The 2010 Cowan Creek Mountain Music School: a letter


Dear everyone,

If you were at the 2010 music school this year, you probably know me – I was the college student walking around with a camera pressed up against my eye, the “Official Cowan Creek Photographer.” If you were bothered by my borderline-compulsive need to snap a picture of anything and everything that moved, I offer my sincerest apologies and deepest assurances that I am not a stalker. If you weren’t, then I’m happy to tell you that the pictures have been posted on the website underneath “Photo Gallery” – please look at them; there are an awful lot of photos, and I need them to serve some sort of public-relations purpose to justify how many I took.

To a first-time fiddler and a first-time intern at the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, however, those five days were about so much more than what I could capture through the lens of a camera. All I can really say was that I was absolutely blown away – by the people, the music, the joy, and the pure energy of all of these elements pulsing through the community that is Cowan Creek. I hail from a Midwest city where a tater is only a tot and a square dance is something you see in movies. The sight of a banjo was a novelty to me, let alone the sound of a whole classroom full of them.

Needless to say, then, Cowan Creek was quite the experience. I played a dulcimer for the first time. I learned that an “old-timer” isn’t just another word for “senior-citizen.” And I found out that mountain folk throw darn good potlucks. Most of all, though, I witnessed the sort of community that grows only when good people get together to play good music. I’m sitting in the Cowan Community Center as I write this, staring out the window into the trees that line the walking path. When you were here – you with your banjos and your guitars and your beat-up fiddles – these trees swam in the sounds of “Bile Them Cabbage Down” and “Chicken Reel.” They formed a canopy above six-year-old musicians and sixty-year-old musicians teaching each other exactly what these old tunes mean. And now, staring at the trees, I can almost hear it: the music that grows in this mountain soil just like Autumn Olive and string beans.

So thank you. Thank you to Stacy Dollarhide, who somehow managed to remain not only sane but also saintly as she poured her energy into organizing this year’s school. Thank you to Rich Kirby, the sound-technician extraordinaire.  Thank you to the faculty who taught me that anyone (even a college-aged, classically-trained violinist from the city) can jam, and most of all, thank you to the students, beginners and masters. You showed me that mountain music isn’t really about the notes so much as it is about the place those notes come from:  the human-to-human connection that is larger than this music, larger than this school, larger than these mountains themselves.  

May you break bow-hairs only on the best of licks and may your banjo go out of tune only when you want it to.


Jocelyn Streid

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School 2010





Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Memorial Scholarships

Art Stamper Scholarship:  for fiddle students

Burt Hatfield Scholarship:  Banjo and/or Guitar students

Charlie Whitaker Scholarship: Square Dance calling students

The above scholarships are awarded to a student based on commitment, excellence, and accomplishment.  Open to students at any level.

Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship: This scholarship is for Fiddle and/or Banjo students.  The students should show maturity, promise, and demonstrate an ability and interest in teaching.

Rodney Sanders Scholarship:  This scholarship is awarded to a student based on a sincere commitment and interest in learning any area of traditional Kentucky music.  This is both a merit and need-based scholarship and is open to students of ALL ages, with an emphasis on youth and senior citizens.

At the beginning of the music school, each instructor receives a nomination form.  Classroom participation and out of class time involvement through “jam” sessions and other opportunities througout the week help form the instructors decision for student nomination.  On Thursday, each faculty gives their nomination for to the designated committee members for that particular school week.  This is usually a committee of three to five faculty members.  On Friday evening before the student recital, the winners are announced. 

Donations are accepted for the Memorial Scholarship fund in any amount. Please make donation payable to: Cowan Community Action Group, Inc., “CCMM Memorial Scholarhip fund”, 81 Sturgill Branch, Whitesburg, Kentucky 41858. List in the memo line the memorial scholarship designation. 

Another Year of Cowan Creek Mountain Music School–2009

Have you ever noticed how fast annual events keep happening so quickly anymore?  Seems like you think about them throughout the year, and suddenly they are here, they happen, and then they are gone!  That’s what it is like for us here at the Cowan Community Center and our work with planning the CCMMS, hosting it, and then sitting back and thinking “Wow, this was the best one ever!”  We are so pleased with this year’s event, and we want to say a great big Cowan “Thank You” to every one who helped to make it what it was.

Stacy Dollarhide did a great job in leading  and coordinating all of the many details that made the week work for everyone.   Her many years of experience in working with the school showed this year as expressed by so many who were impressed with the smooth flow of the entire week.   Thank you, Stacy, for stepping up and assuming the many responsibilities.   Stacy was assisted greatly by Beverly May, a founder of the school, and who has stayed so closely attached to it by her leadership and sharing her great wealth of knowledge about the traditional music and arts of this region.  Special thanks also to John Haywood, who so willingly accepted the responsibility of serving as the faculty coordinator and doing a great job in the process.   

The center was also richly endowed with a very supportive staff consisting of Summer College Interns, Youth participating in the WIA (Work Incentive Act) Program sponsored by LKLP the local Community Action Agency, and of course the usual Cowan Center Staff.  The work of Rich Kirby of  Appalshop is so valuable in coordinating sound for the artists and students performances and showing up where ever he is needed at the right time.   Nell Fields, who for many years has served as one of the school directors, was not with us this year, but was well represented by her son, Isaac Fields.  Isaac is on staff at the center this summer as a supervisor of the WIA Students, and he and the students did a super job in helping with the music school.  Isaac apparently is carrying on his mother’s love and appreciation for the school and what it represents.

How could you conduct a music school without a faculty?  Thanks to everyone of you  instructors and teaching assistants who gave your very best to the students, and who support our work here at the center in so many ways.  You have truly helped shape our program and without your skills and knowledge we would not have the program which has gained so much respect and recognition.  You are to be commended for your excellent storehouse of knowledge of the traditional mountain music and the skill with which you impart the knowledge to the students.  We appreciate every one of you.

Last but not least, thank you to the students who came to our school.  You are the ones upon whom we are depending to learn the music, enjoy it throughout your life time, and in the process pass it on to future generations.  The music, the square dance and dance calling, dulcimer making,  and all of our arts will become lost without you to carry it forward.  If the enthusiasm and  the ability you demonstrated during the Student Recital are indicators of success, then we don’t have to worry about the loss.   Students, whether you came from California, Florida, or right here in Letcher County Kentucky, we appreciate your attendance and sincerely hope you will come back next year.  As a matter of fact, why don’t you go ahead and schedule it in your next year’s planner–Cowan Creek Mountain Music School, June 21-June 25, 2010? 

Cowan Creek Mountain Music School Chosen for Recognition as a 2009 Coming Up Taller Semi-finalist.

The Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. has been notified that it is among the top 50 semi-finalists in the 2009 Coming Up Taller Awards by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its partner agencies, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The message read:  “We reviewed more than 420 nominations from 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Osan South Korean US Air Force Base.  Your program’s selection as one of the 50 semi-finalists distinguishes it as one of the top arts-and humanities-based programs in the country serving youth beyond the school hours.” 

The nomination is currently being rewiewed for a Coming Up Taller award by a national jury composed of field experts.  Recipients will be notified by the end of June.  If selected, Cowan will receive a plaque and a $10,000 award at a ceremony in the fall/winter.  Cowan will also have the opportunity to participate in the sixth annual Coming Up Taller Leadership Enhancement Conference, August 5-7, 2009, in Washington, DC.  The program and organization will be listed in this year’s Coming Up Taller awards national publication and in the press kit announcing the award recipients.

Cowan is very proud of this distinction, and recognizes it as an accomplishment to be shared by its stakeholders, Cowan Community Center Staff both past and present, the Cowan Creek Mountain Music Faculty and its many students throughout  the years, other organizations that have so closely worked with us as partners, such as Appalshop and the Cowan Elementary School,  and the many people of the area who believe as we do that our traditional mountain music and folk arts must be preserved and passed on to future generations.  

2008 Scholarship Recipients

The Art Stamper Scholarship for Fiddle Students is awarded to a fiddle student based on commitment, excellence, and accomplishment.  

                                                                                                                         2008 Recipient:  Joseph Collum, age 8, Shelby County.

The Burt Hatfield Scholarship for Banjo and/or Guitar Students is awarded to a guitar or banjo student based on commitment, excellence, and accomplishment.  Open to students  at any level.                                                                                                                                                             2008 Recipient:  Chandler Sparkman, 12 years old, Letcher County

The Ray Slone Teaching Assistantship for Fiddle or Banjo Students is awarded to a fiddle or banjo student based on excellence and accomplishment. The student should show maturity, promise, and demonstrate an ability and interest in teaching.  

2008 Recipient: Rossi Clark, age 14, Pulaski County            

     The Rodney Sanders Scholarship is awarded to a student based on a sincere commitment and interest in learning any area of traditional Kentucky music.  This is both a merit and need based scholarship and is open to students of all ages, with an emphasis on youth and senior citizens.

2008 Recipient: Justin Grimm, age 17, Banjo player,           Perry County

Cowan Community Center Receives Governor’s 2007-2008 Folk Heritage Award

The Cowan Community Center has enjoyed the great honor of having been nominated for and receiving the Governor’s 2007-2008 Folk Heritage Award for their role in preserving and promoting Kentucky’s traditional arts.  Many thanks to our previous Arts Coordinator, Susanne Savell, for the honor she bestowed upon the center by nominating us. 

There are nine awards presented each year in the arts, and all of the nine recipients were honored at a special event in Frankfort’s Capital Rotunda in October. Following the public event, the recipients and their invited guests were honored at a luncheon in the Governor’s Mansion.  All of the day’s activities were taped and later shown on a KET special presentation.  In February, all of the recipients will again be honored by receiving a citation from the Kentucky Legislature.  Being a recipient of such a prestigious award has given us a great recognition throughout Kentucky, and it affirms our belief that we are doing the right things with our mountain traditions.   It has strengthened our belief that our music, dance, storytelling, quilting, and all of the activities we participate in have worth, and that persons from out of our region respect and value our work also.  It has certainly been something we have used with pride when submitting grant proposals and applications for future funding.  Again, thanks to Susanne Savell, for believing in the center enough to take the time and effort to nominate us.  The events can be viewed on the following web links.

The Governor’s remarks  Video can be found on this page:

Carol Ison, Director

Cowan Community Center

Thanks to everyone!

early intermediate jam 

Thanks to everyone who helped make this year one of the best Cowan Creek Mountain Music Schools ever! We have been building this school, and the extended family that belongs to it, for seven years now. From all the staff, faculty and volunteers of CCMMS, we want to extend a big thank you to all the wonderful students who joined us this year. We also want to thank all the local folks who came out in numbers to join in the square dances and attend the many performances throughout the week.

  • In addition to the array of musicians performing and teaching at the music school this year, Cowan Community Action Group was proud to present storyteller Angelyn DeBord and women from the Cowan Creek Community in the It’s About Time project.  It’s About Time was sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council’s Art Builds Community and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.  The performance by these women is the culmination of a year long project in which women in the Cowan community were provided with regularly scheduled workshops of poetry writing, story sharing and visual art. These workshops were  documented for posterity!  This project culminated in the involvement of these local women in the staged performance that we all so enjoyed.  The play was based on the stories from these womens’ lives, scripted and directed by Angelyn DeBord.   Kentucky artists Mimi Pickering, Anne Shelby and Pam Meade were all involved in the creation of this project.  The National Performance Network provided funds for Angelyn DeBord and Nancy Brennan Strange to conduct a week-long residency with the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School and to present DeBord’s original play,  ”Stubborn Memories,” as part of the faculty concert. 

Several folks have been asking about the wonderful photographs that Kelly Christian took during the music school. As soon as we get the files, we will create an online album and email everyone with the link (and also notify you here!). It may seem like a long way off, but make sure to save the week for next year: June 22-26, 2008! More news to come as we make plans for more music between now and then!  All the best,Suzanne