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If you visit Mountain View, Arkansas, you will likely find live music providing an entertaining backdrop for the visit. But it’s not just any music. People from all over the world travel to this place that rightfully proclaims itself “the folk music capital of the world,” taking in the beauty of Arkansas, the friendliness of the locals, and the rich tradition of culture and song.
Mountain View is about 100 miles north of Little Rock. For many decades, folks in this town have enjoyed singing and playing traditional mountain music. The popularity of such history, along with history and heritage of the Ozark Mountains eventually led to the creation of the Arkansas Folk Festival, Bean Fest, and the Ozark Folk Center State Park.
The return of visitors and tourists is vital to keeping the tradition alive, but equally important is the passing on of the musical tradition to the children who grow up in Mountain View. This is accomplished in part through the education in the distinctive and well-respected Music Roots program.
Since 1998, the goal of Music Roots has been to expose students to the folk music so special to this region and to encourage students to play traditional folk instruments. Music Roots is unique to the Mountain View School District and encompasses the Mountain View, Timbo and Fox (Rural Special) campuses.
Music Roots started with just a handful of students. Today, about 130 young people start the program each year, having chosen the instrument they would most like to learn from a selection that includes fiddles, guitars, banjos, dulcimers and mandolins. From September to April, students meet once a week during the school day. Instruments are provided on loan by the program.
Many of the students will use the loaner instrument until they move on and purchase their own or graduate. By eighth grade, most of the students have moved on to private lessons and are involved in bands.
The Ozark Folk Center contracts local musicians to instruct students in guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and mountain dulcimer. Each year a recital is held at the center the Thursday before the Arkansas Folk Festival, giving the students a chance to show off their skills.
Amazingly, Music Roots is free to the students. Community organizations including The Committee of One Hundred, the Mountain View Bluegrass Association and Old Time Ozarks all work diligently to support the program. Through donations from the public, fundraising and special events, these organizations pay for the program and the instruments. Mountain View Music works partners with the program to keep all the instruments in good shape and ready for the next learner.
To be given an opportunity to learn a traditional folk instrument, free of charge, is exceedingly rare. According to Ozark Folk Center State Park Superintendent John Morrow, the students who continue with the program tend to be better students, since many studies show that the discipline it takes to learn an instrument helps train in young people better academic performance.
Several years ago, Music Roots received national attention, as shown in this NBC News report by Chelsea Clinton:
Mountain View and Arkansas can swell with pride about such rich musical history and the ongoing effort to keep fine arts alive in the region. Morrow says, “It continues a legacy we have in celebrating our folk music heritage. We have been at the center of traditional Ozark music for decades, and this program ensures that students are exposed to that culture. They may not all grow up to be folk musicians, but it ensures an understanding and appreciation for the music that is at the core of our town. This program is a great success story for Arkansas. Again, it celebrates a part of the state’s heritage.”
For more information, call the Ozark Folk Center State Park at (870) 269-3851 or visit www.ozarkfolkcenter.com
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