Letter from the Center Director, Mrs. Carol Ison

March 1, 2016

To:  Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Participants

Re:  Summer of 2016

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since the idea of starting a music school at the Cowan Community Center actually took place.  Thanks to Beverly May for bringing the idea all the way back from Ireland and wanting to find a place to duplicate the idea in Kentucky. Luckily, she was willing to bring the idea back to Cowan, and with her experiences, our collaboration with Appalshop and the help of some really fine folk… well, as the saying goes, “the rest is history.”  And what a history it has been!

This year, as we celebrate fifteen years of the school, we are determined that it will be the biggest and best ever.  Don’t we say that every year?   Of course, that can’t happen unless you, the students, the faculty, the parents and grandparents, and everyone who has cheered us on through the years are back with us.

I am just writing to extend my invitation to all of you to be sure and plan to be with us this summer.  We are excited that we have two new staff positions this year in the form of a new Artistic Director, Kevin Howard, and a new Program Director, John Goad.  In terms of replacements, Kevin is replacing Anna Roberts-Gevalt, and John is replacing Stacy Dollarhide.

Yes, that is quite a change, and we want to say that we extend heart-felt thanks to both Anna and Stacy for the endless hours they gave to making CCMMS the success that it is today.  In particular, I want to say thanks to Stacy, who has been the “rock” of the school since its beginning fifteen years ago.  For many years she has carried the bulk of the responsibilities on her own, and for that we are grateful.  She has just determined that at this stage of her life, she needs to relinquish this position to someone else.  You will find that when you communicate with the center for registration or other matters, her replacement, John Goad, will be very effective.

We also know that Anna brought the school forward during her term as the Faculty Director, now called the Artistic Director.  We are very grateful for what she brought to the school, but she will be with us yet again as this year’s Beginning Fiddle Instructor, so you will still be able to interact with her.  Kevin Howard, her replacement, is a local artist and fine young man who is already taking responsibility for shaping this year’s school into a wonderful experience for all of you.

Nell Fields and I are still on the scene, and we’re both looking forward to seeing and greeting all of you this summer.  We have a long way to go in terms of getting everything ready, but we are well into the process.  I hope you are making your plans to be a part of the 15th year of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.  Please feel free to get in contact with me, John Goad, or Kevin Howard if you have any questions or comments.

My best to all of you,

Carol Ison, Director
Cowan Community Center
Telephone:  606-633-9831 or 606-634-3683
E-mail:  cison@tvscable.com

Announcing our new Artistic Director!

The folks on Cowan Creek are very excited to introduce Cowan Creek Mountain Music School’s new Artistic Director, Kevin Howard! Kevin is a prominent local musician and recording artist with June Appal Records in Whitesburg, KY. We look forward to the talent, know-how and vision Kevin is bringing and will continue to bring to the school and its students. Here’s a few words from the Director himself:

“It’s my honor and privilege to be this years artistic director of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. We plan to make this year as great as years past and continue on our tradition of passing on the mountain music of Eastern Kentucky to a new group of people.” -Kevin Howard, CCMMS Artistic Director

Please join us in welcoming Kevin Howard to the CCMMS family!

Position Available at Cowan Creek Mountain Music School (FILLED)

The Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. (CCAG, Inc.) is looking for someone to fill the position of Program Coordinator for the Mountain Music School, an annual, week-long workshop in June that focuses on eastern Kentucky traditional musical heritage.

The Program Coordinator is responsible for working with the Artistic Coordinator on all logistic details concerning the Mountain Music School, with support from Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. and volunteers. The position is contracted for $2,000 or as negotiated with CCAG, Inc. To apply, contact Randy Wilson at rwilson@hindmansettlement.org or (606) 594-9360. Applications are due by December 5, 2015.

Update: This position has been filled.

Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship 2015-2016

The Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. is pleased to announce the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship for 2015-2016 has been awarded to Kelsey Estep of Keaton, Kentucky.  Her apprenticeship with Sarah Wood will focus on the mountain tradition of unaccompanied ballad singing.

Kelsey is a senior at Johnson Central High School and the daughter of Beverly and Orville Paul Estep. She began studying old time fiddle with Jamie Wells at age 8 and has been a student at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School for the past 6 years. At CCMMS 2015 Kelsey served as a teaching assistant.  The Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship will support an intensive year of learning, performing and teaching.  “I hope through this I can inspire other kids my age to explore the old time music culture” Estep says.



Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice Kelsey Estep will focus on unaccompanied ballad singing with her mentor, Sarah Wood.

Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice Kelsey Estep will focus on unaccompanied ballad singing with her mentor, Sarah Wood.

Announcing the First Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship!

Congratulations on a job well done to Meghan Bryant, CCMMS’s first Charlie Whitaker Memorial apprentice, and her mentor, Jesse Wells!  Meghan is from Floyd County and is a sophomore in high school. She first learned fiddle from Jesse’s father, Jamie, and has been a “regular”  at the music school each year along with her sister, who plays banjo.  In 2015, Meghan also served as a teaching assistant for the first time. We appreciate her and Jesse generously passing on the music. 

From Meghan:

I think the Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprenticeship is a wonderful opportunity for anyone interested in learning more on their instrument. I’m so thankful to Cowan Creek Mountain Music School for being so generous in giving this apprenticeship and making it possible for someone to study music from a master and learn how to carry on the old time music tradition.

I have learned so many things in this year from Jesse. I’ve learned fiddle tunes from Doc Roberts, Kenny Baker, Buddy Thomas, George Lee Hawkins, John Morgan Salyer, and many other great fiddlers. I’ve also learned a lot about other styles, like fiddling in bluegrass, fiddling in country music, playing fiddle in a band, and some music theory. I think this apprenticeship has helped me grow not only as an old time fiddler, but all around as a musician.

I would definitely encourage anyone interested in learning and preserving old time mountain music to attend Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and apply for this apprenticeship. Cowan Creek is a wonderful program and I’ve honestly never been anywhere with such a great atmosphere and so many helpful, encouraging people. It’s definitely one of my favorite weeks of the year. ~Meghan Bryant, Charlie Whitaker Memorial Apprentice

Letter from the Center Director, Mrs. Carol Ison

February 24, 2015

Hello to all 2015 CCMMS Students and Faculty,

I hope our former and future students of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School are warm and safe wherever they are.   Here on Cowan we are still snowed in.   You can hardly believe that what the Center looks like now is what you see during your time here in June. This year the date of the music school is June 22-June 26.

I wrote this letter earlier in the month, in fact the day after Ground Hog Day. I even kind of complained because we hadn’t had enough snow at that time to cover everything up and hide some of our unsightly sites that are so depressing in the winter.   Please God forgive me for that, because we have now been covered for almost two solid weeks. It’s been beautiful for those of us fortunate enough to stay inside, but bless those people who had to go out and face the elements every day.

So, while we await the arrival of spring, we also are gearing up to present another year of the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School. Whether you are considering coming to Cowan for the first year, or whether this makes your (14th) year, we are looking forward to seeing you again or meeting you for the first time. We think each year that it will be the best school we have ever had, and that’s our attitude again this year. As we do our planning, we are thinking, what can we do to top last year’s offerings?

Well, this year we will be bringing back many of our regular faculty plus some newcomers. One of those newcomers is Robert (Bob) Martin who will be doing “Story-Telling”. Cowan Community Center is leading an effort in Letcher County to establish a Community Theater, and story-telling is going to be a major part of the performances we hope to offer. Story-telling classes will also be one of the offerings we will be having during the entire week of our music school. You will learn more about Bob and the other newcomers in the brochure that will be available within the coming weeks.

In 2014, Bob directed a production for the Cowan Community Center entitled the “Homecoming” which we hope to revise and present one evening during the week of this year’s music school. We think this will add a new element of interest to the week, which we think has always held some very special moments. Remember our great opera performance last summer?

Our Artisitic Director, Anna Roberts- Gevault is working to find the most talented and gifted artists possible to serve as the Visiting Masters, faculty members, and special guests for the week. Our CCMMS Program Coordinator is busy getting ready to assist you with your registrations, getting the brochures ready to go out, and making sure that all the necessary ground work is done to make this week run smoothly.

So, we hope you are having a great winter where ever you are, getting some rest hopefully, making plans for your summer travels, and we certainly hope you will include a trip back to Cowan for the Annual CCMMS as part of your agenda. If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please feel free to leave us a message on our website, or give us a call. We would love to hear from you.

Until I see you in June, stay warm, stay safe, and stay engaged in good traditional mountain music and come to Cowan and share it with us.

My very best to all of you,

Carol A. Ison

Carol Ison, Director

Cowan Community Center

81 Sturgill Branch

Whitesburg, KY 41858

Telephone: 606-633-9831 or 606-634-3683



Brand new coat of paint!

Here we are, with a new website!

Lookin’ forward to the 2013 Cowan School!

Excited that Ginny Hawker & Tracy Schwarz, The Clodhoppers & Roger Cooper will be our guest master artists!

On staff: Bruce Greene & Don Pedi, Carla Gover, John Harrod, John Haywood, Karly Dawn Higins & Sarah Wood, Ron Howard, Sarah Howard Montgomery, Rich Kirby, Jimmy McCown,  Don Rogers, Erin Stidham, Betty Vornbrock, Amanda Wells, Jamie Wells & Jesse Wells,  Randy Wilson!

More updates–

Registration will be up by the end of the week!


A Message from Cowan Creek

Hello to all of you from the Cowan Creek,

The 11th annual mountain music school was a wonderful week of friends, family, music, food, and great fellowship.  A total of 118 students, 30 here for the very first time.  We must be doing something right!!!  A great “THANK YOU” to all the faculty, staff, and community volunteers for creating another victory all in the name of old time mountain music!!! 

Along with “old-time” mountain music, song, and dance comes the food and fellowship of our mountain culture.  Through the Grow Appalachia project, folks dined on locally grown and prepared cuisine for their Wednesday night supper.  Fresh produce and fruit were provided daily during the lunch served to our wonderful participants.  Young and old dined on watermelon, cantalope, peaches along with their meals.  Lunch time is a great time to fellowship with friends, neighbors, especially with the talented musicians we have on staff.

Old and young gather each day to partake in banjo, fiddle, guitar, singing, and string band classes either to learn for themselves or to learn how to play together.  Music drifts down the hallways of the Cowan Elementary School as well as being carried along on the wind during the afternoons and early evening from the Cowan Community Center.  Young children play around and about the music creating fairy houses and using whatever imagination for play.  Hopefully we will see some of you next year, mark your calendars, June 24th thru June 28th, for the 12th annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School.

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School June 25-29, 2012

 The 11th annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, June 25 – 29, 2012 will bring together some of this country’s finest old time musicians along with students of all levels, for a week of learning and fun.  The school will offer courses in banjo (four levels) fiddle (four levels), beginning and lead guitar, harmony singing, old time stringband and Kids on the Creek, an arts and music class for kids ages 5 to 10 led by Erin Stidham and Amanda Wells.

 Faculty will include fiddlers Jamie Wells, Betty Vornbrock, Jimmy McCown, Sarah Howard Montgomery, Anna RobertsGevalt and new this year, Nikos Pappas and Erynn Marshall.  Banjo faculty include John Haywood, Jesse Wells, Scott Prouty and Randy Wilson.  Singing duo Karly Dawn Higgins and Sarah Wood will teach string band and Carla Gover will teach harmony singing. Don Rogers and Ron Howard will teach guitar.  Two optional afternoon classes are available:  dulcimer led by Cari Norris and square dance calling led by Julie Shepherd Powell.  

Students will enjoy in-class visits and afternoon performances by masters of traditional music Lee Sexton, Lewis & Donna Lamb and Jackie Helton.  In the afternoon, students can join in jam sessions for all levels or a singers’ circle.  Later in the afternoon there is a choice of workshops including the songs of Addie Graham led by Rich Kirby, Knott County banjo styles led by George Gibson, clogging, storytelling and more.  Each evening faculty and students gather for a square dance or faculty concert.  

         The school is held at the Cowan Elementary School and the Cowan Community Center near Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky.  Instrument classes are open to kids age 11 and older and adults.  Tuition is $175 for Kentucky residents and $225 for out-of-state students. Registrations are due by May 31st.  For a complete schedule and registration information see the website www.cowancreekmusic.org or request a brochure by e-mailing cowancreekmusic@tvscable.com or calling (606) 633-3187.

 The Cowan Creek Mountain Music School is produced by the Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. with support from Appalshop, the Letcher County Board of Education and The Letcher County Tourism Council.  


Message from Tyler May

Christmas used to be the time of the year I looked forward to most–that is until my family and I went to Cowan Mountain Music School 2006. Now I’m always anticipating the final week of June so I can meet up with Appalachia music mentors, teachers, and heroes; jam until daylight; meet old buddies and make new pals; dance the Virginia Reel until the fiddlers are out of steam; and learn a cool modal tuning for the banjo…oh yeah, and eat! It’s the place where I first learned how to play clawhammer banjo, and it’s a home that I come back to every year.