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Augusta summer sessions enter new era

ELKINS — The Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College began its summer sessions this past Sunday in a virtual platform that offers greater access to classes, concerts and special events. In addition, participants will be able to enjoy programming from all genres and all three theme weeks.

“Last year we had participants from 38 different states and 13 different countries,” Augusta Executive Director Seth Young explains. “Putting safety first, we knew we had to make a change. We wanted to prioritize keeping our communities connected, but to do so while social distancing was going to be a large undertaking. That’s when we came up with the idea for a completely new digital learning platform.”

Students can study with a large roster of traditional musicians from the comfort of their own homes. Registrants will have access to everything that Augusta is offering for the summer.

“Longtime participants often remark that they wish they could clone themselves and take every class. Well, now’s their chance,” says Young.

Classes for the summer session feature prerecorded video lessons from 75 master artists, presented in an interactive and social format. Registered students will have access to all lessons across all theme weeks with the ability to watch as many times as they would like and to learn at their own pace. All lessons will be available online until Oct. 1.

In addition to the lessons, a robust series of live online events such as cultural sessions, panel discussions and music-making presentations, will be available via videoconference from July 5-24, giving participants a chance to interact with their favorite instructors. Popular sessions will be live-streamed on YouTube in case the video conference rooms reach capacity. An archive of the sessions will be hosted on the Augusta website for future viewing and will also be available until Oct. 1.

The live online events for Week 1 (July 5-10) will focus on cajun, creole, classic country and swing music and culture, while the themes for Week 2 (July 12-17) are blues, vocal and American string band and Week 3 (July 19-24) themes are bluegrass, and West Virginia old-time.

Among the special events planned for Week 1 are “A Visit with Master Artist Kathy Mattea,” “Women in Cajun Music with Jane Vidrine and Sheryl Cormier,” “Pedal Steel Guitar Q&A with Lynn Kasdorf,” and “A Piano Q&A with Harry Appelman.” In Week 2, special events include a film screening of “Born for Hard Luck: Peg Leg Sam” and discussion with Joan Fenton, Joe Filisko and Tom Davenport; “Ballad Circle” with Penny Anderson, Val Mindel and Nora Rodes, and “Social Hour Victrola Party” with Joebass Dejarnette. Highlights in Week 3 are “Banjo Technique Q&A with Rachel Eddy” and “Grand Ole Opry Show and Tell with Jen Larson and Missy Raines.”

Tuesday evening concerts will be both more intimate and informal than typical Augusta concerts, as performers have recorded songs from their homes to be presented in watch parties during their theme weeks.

“These are going to be unique performances that make the viewers feel as though they are at a private concert with some of their favorite traditional musicians,” Young says.

Artistic Director Emily Miller adds, “The concerts will feature GRAMMY-winners like Kathy Mattea, longtime Augusta favorites like Joe Newberry, Tyler Grant, Missy Raines and Rachel Eddy, as well as newcomers like Nashville songwriters Donna Ulisse and Nora Jane Struthers.”

Augusta organizers recognize the uneven financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and want to keep programming as accessible as possible. For this reason, they have chosen to accept a sliding scale contribution rather than a set fee. To register for access to all Augusta classes and events, visit augustaheritagecenter.org, click “donate” and contribute a comfortable amount (suggested $100) to “Augusta Online Summer 2020.” For complete information and schedules of all Augusta Heritage Center summer session activities, visit augustaheritagecenter.org or email augustaheritagecenter@dewv.edu.

Programs offered by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College are presented with support from West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, the West Virginia Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and Davis & Elkins College.

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