Blues in the Schools

Blues in the Schools

The Rev. Robert Jones is presenting the history of blues to local middle and high schools, this week. On Friday at 7pm, he will be giving a live performance, open to the public, at Marietta High School. Photo by  Michelle Waters

The Rev. Robert Jones is presenting the history of blues to local middle and high schools, this week. On Friday at 7pm, he will be giving a live performance, open to the public, at Marietta High School. Photo by Michelle Waters

This afternoon at Frontier Middle School and High School, the Reverend Robert Jones gave a presentation on the history of Blues as part of the “Blues in the Schools” (BITS) program of the Mid-Ohio Valley. 

Armed with a variety of instruments and stories, Rev. Jones shared how the music we have today, came to be. 

As part of his opening story, Rev. Jones shared how different religions and cultures were sometimes tied to different interpretations of the same song. He explained how the ABC song sounds like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He shared how we sometimes add our own fun sounds, notes and accents to songs we’ve heard all of our lives (kind of like what happens with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer), and how those additions often happened because someone along the way thought they sounded good.

There might be a rendition of Amazing Grace that could happen at a Methodist Church, which maybe has been performed the same way through tradition, for many years. “You sing it a certain way. Your children sing it the same way, and so do your children for generations…but if you go down the block”, Rev. Jones explained, “there could be a different kind of church, a different way of singing the same song”.

The students had their full attention on the Reverend. His stories and musical talent seemed to strike a chord with everyone in the room, helping to show the true importance the history Blues, and all music, has played in our lives. 

Before the presentation began, Michelle had a quick chat with Jay Phiilps, one of the coordinators of the Blues in the Schools program, through the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of the MOV.

Michelle/HTN: (Speaking of the Blues in the Schools program) I love this so much, what you are doing with the high school and middle schools, both. 

Jay: I like the fact that we were kind of clued into the idea of doing more middle school presentations because I’d spoken with a Wood County (WV) Administrator (Jay and his wife are both retired Wood County teachers) who was involved in some of the (school) arts programs. And she said she felt one of the sets of grade levels that were most underserved was middle school. And also, middle school is a time where the students get involved in music programs-they’re older, they’re maybe thinking about music…

HTN: They’re working on expressing themselves…

Jay: Exactly, and so it really is an opportunity for them (the students) to be exposed to a genre of music (blues) they would not normally hear. Also, the beauty is, we’re dealing with historical aspects (of music), so there’s a Social Studies (component) involved. Because of that, it gives the school and students an opportunity to see those connections. That’s why a blues presentation is so (good)-it isn’t just a performance and nothing but. It’s the idea that it’s the sharing of history. 

What Robert has done is, he’s going back to the 1880s, the middle 1800s Field Hollers, the times of slavery, connecting with gospel performances, and it gives the opportunity for kids to hear this whole span of the history of music. 

When he (Rev. Robert Jones) does his presentations, he goes from those times-what was done (musically) in the 1800s, and goes up through to modern music, now. He talks about Katy Perry. He talks about rap music, and he even does an amazing segment of a song called “Death Letter Blues” by a man called Son House, from the 1920s/1930s, and he plays that song as it was played at that time. But then he transitions into speeding it up and making it into a rap song. So the kids will hear how this connection goes from 80-90 years, to modern day music. 

Photo by  Michelle Waters .

Photo by Michelle Waters.

HTN: So this isn’t his first rodeo, then…

Jay: No…no. He’s an award winning blues educator. He’s performed and presented all over the country. And we just feel very lucky. We had him at our blues festival, as an acoustic artist back in March. We spoke with him at that time about doing a Blues in the Schools presentation. We had another gentleman that came in about a year and a half ago to do presentations. And after that, we realized we really wanted to continue dong this. 

Our musical society is made up of a lot of retired educators. So a lot of us (in the BJFMS) have that connection with education. We really felt the importance of being able to have this educational outreach (with music). We try to provide (exposure to blues and other types of music) to the general area. But now we’re also trying to include the educational component, too. And we try to reach the rural schools-the schools that may not get served, all of the time. 

HTN: I was wondering how the schools were chosen. 

Jay: Last time we had a couple of middle schools in Wood County, WV. And then we had Marietta (OH) Middle School. So we went to the main town middle schools. We’re visiting a couple other middle schools in Wood County, but (this year) we’re also going to some schools in Wirt County and some of the outlying schools in Washington County, such as Belpre. 

HTN: I can see that. They may not get as many visits from our arts programming. 

Jay: And if we have this opportunity to be able to provide this (service) free of charge to the schools, that’s what we want to be able to do. The fine arts programs (in the schools) are challenged, right now. So this offers an opportunity to share the arts in a different vein. 

HTN: Absolutely. 

So the concert on (this coming) Friday will help raise funds for your program…

Jay: So we can continue to do this on a yearly basis. 

HTN: Are there any other fundraising efforts in place at this point?

Jay: At our (annual) blues festival and competition, we have 2 raffles: we have a quilt raffle, and we have a raffle for tickets to live music events. They’re not specifically blues…we’ve had the support of Mountain Stage, of Fur Peace Ranch, and our own BJFMS provides tickets for the Blues Cruise. We’ve also had support from other festivals and groups. They know that blues music and educational outreach is an important thing. So a lot of groups come together to support music. 

**Outside of the raffles, the charity concert is the only fundraiser they hold for the entire year’s worth of programming. No outside funding, including grants, loans and/or sponsorships are currently being used with the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society. So supporting events like this Friday’s concert is crucial to keeping the programming alive.**

Jay: One of the other things I think is rather unique about our BJFMS: We’re not specifically a “blues group” the way many Blues Societies in the nation are. What we’re offering is music that we may not otherwise hear (in the MOV). We have a couple small, coffee-house type concerts coming up next year. One is a Bluegrass show, which I know in this area there is some (bluegrass). The other concert is Swing Jazz. And they’re in a small, intimate setting, in a church fellowship hall, and they offer the audience the opportunity to have an interactive experience with the music. 

HTN: How would people find information on those events?

Jay: If they go to , we have all the information about our upcoming events. We welcome any sort of participation…

Our March festival is partnered with the People’s Bank Theatre. We’re bringing in a well-known artist named Delbert McClinton. He is doing a show (at the PBT) the night before our Blues Festival. The opening act is a local young lady who is an accomplished musician from Marietta College, named Sadie Johnson. She is gonna be opening for Delbert McClinton. Delbert will have quite a large band performing with him, too. And they’re going to tie into the Blues Festival. 

**Such a great opportunity for our local students, as well as our community. If you can find a slice of time to get to the Marietta High School this coming Friday, at 7pm, you can play a great part in sustaining quality music education for our kiddos. Only 5.00 per person.

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