Episode One: Series Intro
Folklife Fieldnotes is a collaborative radio podcast series between WMRA and Virginia Humanities - celebrating the people making art in the Commonwealth through sound recorded by the Virginia Folklife Program featuring WMRA’s Chris Boros and Pat Jarret from Folklife.
Pat Jarrett: Folklife is the arts of everyday life. It's everything from self-expression, of course, like paintings and drawings, but it's music - it's social music, it's occupational culture, it’s artwork coming from the people. It's been classically portrayed as mountain craft or Southern craft - everything from banjo making to basket weaving to fiddle music. But in Virginia, we have a rich tradition in Appalachia, in mountain music and instrument making in Southwest Virginia. But also here in Harrisonburg, you think about all the new Virginians who are here, the new immigrants and the traditions that they bring with them.
We had an Iraqi baklava maker from here, Sondus Moussa. She's just incredible. She was a master artist in our apprenticeship program. Waterman culture on the Eastern Shore. We have boat building, country ham making on the south side of Virginia. It's all these things and it's always changing because time keeps on moving on.
Chris Boros: So it isn't just the traditions in Virginia, it’s also what people bring to Virginia.
PJ: What people bring to Virginia makes Virginia, isn't it? Otherwise, it'd be indigenous land.
CB: What is it like for you to travel around Virginia to get all this audio and to celebrate these people's lives and their art?
PJ: It's humbling. I always say, when I go out, I have to raise the quality of my work to meet the quality of these artists and it is tough. A lot of these people dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft and so for me to show up and make a subpar recording, that's my biggest fear. It's humbling to be in the presence of these great artists and then to be on a first-name basis with them. I was just out spending some time with Sammy Shelor and Sammy is a world-class banjo player.
He's the band leader of The Lonesome River Band. But beyond that his family lineage goes back to the big bang of country music in Bristol. The Shelors were recorded the same time The Carters were, so I'm talking with this man who comes from a line of people that changed the world musically and I'm hanging out in the kitchen with him eating biscuits. Like what have I ever done to get here?
CB: In this series, we're going to be exploring you traveling throughout Virginia. We're going to be listening to audio and stories that you have recorded. Is there one specific moment so far in your career Folklife that means a lot to you or that you'll never forget – besides this interview right now?
PJ: This interview, right now. This is it. Chris, I don't know if there is one experience. I've certainly been moved to tears many times, whether it's listening to The Legendary Ingramettes singing Beulah Land in Richmond at their Church or being on top of a mountain with Clyde Jenkins in Stanley. One of the main projects of the Virginia Folklife Program is the Virginia Folklife apprenticeship program that has been going on for about 20 years. We pair a master artist in the Commonwealth with an apprentice for a nine-month term. This apprentice and the master artist work together on a project or a skill or a specific folkway intimately. It's a one-on-one for nine months and we give stipends to these artists so they can cover their costs. They can travel, they can do what they need to do and some are pretty grand.
In this year's class, I'm going out and visiting with Horace and Hannah Scruggs. They have a waterways apprenticeship where they're exploring the rivers of Central Virginia and how it relates to their enslaved family history. And so, they're getting out on the water. Learning to read the river and they're also diving into family history. So they’re getting out on the water learning to read the river and they’re also diving into family history.
CB: Teaming these apprentices and masters together is also creating new master artists.
PJ: Many of these artists worry about the fate of the craft. Just the act of teaching someone these finer details, it breathes life into the tradition and it continues and they've expressed that to us on many fronts.
CB: Well, when you're the best at something, you want other people to discover it, you want to teach other people about it and that just makes you a better artist.
PJ: I think so. I've heard it in some of these interviews that teaching it gives them a different perspective on it. It's a really wonderful thing. What are we here for other than to make something beautiful? I know that's what I strive to do with the documentation that I do and so to document those who are wanting to do that in their lives, it's the best.
CB: Well, Pat, I'm really looking forward to sharing your stories and audio you’ve recorded with Folklife to the listeners of WMRA for this series that we’re working on. It's going to be awesome. Pat Jarett from the Virginia Folklife program, so, looking forward to the series with you.
PJ: Chris, it's my pleasure, and thank you so much for taking an interest.