community and play local churches,  song services, sacred music events and even anniversaries. In addition to their gospel repertoire, they also sing R&B favorites and other popular tunes. They take the Kentucky Stage on Saturday afternoon, but it may feel like Sunday morning as they “inspire feelings of fellowship and recreate the jubilant atmosphere of their home church.”

Appalatin  Saturday, March 2, 5 p.m.

The name Appalatin (as you may have guessed) is a portmanteau of Appalachian and Latin. True to their name, they blend the music of their home regions to create a sound that is – above all other labels and definitions – music of the world and 21st century Kentucky. Appalatin is artistic proof that no matter our culture of origin, our ways of expression have much in common. Old-time string, blues, bluegrass, Spanish-style guitar, bachata, cumbia – it all has roots. Their sound obviously speaks to more than just Appalachians and Latinos. With a musical mission “to bring a message of a fair and just world, one of hope, joy and love,” Appalatin have a popular sound and a strong following that can be seen in the results of their recent Kickstarter campaign to produce their new album. To date, they have made 150 percent of their goal with donors pledging as much as $1,500. Their campaign doesn’t even end until March 10, 2013. Now that is real listener buy-in!

Real World String Band – Sunday, March 3, 1 p.m.

Reel World String Band

Reel World String Band

Trouble in Mind

Early in their careers, this “all-girl act” was considered a novelty in mainstream music. But people who knew better saw that they were just darn good musicians. Lily May Ledford once said of the band, “You don’t see many people up on stage who’ve got fire. But you girls have got it. Lord, you girls are good!” This so-called novelty has thrived for over 35 years, and Kentucky is truly fortunate to have the members of the Reel World String Band as  native daughters. With rousing harmonies, the band makes music rooted in the Appalachian tradition while representing and championing Kentuckians through their songs. They are each masters of their instruments and treasures born of Kentucky’s arts and cultural heritage.

These are just a few of the performers you can experience on the Kentucky Stage. For a complete listing, look at the lineup in the Market program.

Market Program

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Are your sense tempted yet? For more peeks and previews, check out our titillating Pinterest board.

Categories: Other, Performing Arts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The crowd goes wild – for dog sled makers

I was excited to join other state folk arts coordinators in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 4 for the National Heritage Fellowship Awards Concert. The night before the concert, the National Endowment for the Arts held an awards ceremony and banquet for the recipients in the Library of Congress. What a spectacular and fitting place to honor living national treasures.

Library of Congress great hall

Andy Statman of Brooklyn is a master klezmer musician. This emotionally charged music developed for generations in eastern European Jewish communities and nearly disappeared, but it made a comeback in the U.S. in the mid-20th century. Andy was invited to play a piece during the banquet in the Great Hall, where the reverberating tones of his clarinet fell on a rapt audience that included his children and grandchildren. 

In addition to klezmer, Andy has mastered a musical style familiar to many Kentuckians: bluegrass mandolin.  At the concert, he played several numbers with his band and with other honorees like accordionist Flaco Jiménez and slide guitarist Mike Auldridge. Together, they played traditional standards and some surprises, like the surf classic “Walk, Don’t Run.”

Fervent applause followed these performances.  Surprisingly, the non-musical artists were met with equal excitement. A shipwright, a basket maker and, yes, dog sled makers Paul and Darlene Bergren each got their moment in the spotlight with folklorist/emcee Nick Spitzer.

Several Kentuckians won National Heritage Fellowships in the past, including Bill Monroe, Lily May Ledford, Jean Ritchie and Eddie Pennington. Though no Kentuckians received an award this year, it was impossible not to feel some connection with the honorees.  Among this audience, many probably felt proud to live in the nation that produced these masters. The audience’s enthusiasm crossed cultural, geographic, ethnic and social boundaries we all live with most of the time.

The National Heritage Fellowship is the highest honor for traditional artists in the nation. As soon as I returned to Kentucky, I joined the arts council staff in coordinating the Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony, where the highest artistic honors in the Commonwealth are presented. The Oct. 9 ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda had the same energy I experienced a few days before in the nation’s capital: “These are our people, the bearers of our culture.” Family and friends of master basket maker Leona Waddell were thrilled to see her receive the Folk Heritage Award. In addition, people she had never met before were captivated by her presence, her sincerity and her gratitude at being recognized for her life’s work.

Maybe you or someone you know deserves one of these awards.  To learn more about the cultural heroes of Kentucky and the U.S., visit these links:

Mark Brown, Folk and Traditional Arts Program Director

Categories: Folk and Traditional Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

Helping communities find cultural assets

I am a folklorist. To get here I survived a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology and a master’s in folk studies. The price to pay: countless hours spent conducting fieldwork, writing papers and studying; an obscene amount of student loan debt; a plethora of sleepless nights; thousands of photos taken; hundreds of books read; dozens of Mariah’s galaxy ice cream pie “therapy” sessions with colleagues; twenty pounds gained; and one comprehensive exam passed. It was a hard road, but I can honestly say that I’m glad that I took it. I could have made more money doing just about anything else, but that’s what makes this discipline special. We’re here because we really want to be. Folklorists joke about the prospect of making the first “folklore million,” but it’s really not about money. It’s about the love of life, culture, gestures, speech, food, tradition, beliefs, diversity and all the other aspects of daily life that can so easily be overlooked and forgotten. I’m honored to have the opportunity to use my skills as a fieldworker, writer, photographer and videographer to support, promote and conserve the traditions and culture that color the tapestry that is the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

My primary goal since joining the Folklife team in January has been caring for and growing the Kentucky Community Scholars Program. The program trains community experts in the folklorist’s skills of conducting cultural surveys and applying what they learn in order to enhance their heritage tourism efforts and educational programs. Overall, the program is a beginning step for communities in documenting and presenting their cultural resources. The long-term result is a growing network of local cultural researchers who continue to learn from each other and share the results of their fieldwork with the people of Kentucky.

To fulfill this goal, my first objective was to plan and implement a Community Scholar training session held in Louisville, Ky. at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in March and April. This session turned out to be one of our biggest and most diverse groups yet. In order to host this workshop in Louisville, the Kentucky Folklife Program partnered with the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage and the Jefferson County Public School System. Through this partnership, the Community Scholars Program was offered as a professional development opportunity for Jefferson County educators including Azucena Chamberlain, Harlina Churn-Diallo, Rosemaria Maum, Valeska McNeill and Lynette Taylor. Two participants, Julie Barksdale and Rebecca Brown of Irvington, Ky., completed the course with intentions of using the skills they learned to conduct their own city-wide oral history called the Irvington Heritage Project. Other graduates included community members Marna Miller, Erma Bush, Casey Henry, George Eklund, Judith Owens-Lalude, Connie Harper, Stephanie Moyer, Tony Dingman, Scott Scarboro, Vicki Kastanis, Shannon Floyd, Taylor Killough, Maggie Poe and Mary Cartledge-Hayes.

Community Scholars Louisville class

Each graduate completed the six-session workshop and fieldwork assignments, which included interviewing, photography, archiving, interpretation and presentation. Their projects topics ranged from urban agriculture, family history, writers groups, historic reenactment, dance, the Louisville Greek Orthodox community and folk art. Participants gained experience which can be used in historical societies, tourism sites, festivals, libraries and other community organizations and programs.

Based on the passion, dedication and diligence presented by this group, I have no doubt that they will be capable of preserving aspects of their local culture and create positive, lasting change within their own communities.

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My secondary objective was convening all the graduates for a reunion. This program is twelve years old, and there are over one hundred scholars across the Commonwealth. It was time they all met face-to-face again. On Saturday, June 16, scholars met to gain new skills, share fieldwork and presentations and gain new insights into working towards community and cultural sustainability. As legacy of this meeting scholars have been invited to contribute blog posts about their work in their communities. Look forward to learning more about the great work they do in future posts on Creative Commonwealth.

Amanda Hardeman, folklife specialist

Categories: Folk and Traditional Arts | Tags: , , ,

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