Bluegrass music class at Appalachian State University

Eric Ellis & Dave Haney - photo by Jane NicholsonStudents at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC have been learning a lot about bluegrass recently.

In the fall of 2006 the university began offering a concentration in Appalachian Music: Roots and Influences from the College of Arts and Sciences for the Center for Appalachian Studies for those students seeking an M.A. degree in Appalachian Studies. They also made many of the same classes available in the form of an undergraduate minor.

The curriculum includes a three credit hour class entitled Bluegrass Traditions. They describe the class as follows.

The genesis of bluegrass music from its beginnings to its major redefinition in the mid-1970s.

Who better to teach such a class than Dave Haney. Haney is the vice provost for undergraduate education and a professor of English at the university. More importantly though, he is a former guitarist and lead singer with Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys.

Haney says he uses such things as bluegrass recordings, videos, discussion, readings, and live demonstrations to help his students “understand the musical and cultural influences of early bluegrass music and the styles of specific performers.”

When presenting a live demonstration, he often calls on area musicians for help. One of the musicians he’s tapped as a resource is Eric Ellis. Ellis is known as a Scruggs-style banjo player.

He is ideally suited for this. He’s the real thing. He is an incredible banjo player who can demonstrate any bluegrass banjo style there is, and he also has an encyclopedic knowledge of bluegrass history.

Ellis has become such an indispensable part of the class, that the school has recently brought him on board as it’s first artist-in-residence in the Appalachian Studies program. The residency is supported by the Doc Watson Endowment in Appalachian Music.

What a great way for bluegrass music to reach a new generation.