Allegheny Echoes preserves Appalachian culture
Beautiful music drifted through the mountain air around Marlinton this week, as Allegheny Echoes entered its 14th season of teaching and preserving Appalachian music and writing.
Allegheny Echoes is a non-profit organization, conceived by a group of West Virginia musicians, writers and artists who wanted to promote, support, preserve, and teach Appalachian art in a traditional way.
Dozens of instructors and 130 students converged at the Marlinton Motor Inn Sunday evening. Monday morning, groups fanned out to workshops at the Inn, the Opera House, City National Bank and the Pocahontas County Museum.
Raw beginners to master musicians improve their skills and repertoires at the workshops.
Allegheny Echoes treasurer, founding member and self-described "gopher," Monica Bing, said the project has grown to a manageable number.
"Our very first year, we had 25 students," she said. "This year we have 130 students. It took us about three years to build it up and we've been averaging right around that since. That's a real nice size because we get to meet everybody and learn everybody's name. It's more like a small family. People keep returning year after year.
"We have 26 instructors and we teach all levels of all the instruments - from beginning to advanced - guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, vocals, mandolin, bluegrass guitar, bluegrass banjo and bluegrass mandolin."
Bing said adults with a desire to learn an instrument would not be out of place at Allegheny Echoes.
"We have a lot of beginners - not all of them are children - we have a lot of adults, as well," she said. "Maybe they've gotten older and more settled and the kids are gone and they've decided to learn something."
Tuition for the week-long program is $350. Many school age children attend for free, thanks to scholarships.
"We give scholarships," said Bing. "First, in Pocahontas County; then West Virginia and then, other children. As long as our money lasts, kids come tuition-free. We've watched many of the kids grow up in Allegheny Echoes."
The program receives financial support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the West Virginia Humanities Council, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the Pocahontas County Arts Council, the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Pocahontas County Dramas, Fairs and Festivals Committee and generous private donors.
Joe Hinkelbein, of Columbia, Missouri, has been teaching bluegrass mandolin at Allegheny Echoes for two years.
"I think it's a wonderful thing," he said. "It's really nice people and a laid-back atmosphere - very conducive to learning. But also, there's a sense of community, which is a big part of bluegrass and old time music. It's not just the music but the people who play the music."
Shane Hall, of Huntington, one of Hinkelbein's mandolin students, has attended the program for the last 12 years. He said "good friends and good music" brought him back every year.
"It's my favorite week of the year and it's very important," he said. "It's very important that they're handing the music down to younger generations. There's not many places you can find this stuff."
Bobby Taylor, of St. Albans, has played fiddle for more than 40 years and instructed at Allegheny Echoes for 14 years.
"It is a wonderful gathering of people with a common interest in preserving something very special from the past," he said. "The old time music has always survived - sometimes by just a small thread - but it's always stayed intact. What we do here is pass it on to younger musicians and older musician who want to learn as well. The thing is - as long as it's shared - it's like the welcome mat. It's out for everyone."
Allegheny Echoes will present a student concert at the Opera House Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. andﾠ an instructor's concert at the Opera House Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. The events are open to the public and free of charge but donations will be accepted.