Tune Travelers take students around the musical world
Have you ever wanted to learn to play a new instrument or travel to a foreign country? Starting this week, students at an after-school program at the Pocahontas County Opera House are doing just that.
Dubbed "Tune Travelers," the seven-week program is bringing six world music groups from all across West Virginia, teaching students about the music and culture of a different region of the world each week.
This week, the program started here at home, with music that was familiar to many of the participants. Charleston-based musicians Heidi Muller and Bob Webb taught students about the musical traditions of Appalachia and the mountain dulcimer.
Next week, Muller and Webb will be followed by The West Virginia Highland Dancers, The Greenbrier Academy for Girls African Drum and Dance Ensemble, music groups from West Virginia University and Teal Steel, the youth steel drum ensemble from Frankfort Middle School in the Eastern Panhandle.
The final week of the program will feature a showcase of Tune Travelers students themselves, showing off the new musical talents they've picked up in the course of their "travels" through the musical world.
The new program is the brainchild of Jennie Terman, who served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member with the Pocahontas County Opera House from the spring of 2009 through this spring. Terman has returned to the Opera House this fall to help with the fledgling music program.
During her time as a VISTA, Terman said she wanted to offer something to the youth of Pocahontas County through the Opera House. While the Opera House has brought in performers who give school performances, Terman wanted to offer a more developed educational program.
"I had just come from being a teacher with all kinds of young kids, and I missed them," she said.
For two years prior to being the Opera House VISTA, Terman taught English on a remote island in Japan with a population of about 2,500 people.
"I went there to teach English, but what I really got into teaching while I was there was culture--specifically music culture of the U.S.," she said.
"I play fiddle, and I brought my fiddle to Japan with me," Terman explained. "I taught all my students old-time songs. They're all simple, and it's actually a really good tool for learning English."
But Terman's English students got into doing more than just learning songs like Cluck Old Hen, Old Joe Clark and Angeline the Baker.
"I also taught some square-dancing classes, and I made a jug band out of my junior high school students," she said.
"Through those experiences, they were able to use English a lot," Terman added "I like doing that more than teaching the rules of grammar."
Once at the Opera House, Terman said she started thinking of how to create a similar musical and cultural exchange with local students.
"I didn't know what kind of activity to do, and I was playing around with all kinds of different ideas, like having a youth choir or making instruments," she said.
Terman said she drew some inspiration from her own musical upbringing in Morgantown, where she was able to take advantage of the diversity of musical programs at WVU.
"I was thinking about what kind of opportunities I had growing up in Morgantown, with the university there," she said. "I did all kinds of fun things through outreach programs at the university. I was in a steel [drum] band when I was little, and I did Japanese Taiko. That was also when I was in junior high school."
Later, when she was in high school, the WVU African Drum Ensemble visited her school and offered activities.
When she looked around Pocahontas County while working at the Opera House, Terman saw that similar activities and interactions with different cultures were missing.
"It's not like I want the kids here to do everything I did when I was little, but just that they could have more options," she said. "I know there are lots of sports opportunities with the schools, but some kids don't really mesh with that."
Terman said her familiarity with the WVU music department provided some immediate ideas for Tune Travelers. Terman also felt it was important that the fourth through eighth graders who participate also get to see people their own age playing music. Therefore, three out of the six ensembles--Elkins' West Virginia Highland Dancers, The Greenbrier Academy for Girls African Drum and Dance Ensemble from Pence Springs, and Teal Steel--are youth music organizations.
"It's nice for them to see adults doing things, but when they see people their own age doing awesome things with neat instruments, I think it's more inspiring," Terman said. "Kids can be very influential on kids their own age."
Tune Travelers activities take place on Wednesday of each week. During the day, the guest performers will travel to the county's elementary and middle schools, allowing nearly every student in Pocahontas County to see the diverse groups.
Then, each Wednesday evening, the ensembles will present a workshop on their music for Tune Travelers participants.
"They're going to do a lot of hands-on stuff with the instruments and dance," Terman said. "They'll show them how to play the instruments and perhaps teach them a tune. They're also going to be teaching them about the cultural context and why this music is important--where it comes from and where this country is."
The last half hour of each evening, Terman and Lois Airgood, of Pocahontas Music,ﾠ will review the lessons of the program and stamp passports that participants will have with them throughout Tune Travelers as a sort of journal of their experience.
Terman said she hopes Tune Travelers will inspire students even after the seven-week program concludes in mid-November.
"I think there's so much you can get out of this sort of thing," she said. "That's why I chose world music rather than a choir, or whatever. Through the world music workshops, it's not only about music. Yeah, you're learning about all kinds of music that you wouldn't necessarily hear on the radio here or in this community."
"But also, you're learning about these different countries that maybe you've never heard of," Terman continued. "These sort of experiences can really open up kids' minds and eyes to things that they might not have ever thought about before. Maybe it will inspire them to want to learn a different language or visit a different country, or just be more interested in music.
Terman said she initially just sent out an e-mail to ensembles she thought would be interested in the program. At first, she was skeptical that she would get much of a response. But Terman said she received several enthusiastic responses from groups that were eager to participate and lend their talents to such a program.
Terman also hopes the program might continue beyond this fall and grow into a regular program of the Opera House. During the weeks before Tune Travelers started, Terman and current Opera House VISTA Jamie Poster visited the county's elementary and middle schools dressed in traditional Japanese and African attire, with instruments in hand, to promote the after-school program.
"The first school visit we had, I was so nervous," she said. "I thought, 'I'm going to a school dressed up in a kimono; They're all going to laugh at me.' But they loved it."
Terman said even some of the teachers she has met have expressed an interested in coming to the workshops.
Tune Travelers kicked off this Wednesday, but Terman said there's still room for more students. The program is open to students in fourth through eighth grade and takes place at the Opera House each Wednesday through November 17, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. Terman said those who are interested can call the Opera House at 304-799-6645.