Musical Heart Work: Retooling Appalachian Tradition

Jun 10, 2016

This week on Inside Appalachia, we're taking a look at Appalachians of all stripes who are retooling tradition to create a brighter future. We'll hear from a family of guitar makers in Virginia, members of Davis and Elkins College's first graduating class of its Appalachian Ensemble, an enterprising young reporter who's working to amplify #WVMusic, one of the few piano tuners in West Virginia, and a group of folks from Letcher County, Kentucky who are bringing square dancing back into vogue. 


Davis and Elkins College's Appalachian Ensemble's First Graduates Are Putting Their Own Spin on Old-Time. 

Our producer Roxy Todd recently caught up with two of the first graduates of Davis and Elkins College's Appalachian Ensemble, Scotty Leach and Kaia Kater, both of whom traveled from far away to study traditional Appalachian music in West Virginia. We'll learn about how the program has helped both its students and the College grow, as well as the fusion of old time and more modern styles that have come out of students' scholarship. 

Have a great TRADITIONAL Appalachian musician who deserves to be recognized? Nominations are now open for the 2017 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowships, the country's highest honor for a traditional artist. Recipients win up to $25,000 to support their work.

Wayne Henderson, the storied luthier and finger-picker, works with his apprentice, daughter Jayne Henderson.
Credit Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch

Family Tradition: A Storied Luthier Passes On His Craft 

Wayne Henderson has been building instruments in his Grayson County, Virginia studio for the past fifty years. Now, he's taken on an apprentice -- daughter Jayne Henderson -- to carry on his legacy. We'll learn about the hard work that goes into building guitars, how the pair got their start working together, as well as how the younger Henderson is putting her own stamp on the production process.

Joni Deutsch, host of West Virginia Public Broadcasting's A Change of Tune, created #WVMusic - a 30 day series featuring members of West Virginia's growing music scene.
Credit Josh Saul

30 Days of #WVMusic

Many Appalachians have a favorite local band, but it's often hard to hear them in spaces outside of small performance venues like bars and community stages. Why is it so rare to hear Appalachian artists on the airwaves?

Joni Deutsch, the host of music program A Change of Tune, noticed this absence and embarked on an ambitious project to boost the sounds and stories of West Virginia musicians. She is spending the month of June interviewing West Virginia musicians, producers, promoters, and more about the things that keep them going for a project called #WVmusic. Hear about what barriers exist for artists, and how a feeling of camaraderie has developed amongst artists spanning the breadth of the state. 

What's In a Name?

For this week's "What's In a Name?", which Appalachian town was named after a victorious beauty pageant competitor? Was it Helen, West Virginia; Racine, Tennessee; or Ona, West Virginia? Listen to the show to find out.

Maggie Jusiel tunes a community piano in Athens, West Virginia.
Credit Jessica Lilly

Tuning Pianos for Good

Generations of Appalachians have gathered around pianos as social rituals. Although pianos are important parts of Appalachian tradition, they're often expensive to purchase and even more expensive to keep up. As a result, there are few professional piano tuners left working in places like West Virginia. 

Jessica Lilly met up with one woman who's trying to change that. Maggie Jusiel works in and around West Virginia tuning pianos of all conditions, shapes, and sizes. She hopes to pass on her practice of treating all owners and instruments with respect to future piano tuners through a course she teaches at Concord University.

Kentuckians gather for a square dance at the Cumberland Festival.
Credit Rachel Hagan / Art of the Rural

A New Life for Square Dancing?

Square dancing has been on the decline in Appalachia since the 1940s - just last year, one of the longest-running square dances in Eastern Kentucky closed its doors due to lack of interest  - but a group in Letcher County is working to change that. They've started teaching square dancing in schools with some success. But the question remains: why did square dancing die out? Kelli Haywood of WMMT asked and found out. 

We’d love to hear from you. You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Our associate producer this summer is Katelyn Campbell. Editing help was provided by Zander Aloi.