From Joni Ray, executive director of the Ashe County Arts Council, the recipient of a 2022 IBMA Foundation project grant:

The 2022 Ola Belle Songwriters Retreat was held April 8 – 10, 2022 at the Ashe Civic Center and Ashe Arts Center in West Jefferson, NC. Instructors included Cathy Fink, Pierce Freelon, Alice Gerrard, and John Cloyd Miller. The weekend featured the following group workshops: Bringing the Story to Life with John Cloyd Miller, Hip Hop Culture and Rhyme with Pierce Freelon, New-Old Songs (songwriting in the tradition) with Alice Gerrard, Priming the Pump, Courting the Muse with all instructors, It’s Not About Me with John Cloyd Miller, Editing Your Song with Cathy Fink, Turning a Six Word Story into a Song with Cathy Fink, and Beat Making with Pierce Freelon.

Students participated in one-on-one sessions with instructors and enjoyed song swaps in the evenings at the Ashe Arts Center. The instructors gave a concert on Saturday evening which was well attended and a wonderful performance of both collaborative and solo works. Traditional bluegrass music was featured along with blends of spoken word and contemporary beats. An audience favorite was the performance of “I’ve Endured” by Ola Belle Reed, featuring all instructors. Students performing on Sunday evening showcased their original songs. Instructors and students collaborated during this performance to bring everyone’s song to life.

The project was successful in serving students and the community with educational programming and performances highlighting bluegrass music and songwriting. Indications of success were the level of enjoyment expressed by audience members at the public performances, as well as the experiences of the students and instructors who were surveyed.

A sample of feedback given from students this year:
“The songwriter’s retreat was a wonderful experience for many reasons. The well-prepared instructors gave participants hands-on tools to tease out the poet and provided concrete examples of how to integrate wordplay into songwriting skills. Also, individualized attention was given to song development and editing. Plus, the instructors offered the support of accompaniment during the student showcase if you chose to do so. The event arranged opportunities to song swap with the others after classes were completed. The Ola Belle Reed songwriter’s retreat was a stellar way to network with other musicians, massage creative energy, and enhance the composer in you.”

“The Ola Belle Reed Songwriter’s Retreat was packed with experienced and recognized songwriters in the field who shared openly doable ideas for creating your own songs and learning opportunities through example and sharing to enhance your musicality as well as the song itself. They made it possibile for all levels to create something. I came away with a full notebook of tricks of the trade as well as a new song.”

The program served sixteen students. Like other nonprofits and performing arts venues, we are still experiencing a drop in in-person attendance at programming, primarily due to COVID. We programmed optimistically for the in-person retreat with an online attendance option, which was a nice addition for those unable to attend workshops in person. The online attendance did not have as big of a draw as similar online workshops offered in 2021. COVID protocols followed for the retreat including a mandatory indoor mask requirement unless performing on stage. We do plan to sustain the Ola Belle Songwriter’s Retreat as a continuing annual event and are working with the retreat organizer, Cathy Fink, to brainstorm creative strategies to increase attendance, to potentially adjust the budget for a smaller retreat, or to evolve the retreat into part of a larger festival.

From J Perry Brake, Junior Appalachian Musicians program – Tellico Plains and Madisonville, TN, recipient of a 2022 IBMA Foundation project grant:

The Tellico Plains JAM completed its third year in April 2022. JAM added a second program (Identical to the Tellico Plains Program) in Madisonville, TN.

A combined total of 42 kids and 8 parents took advantage of the free instruction on how to play traditional Appalachian music on guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, bass, and singing.

Separate recitals were held at each location and a final end-of-year concert was held in Madisonville in April. JAM also presented several songs at the Annual Luncheon for the East Tennessee Foundation in March.

It is because of donations and support that Tellico Plains JAM is continuing to grow and expand. The program is being expanded to include 3rd and 4th grade students (taught on ukuleles) in the 2022-2023 school year, along with the string band class. The string band will be our primary performing group of more experienced students. But, as always, the entire JAM classes will be on stage at various community events, festivals and fundraisers. We are very proud of these kids! Thank you for your support!

RETURN to the September 2022 issue of The Cornerstone.