Call and Response: How The Push To Preserve Grassroots Music Communities in Western North Carolina Led to the Traditional Arts Programs For Students

October 4, 2019

Story by Sandra Davidson and Scott Stegall

Today marks the return of a new season of Arts Across NC, a podcast by and about the North Carolina Arts Council. The three-episode season highlights the story of the Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS), a statewide network of afterschool programs, created by the North Carolina Arts Council in response to community requests for traditional arts education taught locally, knee-to-knee, and across generations.

TAPS is a story about place, community, and pride, and it's a story that somewhat begins with a man named Arvill Scott.

Arvill grew up in Surry County, North Carolina. Part piedmont-part mountain, Surry County has been a nucleus of traditional string band music for well over a century. As a young boy Arvill grew up listening to bluegrass and old-time music over the radio waves of Mt. Airy's WPAQ station, and in the early 1980s he began to take lessons on banjo and guitar form celebrated traditional musicians of the region. Within a few years, he was playing in local bands for square dances, but he was growing concerned about the future of traditional music. 

"I was kind of offended by individuals coming into the area on grants that were attempting to show us how to play our music," said Arvill. "There were a couple of individuals from New England that would come, and got very interested in the music, as I remember, and learned from Tommy Jarrell in the Surry County area, and then they lived basically off of grants playing music here. And I thought, that’s just not the way it’s done traditionally. The music tradition is that, particularly in this area, the way I had come about playing music, is that you learn from the people who are here."

At a community meeting about the future of traditional mountain music held over twenty years ago by the North Carolina Arts Council Arvill made his voice heard. 

"What I said at that meeting was that it would be better to be taught by someone who is here, who knows the culture, who is the culture, rather than bringing in people to teach us what they interpret what we do and what our tradition is," recalled Arvill.

His concerns did not fall on deaf ears. Get that story today in Call and Response the first installment of the new Arts Across NC season. 

Listen below.

Arts Across NC is available for download and streaming on Apple PodcastsStitcher, and Soundcloud. Previous seasons have explored archival North Carolina music field recordings, the 2018 N.C. Heritage Award recipients and more.



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