Wintergrass Festival is also about education

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Special to the Shoreline Area News from Eustus Pinesap

Opportunities Abound for Teachers, Students

Bellevue’s huge, and hugely popular Wintergrass International Music Festival reaches far beyond its Bluegrass roots these days, hosting bands from around the world that play in a dozen different styles and genres.

The roots still show, though, in the down-home sense of community and with the round-the-clock jams that fill the rooms and hallways of the Bellevue Hyatt, where the festival runs February 23-26.

One major component is education, from people teaching each other tunes in those jams, to the nearly 100 workshops, seminars, presentations, and demonstrations that will be going on throughout the weekend. Festival goers can learn to play from the biggest stars in Americana music, or soak up the history of our country’s musical heritage through lectures and a film festival. There will even be a chef’s demonstration of some country cookin’! A two-day Youth Academy attracts over 75 youngsters to teach them to sing and play.

Washington Middle School
Orchestra Teacher Beth Fortune
Local Teachers Leading National Educational, Musical Initiatives

Beth Fortune and Tom Petersen, both from Shoreline, are turning the national spotlight on the Puget Sound region and are inviting – or daring!—students and teachers to joint them at Wintergrass.

Innovative Ways to Motivate Students and Increase Learning

Petersen, a junior high history teacher in Kenmore, tells the story of Country superstar Marty Stuart: “Marty was scolded by his 8th grade teacher for daydreaming about Bluegrass music instead of reading up on dead presidents. He got up and walked out. Irony being, today, in addition to being a performer, he’s a premier armchair historian and the curator of one of the great private collections of music memorabilia.

“Now, Marty’s done all right, but for every one of him, there must be thousands who’d take more interest in school if their teachers could throw in the hook of linking whatever subject – English, Science, History, Math, Technology – to that great cultural unifier and universal personal interest, music.”

Kenmore Junior High Teacher Tom Petersen
Credit Class

That’s the idea behind a class Petersen conducts for regular classroom (not music) teachers at Wintergrass. The one-day, 8-clock hour course, on Friday, Feb. 24, features Tom Kopp, Ph.D., the renowned expert in educational motivation and the educational theory and brain science behind it, demonstrating classroom techniques to inspire students. Teachers will also take away award winning lesson plans, courtesy of the Foundation for Bluegrass Music, and receive personal instruction on the basics of guitar, mandolin, and banjo, and traditional American folk dances, from top area clinicians.

Attendees also get private concerts from festival headliners The Hillbenders and Frank Solivan. Enrollment in the class is still open and can be made through the Wintergrass website.

At the Center of America’s Hottest Music Education Trend

Strings magazine, the widely-circulated journal of record for all things violin-shaped, recently identified “Eclectic Styles” as the most significant influence shaping music education and concert programming in the country today. Kids are trying Bluegrass, Jazz, Country, Polka, Choro, Rock, and dozens of other styles, adding tremendous variety to the usual classical favorites and showtune medleys that predominate in school programs.

Wintergrass Youth Orchestra: Vanguard of a Revolution

Last year Beth Fortune put together the Wintergrass Youth Orchestra, a program of such daring and originality that it was nominated as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Event of the Year. It will also be the subject of a presentation at the national conference of the American String Teachers Association. 100 students in grades 6 through 9 played with several of the biggest stars in American roots music in front of the massive festival audience, triggering a seismic shift in what’s possible for school orchestras, accompanied by a landslide of support from the music industry.

This year’s group, made up of students from Seattle’s Washington Middle School, Kenmore Junior High, Bellevue’s Highline Middle School, and several individual “graduates” of the Wintergrass Youth Academy, will be conducted by ASTA president Bob Phillips and leading arranger and clinician Dr. Andy Carlson, assisted by Renata Bratt and school directors Fortune, Karen Cramer, and David Drassel. They will play with Claire Lynch, The Wilders, Vasen, and Darol Anger, Bruce Molsky, and Rashad Eggleston.

Kenmore Junior High folkies and orchestra kids "bridged the gap
between the oral and classical traditions" at the Veterans Day assembly.

Music Teachers Invited

Any educators, especially music teachers, attending Wintergrass are welcome to visit the Youth Orchestra rehearsal at Wintergrass, 9:30 to 1:30 on Saturday, Feb. 25. The performance, open to all festival goers, will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 25.

“The long range goal,” says Fortune, “Is to make these kids life long players. We’re teaching ear training and pointing them toward improvisation. We don’t want kids to throw the violin in the closet on graduation day. Look who’s out jamming in the halls at Wintergrass: kids from 5 to 95!”


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