VA Folklife Pairs Master Artists With Students During Pandemic

Apr 26, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, artists and performers have been losing work and many have taken their craft online.  The VA Folklife Program recognized this and started the TRAIN program, which pairs master artists with students online. 

WMRA’s Chris Boros spoke with Jon Loman and Pat Jarrett from VA Folklife and he asked Jon to describe the TRAIN program.

Jon Loman: It is something that we’ve put together in response to the pandemic, which has had particularly devastating impact on artists. So, we felt that something we could do right away is to work with artists, to get them going, teaching remotely, and then to build this resource so that folks could take lessons during this time from these incredible masters.

WMRA: Do you see this as more of a way to help artists struggling right now or help people who are home and want to learn something new?

JL: My initial impulse was the artists themselves but you know as it got going, that opened up as well as like, “Wow you know what, what a great time, were all cooped up here in the house, many of us, wouldn’t this be a goodtime for you to learn how to make homemade tortillas or finally play the banjo”. So, I think it’s great for everyone.

Luz Lopez offeres Yucatan-style Mexican cooking on TRAIN
Credit Pat Jarrett / VA Folklife

WMRA: Also joining us is Pat Jarrett he is media specialist for the Virginia Folklife Program. Pat, thanks for joining us.

Pat Jarrett: Thank you, Chris.

WMRA: So Pat, if someone is interested in finding a class to take, what is the best way for someone to participate?

PJ: We have our own URL, trainartists.org, and if you go there you’ll see the listings there, organized alphabetically but there’s a pretty robust search tool on that site, and you can just search for what you want or you can just browse through all the entries. We have about 50 artists from around the World signed up, so there is plenty to look through on the site.

Nate Leath teaches fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass - old time, Bluegrass, swing, jazz, funk on TRAIN.

WMRA: Yeah, there really is. I was kind of surprised when going through it today, it was like page after page after page of really interesting people.

PJ: Definitely. I’m blown away by the caliber of artists and the variety. It’s really catching on and I think it’s pretty wonderful. You know like the virus knows no bounds, it’s kind of like this is spreading organically like that too. That’s a bad comparison but hey there we go.

WMRA: I think it’s beautiful. You know a lot of the classes are music related but the one that really sounded interesting to me was Luz Lopez, who teaches a specialized style of Mexican cooking.

JL: Yes, he does and in fact on my lips as we speak are leftovers from my lesson last night. We made a wonderful chicken dish with Mexican rice, which I’ve eaten millions of times and have always said “how to they do that?”, and now I know.

Vickie Vaughn teaches bass on vocals on TRAIN

WMRA: Pat, do you have a favorite instructor through the list that you think sounds really interesting?

PJ: I just keep seeing friends of mine who are on here. People like Nate Leath who’s on here teaching fiddle, who I’ve played with before, he’s an amazing fiddler and just mind-blowing, an amazing opportunity to get with this guy. It’s not just limited to Nate I mean, I saw a bass player on there today from Nashville, Vicky Vaughn, that I said “huh, maybe I can brush up on some on some of my upright bass licks, I think I might take a class from her if I can”.

JL: If could just say something from a point of view as a parent, all of us are faced with suddenly becoming home school teachers, any help we can get. So, my son, he started ukulele lessons and then he takes piano with Charles Owens, and it really is a god-sent for us.

Charles Owens teaches saxophone, piano, theory, harmony, improvisation, jazz harmony, and composition on TRAIN

WMRA: How long do you anticipate this being a part of the Folklife Program? I mean do you think this will continue when the virus is all over and we get back to normal?

JL: I really do, most evenings I’m on Facebook Live watching concerts and you know it occurred to me I don’t think when this is over that those are going to necessarily stop, I think it’s going to become sort of part of the portfolio of what an artist does.

PJ: If I could jump in here because John you just took the words right out of my mouth. Last night I was on a Facebook Live with a friend mine in Briery Branch, an artist by the name of Trout Mouth, and he said “Well, I might just keep doing this, this is a lot of fun. I get to hang out in my house and tell you stories right from here”.

WMRA: Yeah, you’re right, I mean if there’s one things that’s come out of this pandemic, this has been one really cool thing. I watched Richard Thompson from his house do a live concert, Neil Sedaka has been posting videos every day with him behind the piano just singing his songs. It’s been a really interesting look into these people’s lives that we normally don’t see. 

Jon Loman from VA Folklife

JL: It really is. The ability I think, particularly for a lot of older artists that we work with, to perform in their home, is really I think something that has for many artists actually been a positive thing.

WMRA: If there is an artist who wants to get involved with the Train program, how do they go about doing that?

JL: It’s very simple, you just get on the site and you’ll see a button right there said “become a trained instructor”.

Pat Jarrett from VA Folklife

WMRA: John Lowman and Pat Jarrett both from The Virginia Folklife Program. Thanks guys.

JL & PJ: Thanks Chris.