Monday, July 28, 2008

Blue Ridge Music Center

We've talked about the Blue Ridge Music Center (about 9 miles south of Galax on the Blue Ridge Parkway) in past entries. Today we spent another three hours there listening to the music of the the old-time band, Buck Mountain Band. The photos here today will focus more on the Center itself, but our comments will deal with the music.

Concerts are held Saturday evenings in the amphitheater (at the right in the photo) with a terraced hill for the audience (with chairs or blankets) and with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

Performances during the week are held in the breezeway between the exhibit hall and a small theater of the Music Center. One end of the breezeway is shown above the truck in the picture. This setting enables the audience to interact with the performers, and the members of this group were especially willing to answer questions about the difference between old-time (fiddle-oriented, dance-focused, no soloists) and bluegrass music (banjo-oriented, singing-focused, solo breaks during a selection); the difference between old-time banjo playing (the strings are struck with a downward motion) and bluegrass banjo playing (the strings a struck with an upward motion with a pick); and a little history on the banjo. Very briefly, the banjo came to America from Africa in the period between 1777 and 1800. Black players dominated the field of banjo playing until after the Civil War. After that time, minstrelsy, through the actions of black-faced minstrels who mocked and ridiculed slaves, drove black players away from the banjo.

Bob (fiddle, center) and Sue Taylor (guitar, second from right) provided much of the educational service in addition to the music. Bob was a professor at Bucknell (Lewisburg, PA), teaching fiction and most recently taught Appalachian literature.

After listening to a stirring rendition of "O, Them Golden Slippers," Kate provided a brief education to those in attendance about the Mummers, the string bands, and the New Year's Day Parade in Philadelphia. Ray, the banjo player (on the far left above) who was sitting in with the band, was familiar with the Parade, but not the Mummer's Strut. We did not demonstrate it.

Ray asked, "How many banjos do they have in the string bands?" I think he was really pleased to learn that there are many banjos (and no fiddles) in the string bands.

This last picture was taken from a dog's view and shows the look of contentment that was similar to the expression on my face as we listened to the music of this fine old-time music band as the breeze flowed past us in the breezeway of the Blue Ridge Music Center.

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