Monday, October 26, 2009

Museum-sponsored musical on Kentucky Educational Television

Lincoln in the Land of Bluegrass, an ambitious stage musical produced by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro has been scheduled to air on Kentucky Educational Television during the first week of November.

The production, which presents stories from Abraham Lincoln’s life set to bluegrass music, was directed by Dr. Teresa Wills and features hundreds of area elementary schoolchildren in acting, singing and dancing roles. The students, from Newton Parrish, Country Heights, Catholic 4-6 Campus, and Foust wrote melodies, lyrics and performed the songs they had penned. Lincoln is part of the larger IBMM ‘Bluegrass in the Schools’ (BITS) program.

The Lincoln musical was the brainchild of area mail carrier Rick Miller, who had researched and written the dialogue, as well as words to half of the songs, before pitching the idea to IBMM Director Gabrielle Gray. Miller and Gray enlisted the assistance of BITS volunteer Randy Lanham to compose music for Miller’s songs and to tutor the student actors and musicians in the art of traditional bluegrass songwriting.

Lanham then coordinated with the elementary school teachers who coached their students through the final production. Dance sequences were choreographed by Barry Lanham of the dance troupe Foot Stompin’ Express, which also performed in Lincoln. Students from Foust Elementary choreographed their own dance steps for the original song they had written for the musical.

In her role as producer of the event, Gray, emphasizes that the success of Lincoln in the Land of Bluegrass underscores the importance of educational programs to the IBMM mission. “As our board and staff go steadfastly about the business of nurturing, sponsoring and growing bluegrass from our youth up, it is wonderful to get to see the results of our efforts not only appreciated but ‘limelighted’ by others,” she says.

Educational programs at the IBMM are made possible through donations, grants and sponsorship by various individuals and organizations, including the Michael E. Horn Family Foundation, Kentucky Arts Council, Lester E. Yeager Charitable Trust and D'Addario Foundation for the Performing Arts. The museum plans to mount a similar musical production on the life of Bill Monroe, to be performed at their Centennial Celebration of his birth on Sept 13, 2011.

Lincoln in the Land of Bluegrass
airs on Kentucky Educational Television:

Tuesday, November 3, 8:00 p.m. CST
Wednesday, November 4, 12:00 a.m. CST
Wednesday, November 4, 12:00 p.m. CST
Friday, November 6, 11:00 p.m. CST
Saturday, November 7, 1:00 a.m. CST

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Monroe-Style Mandolin Camp preserves bluegrass history

The International Bluegrass Music Museum established the Monroe-Style Mandolin Camp in an effort to preserve the unique, historic performance art of Bill Monroe, “The Father of Bluegrass," by teaching his style of mandolin playing and songwriting to a new generation of players. A faculty consisting of some of the greatest ambassadors of Monroe-style mandolin are assembled each fall to examine issues related to the development and execution of Monroe's mandolin style. The fourth annual camp was held in September 2009, welcoming 45 participants and 12 guests to the program held at the Museum. All of the campers, including four or five who are repeat students, became Museum members.

As arguably the most well-respected purveyor of Monroe’s style, it was no surprise that the Museum tapped Mike Compton to head the mandolin camp. “The primary goal of the Monroe Mandolin Camp is to preserve and further the mandolin art of Bill Monroe,” he says. “In order to achieve this goal, we have sought the most accomplished and knowledgeable practitioners of the art from coast to coast, most of whom have highly respected musical careers of their own.”

The Camp was a great success this year, Mike says. “Rave revues from this year's student body, as well as comments from the instructor staff, confirmed the progress we have made in focusing the curriculum. There were a number of students who made this year's event their fourth in a row and there is every indication that many of them will be returning next year,” he says.

“The classes were designed to offer something of value to all skill levels. Pertinent subject matter was presented using lectures, sheet music in standard notation/tab, audio samples and ‘call-and-response.’ There were also short individual sessions that offered the students a chance to address questions ‘knee-to-knee.’” Looking forward to next year, Mike plans to incorporate more multimedia to enhance the experience, as well as appeal to those with more visual learning styles. “Hopefully, we will be able to include some of the video footage available on Monroe's various bands as another angle to convey the information.”

Together with knowledgeable instructors and a strong curriculum, campers delve deeper into the Monroe sound, as well as partake in a healthy dose of jamming each night. Jamming is vital to any good camp camp, according to Compton, because “the music is the vehicle towards an end.” And the nightly jam circle means just as much to the instructors as to the campers, he says. “It is pure joy, sometimes even ecstasy, to be able to play Bill's tunes with other people that love the form as much as I do. It's just being able to interact and make the sound, to find other people who share a common interest.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

‘Saturday Lessons Program’ brings new musicians to bluegrass!

The Saturday Lessons Program kicked off its fourth year on October 10 at the International Bluegrass Music Museum (IBMM) in Owensboro, KY. The group lessons program provides instruction in fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo to students and community members of all ages. Students are taught in groups of 10-15 for 45 minutes twice a month at the museum, and loaner instruments are available for those who do not have one.

Students range in ability from beginner to intermediate, and some have been attending Saturday Lessons for several years. The group lesson format is a good way to introduce newcomers to bluegrass music, says fiddle instructor Randy Lanham. And compared with individual lessons, the program is more affordable at $30 for the fall semester. “A group lesson goes slower. It’s not quite as much information, not quite as fast, and it’s a great way to learn with the cheaper price and less time required,” says Lanham.

Beginners learn familiar bluegrass standards such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” More experienced students work together as in a band format and learn more advanced musical parts, says Lanham. “There are about 25 students that have been coming for years. With them, we teach not only the melody part, but the harmony part and solos. And they learn a variety of songs: a patriotic song, an Irish song, a gospel song,” he says.

The first day of lessons kicked off smoothly, according to Lanham. “Sometimes the first day can be chaotic for new students. There are broken strings, instruments are out of tune and some students show up at the wrong time. This went really well, we didn’t have a lot of those problems.”

Participants come to the Saturday Lessons program from a variety of communities and from all walks of life, with many students coming from local schools, says Lanham. “Another museum program I’m involved in is the Bluegrass in the Schools, and that generates a lot of interest in lessons, so the two programs kind of go hand in hand.”

The spring Saturday Lessons program is twice as long, classes are generally larger, and it culminates in a performance of all students in the Kentucky BlueGrass AllStars at the IBMM’s River of Music Party (ROMP). The spring semester registration fee is $60, and each additional immediate family member is only $30. Students performing at ROMP will also receive free 3-day admission to the festival as an AllStar, as well as a 3-day complimentary pass for a parent or friend. The next Saturday Lesson term begins February 20, with a registration deadline of January 30. For more information call 270-926-7891 or visit the IBMM website at