Spotlight On Music In Appalachia 2010

Spotlight On Music In Appalachia – Junior Appalachian Musicians

Ever heard of the JAM program for kids? Our local Elementary School has participated in the program for several years. I first heard about JAM when Guitar Man and Mandolin Man-my nephews-signed up for the free after school music lessons.

Over on the JAM website-they sum up what they’re about better than I can-their Mission is stated as being: “Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc. helps communities provide opportunities for children to participate in the old-time and bluegrass music and dance traditions of the Southern Appalachians.”

A few months ago I the pleasure of  interviewing JAM’s founder, Helen White, about the program.

How long has JAM been around?

I was a Guidance Counselor for Sparta in Allegheny County in the spring of 2000. One day I went into a 3rd grade classroom to do a guidance session. The teacher was holding photos of instruments up telling the kids what they were. Sparta did not have a music program, so the only way the students could learn about the instruments was by looking at pictures. I offered to bring in my instruments for the children to see and the teacher agreed. The students enthusiasm about seeing real instruments gave me the idea to write a proposal for funding for a music program. The very next night I ran into a friend who was a folklorist and after I spoke to her about the proposal, my friend took the idea to the National Endowment for the Arts. It was like the program was meant to be from the start.

How many different communities take part in JAM?

Western NC has the lion’s share of the programs mostly because the NC Arts Council took a real interest in the program. The Arts Council was able to acquire a grant that paid for 7 Counties in Western NC to fund a JAM Program in their area. Blueridge National Heritage also provided for 3 NC counties. A group from SC has started a YAM-Young Appalachian Musician program that is affiliated with JAM. There are also JAM Programs in Galax, VA and Grayson VA.

So it sounds like JAM continues to expand in all directions?

Yes, next year we will partner with The Crooked Road Music Trail in Southwest VA. They will give us the opportunity to introduce JAM to 19 counties across VA.

I know our local JAM Program ‘loaned’ the instruments to students at no charge-is that how it’s usually done?

Each county handles the instrument issue in a way that best fits their area. Some charge a small rental fee while others don’t.

Since our local JAM Program only has music lessons-I didn’t realize traditional dance could also be part of the program until I poked around your website. Is the music more common in the program than dance?

Yes there are more instrument/music JAM Participants than there are traditional dance. We started offering traditional dance instruction as an enrichment program. As the young musicians progressed in their ability it became obvious we needed 2 different levels of lessons. We needed something for the group level who wasn’t in class at the moment to do. It was a natural thing to add dance and folk songs to the program.

Do most JAM Programs meet on school grounds?

More programs meet in an after-school setting on campus than not. Some meet at art councils. Most schools are receptive to the JAM Program being part of their extra curricular activities. And some schools even provide buses to get kids from the school to where their JAM session takes place if it is off campus.


JAM has a great website-full of information, videos, and links. I encourage you to jump over and check it out. When my nephews were in JAM-I was pleased that our local community was encouraging our youth to value the traditional music of Appalachia-but once I realized the JAM Program existed beyond my county-even beyond my state I was totally blown away.

Not everyone is fortunate to grow up in a musical family like I did-and in today’s tough economic times-most parents can barely afford the basics much less provide music lessons. I believe Helen and the rest of the JAM Gang are providing a valuable service to both the children and to the whole of the region by ensuring the music of Appalachia continues to thrive by exposing our youth to it.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Kim Campbell
    August 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    That is an awesome program to have!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 26, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Tipper, that is a great program. When I was in school….a long time ago lol……….there was no opportunity to learn about music and instruments. I happy for this progress in education.

  • Reply
    John Huron
    August 26, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Hey Tipper, I know a fellow who teaches third grade at Cloudland Elementary, Carter Co., TN, who has been doing this for several years with great success. No grant money, just love of the music. The instrument were all donation from the local community. The kids and parents love it. BTW, I’ll be teaching an instrument building class at Folk School next week if you might care to drop by for a visit. We’ll be building Campbellins (aka Mountain Lark), the signature instrument of the John C. Campbell Folk School.

  • Reply
    Janice MacDaniels
    August 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Wow… this is great! Here in NY the Hudson Valley Bluegrass Association started a program called ‘Bluegrass in the Schools’ with a grant awarded by the County Arts Association. They bring in a group/band and teach about each instrument and the music then perform a concert for the students and families…. but actually giving lessons… I’m passing this info on! 🙂

  • Reply
    Lori Wyant
    August 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Sounds like a great organization! My kids started playing stringed instruments in the 5th grade through a strings program in their public school. They also partake in Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, another great organization for kids and music. One of my favorite things to do is listen to kids play music or sing or dance or perform! If you’ve never heard of a young fiddle prodigy from Austin TX named Ruby Jane, you should check her out. I first saw her at an apple fest when she was about 7 or so; she’s now 15 or so and has already played with Willie Nelson! Have a good one Tipper – still love, love, love your blog! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    That sounds like a great program. They should have this everywhere. Although I realize some states and counties are not as interested in the way things were. They should be!!!

  • Reply
    August 25, 2010 at 6:56 am

    I’ve just had a look at JAM programme and I honestly appreciate the great work done there. As an educator, I firmly believe that children – regardless of age, race or religion – should keep track of their music heritage. It is,indeed, a brilliant programme!

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Sounds like an awesome program.

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    How neat… Thanks Tipper for featuring this… Since I grew up in southwest Virginia, I was very interested in reading this…
    Thanks again.

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I know you’re proud of those nephews and they seem really relaxed playing “Buffalo Gal”.
    This time Paul sung in such a
    high pitch there just wasn’t any
    room for Pap’s great tenor. We
    are all proud of our Junior
    Appalachian Musicians doing their
    part to maintain our culture and
    its music. Thank you boys…Ken

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 9:42 am

    truly a valuable service and loaning the instruments is great. this is a wonderful program for all involved. good it is spreading to all those counties and more each year.

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

    hooray for JAM!!!! being a music lover and musician i always love to hear that music is being provided and used in the classroom. i’m headed to the website now to hear the boys …

  • Reply
    August 24, 2010 at 8:37 am

    What a wonderful program to have for the youth in this country!

  • Leave a Reply