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‘Folk musical traditions’ to be Oct. 1 lecture topic

The Foundation for Historic Christ Church of Irvington will continue its lecture series on American Roots Music with “A Commonwealth of Traditions: Virginia’s Rich Folk Culture” at the Lancaster Community Library in Kilmarnock on Wednesday, October 1, at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Jon Lohman, director of the Virginia Folklife Program and Virginia’s State Folklorist, will share stories about the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, which seeks to identify master artists and pair those artists with apprentices in a one-on-one, nine-month experience to ensure that a particular art form is passed on in ways that are faithful to tradition. 

Now in its sixth year, the apprenticeship program celebrates a wide variety of folk traditions both old and new to Virginia and from one end of the state to the other. For example, the oldest tradition may be that of making blackware pottery. Pamunkey Indian women from King William County continue to make pottery to the present day, using the same vein of clay that has been used throughout the centuries.

Other Virginia traditions that have been encouraged and supported by the program include country ham curing, Brunswick stew making (a tradition since legend has it that some hunters first made this classic stew on the banks of the Nottoway River in 1828), oyster shucking, decoy carving, blacksmithing and broom making.

The focus of Lohman’s lecture on October 1 will be on the apprenticeship programs that relate to Virginia’s musical traditions.

Banjo playing is found throughout the state, and folklife masters have shared their knowledge of banjo playing with apprentices in Danville and in Fluvanna and Rockbridge counties. A master banjo maker in Floyd County paired with an apprentice to preserve that art.

Mandolin building came to Virginia from Italy in the 19th century, and a master mandolin builder in Grayson in Southwest Virginia passed on his skills to an apprentice.

A master from Bowling Green plays his blues guitar as his apprentice learns the skill. 

On the other side of the state, the tradition of bluegrass singing and fiddling continues, encouraged by the program.

Lohman came to the Virginia Folklife Program in 2001. He earned his BA at the University of North Carolina, his MA degree from the University of Chicago, and his PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. He has presented at numerous festivals, including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Lohman also is the author of “In Good Keeping: Virginia Folklife Apprenticeships” that tells the story of the first five years of the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. 

posted 09.25.2008

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