Over the next few months, while college choices for rising high school seniors are forefront in the minds of many students and parents, we will present a series of interviews on Bluegrass Today with administrators/faculty members at colleges and universities where young bluegrass or acoustic musicians might want to study.
You can read all the posts in this series here.
Today, we visit with Joe Carr, Assistant Professor of Music at South Plains College in Levelland, TX. Before landing at the college, Joe worked professionally as a bluegrass musician, playing mandolin in the band, Roanoke, and then guitar for many years with Country Gazette.
The program in which he is involved at South Plains is Commercial Music, which offers a two year Associate of Art degree, and a one year certificate course. Four areas of concentration are available for students: Commercial Music, Sound Technology, Music Business and Live Sound.
While enrolled in their Commercial Music program, a student must study a primary and secondary instrument, and all bluegrass instruments are included, with experienced, professional instructors on staff. Bluegrass ensembles are available, and all commercial music students will study in a variety areas that will prepare them to pursue a career in music, with country, pop and bluegrass being the primary concentrations.
I asked Joe if most of their students continued into a four year degree program.
Commercial Music students can transfer to 4 year programs. We work with these students closely to insure maximum transferability of coursework. Some students choose to complete academic degrees here and take music classes in addition to those classes. Of course, some just enter the market after completing our degree.
Joe said that most graduates who went into the business worked as sidemen musicians and singers, in the music business, or live and recorded sound. When I prompted him for some South Plains success stories, he had quite an impressive list ready.
The most well known would be country singer Lee Ann Womack and Natalie Maines of Dixie Chicks fame. Brance Gillihan [of Bluegrass Today!] is a recording engineer, studio owner and videographer. He took both music and sound tech courses, as did David Carney who is the stage manager with country singer Keith Urban. Dan Bletz with the Biscuit Burners is a former student as is Kym Warner of the Greencards. The Colorado based Spring Creek Band attended here. There are many others in the country and pop music fields as musicians and technicians.
Students come to the Commercial Music program at South Plains from all over the United States and Canada, with recent students enrolling from Switzerland and Sweden.
A typical student in the program would take private lessons on a major and minor musical instrument, perform in ensembles and study music theory, songwriting, sound technology, pop or bluegrass music history, and delve into the nexus of music and computers.
Joe came to the college along with banjo legend Alan Munde, who just recently retired from his faculty position. Beth Mead has assumed the banjo chair, starting with this summer semester.
Beth has many years of experience in education and I’m very excited about her joining the program.
After 22 years of teaching here I can safely say SPC is the best its ever been. Scholarship help is available and even our out of state students say we are the best bargain in higher education anywhere! Of course we will miss Alan Munde’s master teaching, but he will be back here every summer for Camp Bluegrass.
Joe askes that interested students contact him on campus at 806-894-9611 ext 2493, or by email.