CentreTerm course gives Kentucky folk music universal appeal
RELEASED: Jan. 18, 2007
DANVILLE, KY—What does a West Coast-raised music professor have in common with Kentucky folk culture? Dr. Nathan Link, assistant professor of music at Centre, can answer that question. Link, the son of string musicians, grew up around folk music, and in an effort to educate students on the importance of folk tradition, he's teaching a freshman CentreTerm course titled "Folk Music in Kentucky."
During CentreTerm, the College's unique three-week January term, all students take one course designed to provide an intense, small-group learning situation. The classes are carefully designed, based on the special interests and expertise of the professor, and typically include field trips, dinner discussions, labs, guest lecturers/performers and other special activities to stimulate student interest.
Link's course examines the rich tradition of folk music in Kentucky, focusing especially on Appalachian fiddle-tunes, early folk songs and bluegrass. The students investigate the musical genres that exerted the most influence on these traditions, including the music of the British Isles and Africa. They also focus on the impact that folk music has had on contemporary music.
"This class has really broadened my understanding of folk music and the richness that it's brought to our society," says Holly Overcash of Goshen, Ky. "Living in Kentucky, I don't think people realize the impact that the always-deemed 'mountain music' has made on the mainstream music world of today."
Clay McDonald of Lookout Mountain, Tenn. adds, "I found it fascinating how the music that originated centuries ago in the British Isles has been transplanted and preserved so well in the hills of Kentucky. It was really interesting hearing old recordings of the same ballad sung by a Scotsman as well as a Kentuckian and how similar they were."
The course combines readings from a number of sources, listening assignments, presentations and visits by local musicians. Visiting musicians include nationally renowned banjoist and singer Lee Sexton; Centre associate professor of chemistry and multi-instrumentalist Conrad Shiba; singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and dancer Carla Gover; fiddler Barb Kuhns and guitarist Doug Smith; and Centre alum and fiddler John Harrod '67 (and friends). (Harrod is one of seven Centre alumni who have won Rhodes Scholarships.)
"I was interested in taking the class because I love music but had never really gotten into folk music," says Josh Moore of Louisville. "It's been interesting to learn that many of these amazing musicians don't read music at all. It's something that's so embedded in their culture that it affects every part of their life."
Overcash adds, "I've been able to take something away from each of the performers—whether it be the strength and determination of Lee Sexton as shown in his performance and story telling or John Harrod's depiction of the different bowing techniques of fiddle playing."
"My family has a tradition of playing music," McDonald says. "My grandfather played guitar and sang in a bluegrass band, my father plays a mean blues harmonica, and I learned to play guitar at a young age.
"Despite my upbringing, I've discovered a wealth of knowledge about folk music in general that I was unaware of, and I hope that by the end of the course I'll have a much better understanding of the music that's been in my family for generations," McDonald says.Link wants his students to take their new knowledge of folk music with them once the course ends.
"I hope that this class will somehow stay relevant to the students' lives—that if the chance arises, they'll go to a square dance, a local performance, a folk festival—and that they'll have an increased respect for Appalachian people," Link says. "A few have even approached me about helping them find instrumental lessons."
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