As part of the visual and performing arts program, Volunteer State Community College students can earn an associate of science degree in bluegrass music. Vol State’s program is modeled after the East Tennessee State University’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program, and thanks to a new articulation agreement, Vol State’s classes transfer directly in for seamless transition.
Heading up the program is Lynn Peterson, who has served as president of The Tennessee Songwriters Association International and has been teaching music at Vol State since 1987.
He said that while the program is geared toward musicians, what is necessary is a love for music. The skills can be created through lessons. Those with experience will have their abilities honed.
Private lessons and ensemble performances are a required part of the program, along with such classes as American Folk Music and Commercial Songwriting.
ETSU’s program, which started offering a major last year, is helmed by Dan Boner. He said that while other schools do have music programs that offer a concentration in Bluegrass, there are some “pretty significant differences” such as requiring music history and theory based on classical European composers, as opposed to folk, country and Americana styles. For most bluegrass musicians, this is not the way music is approached.
“These students have spent their lives learning this music through bluegrass jams, churches and family traditions.” The new programs are remaining true to that, while applying the techniques to an academic style.
Boner said that ETSU had hoped for 20 degree-seeking students by the end of their program’s second year. Today, just a year after the inception, there are 61.
Vol State’s newly appointed Interim President Dr. Bruce Scism has been instrumental in the creation of our program. He said that given the school’s talented students, staff and proximity to Nashville made it a natural addition.
Scism said he has always had a passion for music and spent one year as a music major in college before switching to political science. He never lost his interest, and in 2005 became more serious. He is an accomplished songwriter and musician in his own right.
Scism agreed with Boner as to the need for music education to approach bluegrass differently. “Oftentimes music programs focus and end with formal styles, whichi s great, but oftentimes students are looking for something different.”
The Bluegrass Program is designed to reach out to those students.
It is the intention of both schools to continue to grow. Scism called this a “first step” and said plans were in place to add gospel, blues and other types of music one day.
Scism sees it as a chance to elevate the reputation of our creative arts programs. The school also hired a new coordinator for the Commercial Music Program. Steve Bishir is a 5-time Grammy Award-winner.
The Commercial Songwriting class hosts monthly Songwriters’ Nights at the Whippoorwill in Gallatin. Last year, the department released four episodes of “Vol State Presents,” a 30-minute television program highlighting the visual and performing arts scene in middle Tennessee. It was shown by the PBS station in Cookeville and on YouTube. A CD featuring student ensembles is released every year.