VHCC String Band entertains
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 30, 2014Mary Munsey leads an old-time string band at Virginia Highlands Community College, Abingdon, Va. The band is part of her MUS 150-50 class that she teaches in the spring semester.
When she started the class, she heard that a few community colleges had string bands, but she couldn't find a model upon which to base her class.
"There was no set curriculum in place, and I did not find any Old-Time String Band class methods available anywhere. However, I play enough mandolin, guitar, fiddle and bass to know lots of songs on each. My husband had given me a nice claw-hammer banjo several years ago, and I figured I could learn to play it well enough to get a group going."
And so she did. She started with an Internet search for books for each instrument that students could purchase to help them learn basics on their chosen instruments.
The class began with 20 people and 10 standard old-time songs. "I spent a lot of time researching and charting out (tabbing) tunes for all of the instruments. The first year we were able to play in the VHCC spring concert and at Heartwood. Last spring, we had 14 songs and 25 brave souls in the group. We played the campus concert, at Heartwood, at Green Cove Train Station on the Appalachian Trail, for the in-service training dinner on campus for all area educators and at the Abingdon Farmer's Market. This spring, we have 16 standard tunes on our list and more than 30 participants. The group consists of VHCC students, a few area home-schooled teens, VHCC faculty and staff, folks who took the class the last two years who have returned for more fun, and several over-60 folks in the community who come each week for fun."
In Virginia, community colleges allow folks over 60 to take classes for personal enjoyment for free, as long as the class has adequate required paying enrollment. Munsey says, "We value our older adults who play with us."
The class meets on Mondays only in the spring semester from 4-5:45 p.m. It is a three-credit class that may be used for teacher recertification. There are discussions about old-time, bluegrass and folk musicians, and students hear excerpts and presentations about musicians. The class is open to the public.
"If you play fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass or mandolin or would like to learn how to play these instruments, you are welcome to join us next spring" she says. The class is still taking instrument donations also. If you have unwanted string instruments, you would like to donate, or would like to join the group, contact Munsey at email@example.com for further information.
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