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United Arts Council

Bluegrass in Wake schools

By Eleanor H. Oakley
President and CEO

So it is September. Do your thoughts turn to football, tailgating, festivals and fall color? At United Arts, ours turn to the sound of bluegrass music.  Now that September is here, United Arts is busily working to place visiting bluegrass bands in Wake schools during the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass week (September 29-October 3) in Raleigh.

Working with Pinecone (the Piedmont Council for Traditional Music, a statewide organization located here in Raleigh) and the International Bluegrass Music Association in Nashville, Tennessee, we create a roster of bands that plan to visit Raleigh later this month who are interested (and qualified) to perform assemblies and to teach master classes.  Then, we turn to the Wake County Public School System to identify a dozen elementary and middle schools that want to host these bands in their schools.   For two weeks in early September, we juggle the schedules and availability of bands (they are here attending a conference, after all) with school calendars and daily schedule until the schools and bands are matched up--somehow it all works out!  By the time the IBMA conference rolls around, all the school visits are set and the excitement ensues.

All of this is made possible with funding from Wake County. In 2014, this funding allowed eight bands to visit 11 schools during World of Bluegrass week and allowed us to put local and regional bluegrass musicians in three more schools in the months after IBMA event.  United Arts also uses the funding to provide a van and volunteer drivers to deliver bands to the schools, when necessary (some bands fly into Raleigh and are without transportation). 

This year, as in the past two, we plan to put visiting bluegrass bands in 12 schools for performances/informances (elementary schools) and master classes for strings students (middle schools).  New this year is a songwriting workshop taught by one of the nominees for IBMA’s “Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year” award (IBMA’s Award Show is the evening of October 1).  One or two Wake schools will receive this workshop.

By October 4, our staff will have visited 12 schools, worked with numerous band musicians, volunteer drivers, school principals and music teachers, not to mention about 5,000 school youth, so we will be a tired, but happy group.  And a dozen Wake County schools will know a good deal more about bluegrass music!


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