Old time Appalachian music & dance workshops for Huddersfield children

Better late than never with this update! In the last week of November we held our second music workshop day at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Lockwood, Huddersfield, part of our  2023-24 local live music series in West Yorkshire. Thanks to Project Grants funding from Arts Council England, we’ve been able to organise these community outreach sessions as well as ticketed concerts and workshops. The idea is to bring bluegrass, old time and folk music to people who may never have experienced it before, and who probably don’t have many opportunities to go to concerts or festivals. Our first event at the school, back in July 2023, included fiddle and ukulele workshops for Year 6 children (aged 10-11). The brilliant Jay Bradberry and Mike Giverin taught those workshops, which had a bluegrass theme – read the full article here.

Fast forward a few months, and it was time for Workshop #2 – this one featuring an old time music and dance dream team of Simon Robinson and Sara Marshall Rose. They taught a series of half hour workshops for all Year 1 and Year 2 children (spanning ages 5 to 7), and Sara took the lead in teaching a simple body percussion piece, with Simon helping to teach the accompanying song (Lil Liza Jane) and playing banjo accompaniment. Sara also showed off her Appalachian flatfooting skills to the class, performing a short step dance while Simon played a typical foot-tapping American folk tune. [For those who don’t know, “old time music” is one of the forerunners of bluegrass. The community music and dance traditions which developed primarily in the Appalachian regions of the USA sprang from the blending of Scottish, Irish and English tunes and ballads (and step dance) brought by European settlers, with Native and African-American influences – including the banjo. That’s a VERY brief summary!]

The workshops went brilliantly, and the children all seemed to have a great time, throwing themselves enthusiastically into the clapping, stomping and singing. The staff and I were very impressed by Sara and Simon’s teaching skills and rapport with the children, in addition to their exceptional musical skills. Simon had each workshop class following him and the banjo around the room, Pied Piper style, singing and clapping, as a warm up exercise before Sara taught the main body percussion steps. Sara enthusiastically engaged with the children, tailoring the routine to each class depending on their ability. Some of the younger ones were encouraged to keep the rhythm with their stomping and clapping, while most of the Year 2s were able to pick up the full routine, and this approach worked really well.

When the children came in they seemed a little unsure and shy, but Sara and Simon did a great job of putting the children at ease and drawing them in. Their opening song soon had everyone dancing, and everyone seemed to be having a great time.” – Mr Shotter, MPPS music teacher

The afternoon concluded with two half hour concerts in the school’s large hall, which allowed over 300 children to experience live old time music and dance, which was a great treat and something entirely new and exciting for them. Simon and Sara’s set list included some exciting bits of performance, with Simon playing some uptempo tunes on banjo while Sara showed off her Appalachian flatfooting skills. There was also plenty of audience participation, with the kids singing along to I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground and Skip to My Lou. The whole day was a great success, and the youngsters had a lot of fun as well as learning something new. My hope is that this was a memorable experience for these very young children, and may spark a future interest in folk music or dance in a few of these little ones.

Even if that doesn’t happen, it was a lovely day where we had hundreds of youngsters singing, dancing, clapping, smiling and enjoying making music together. The Arts Council funding (and sponsorship contributions from local business Dark Woods Coffee) has provided vital support, enabling us to pay musicians fairly for their work, especially important for these community outreach events where we don’t have any ticket income to fall back on. It has been a really positive experience to work on this aspect of my music programme, and it all fits in with my mission to bring world class live music to my local communities, and to bring old time, bluegrass and Americana music to a wider audience.

True North Music’s Yorkshire live music series continues in 2024, including our one-day festival in June! To keep up with news about our local live music series, sign up to our mailing list on the right hand side of this page, or follow us on social media – check out all our links here

Simon Robinson performing with his band Sugarwell Hill: