While East Tennessee State University remains the only college to offer a four year degree in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies, another college in Tennessee has recently added a two-year associate’s degree program in bluegrass music. Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin now offers an Associate of Science in Bluegrass Music within their Visual and Performing Arts Program.
The degree is based on the academic program of study offered by ETSU, and classes are intended to directly transfer between the two schools. Many of the courses which have up until now only been offered at ETSU are now part of the Vol State program curriculum, such as two different levels of Bluegrass Seminar, in which students learn the ins and outs of being a professional musician. Vol State’s program requirements include classes in the areas of songwriting, American folk music, individual instruction on fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and voice, and performance ensembles. The faculty members are well-qualified, with instructors having previously performed with artists ranging from Loretta Lynn to Bill Monroe. In fact, program organizer Melissa Du Puy has experience playing with both Monroe and Doc Watson.
The program recently helped host the Sumner County Bluegrass Jamboree as part of its efforts to spread the word about the new degree. On April 13-14, hundreds of bluegrass musicians and fans gathered on the Vol State campus to jam, listen, and even compete in various instrument and dancing competitions. Several great bluegrass groups were featured, including Charlie Cushman and Johnny Warren, the Likely Culprits (consisting of Garnet Bowman, Melonie Cannon, and Deanie Richardson), and Bluegrass Ablaze, Vol State’s bluegrass ensemble. The program also hosts regularly scheduled bluegrass jam sessions for students and community members.
For students currently residing in Middle Tennessee, Vol State’s new bluegrass music program should provide an excellent pathway towards obtaining an eventual bachelor’s degree in bluegrass music. With options to take classes in related programs at Vol State, such as recording industry management, students can certainly gain a well-rounded education which will prepare them for both further learning and a career as a professional bluegrass musician.