Kids get hands-on lesson in music history

First Posted: 7/8/2009

Jacob Hogue and other children participating in a Hands on History summer camp Wednesday afternoon seemed surprised at how easy it was to make a guitar.
The Mount Airy 10-year-old and about a dozen other youngsters each started out with materials such as a 2-by-4, single guitar string, tiny block of wood, small glass jar resembling a spice container and some nails.
After about 45 minutes, loud hammering in the annex of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History was replaced by pleasant strumming sounds as the kids practiced on their newfound, makeshift instruments known as diddley bows.
Jacob, the son of Mike and Esther Hogue, said he enjoys Christian music and wants to be a musician someday, and later on, he and several other youngsters were even talking about forming their own group in the future.
That was the kind of outcome organizers with the museum were hoping to accomplish with their summer camp under way this week. In addition to music, it has been helping youths ages 5 to 15 explore such subjects as textiles, beekeeping, local rocks and minerals and the importance of paper.
The idea is to get history out of textbooks and into your hands, so that you can actually take part in it, explained Heather Elliott, director of programs and education at the downtown museum. Elliott said one of the goals is showing how history is something that occurs daily and not just 100 or 200 years ago.
Theres nothing ignorant about asking, What does history have to do with me? she said.
For example, learning about Mount Airy granite helps youngsters understand the importance of that material in the construction industry, and examples of its use can be seen in numerous structures around town. And though much textile manufacturing has disappeared from the area, its presence is vital for clothing and other daily necessities, Elliott said.
About 40 youngsters are participating in the Hands on History camp this week. It will conclude with a Saturday community celebration from 9 to 11 a.m., to which participants can invite family members and friends. The museum will exhibit crafts and creations of the hands-on historians and their experience will be documented with the launching of Mount Airy Museum of Regional Historys first time capsule.
In Wednesdays Music By Necessity segment, volunteers and teachers showed participants how easy it was to make instruments using basic materials that might have been available to people long ago.
The activities of making diddley bows and learning about music history are in preparation for an upcoming special exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution. The New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music exhibit will be on display at the local museum for six weeks beginning next March 13, Elliott said.
In addition to possibly stimulating an interest in music, Wednesdays workshop gave children an idea of how roots music, such as old-time, blues, folk and Native American, has influenced modern styles such as rock and hip hop.
Everybody here knew what bluegrass is, Elliott said of the camp participants, but nobody knows much about the blues.
Crafting an instrument from simple materials enabled the kids to understand musics evolution from sounds produced by crude instruments to the polished art form of today, said Josh Spencer, a local guitarist who was volunteering at Wednesdays workshop.
The diddley bows proved to be perfect teaching tools, with children allowed to take them home afterward.
An American string instrument of African origin, diddley bows originated in the days when someone might have heard a guitar being played and wanted to do so themselves, but lacked the money for an instrument, Elliott said.
That led people to make diddley bows out of whatever materials were available. But unlike the real guitar string used by the kids Wednesday, it was more likely that someone of yesteryear would have employed broom wire instead to achieve musical sounds.
A diddley bow is a one-string slide guitar, Elliott said while holding up a finished product.
Even without making such a simple instrument, early residents discovered they could use common implements or tools for musical expressions. Thats how the art of playing washboards or saws developed.
If you had a fiddle bow, someone figured out you could play a saw, Elliott said.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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