Education Archives - Page 2 of 2 - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Teachers and Museums Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly (And All the Other Good Things!)

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day!

And while the museum views itself as an educational resource, some of OUR most important resources are the teachers who bring their students through our doors and take what they learned in the museum back to their classroom. And so today, we wanted to share a blog post about the educator’s experience in our museum – and say a HUGE thank you to all the teachers who enhance their students’ learning through a variety of creative lessons and activities, who support the kids in their classrooms in ways big and small, and who work hard to set the foundation to make the next generation into curious, interested, and engaged adults!

The Birthplace of Country Music is always looking to find great ways to engage with students and teachers and with families looking for entertaining learning experiences. This is an essential part of our mission. We do this in a variety of ways from school tours to educational programming to fun family activities and through all three of our outlets: the museum, the radio station, and the festival. Check out our blog post here to learn more about some of these activities. We are also fortunate that our museum’s permanent exhibit enables us to approach our content from multiple angles – for instance, music and its history, Appalachian culture, local history, and technology, to name a few.

Museum staff member showing a group of female students the instruments in the museum's permanent exhibits.
American Heritage Troop TN5624 touring the museum in July 2017. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

But we also have the wonderful resource of our Special Exhibits Gallery and the variety of traveling and temporary exhibits that are displayed there – and these present us with the opportunity to bring a variety of other interesting and relevant educational opportunities to our local and regional schools and our community. We hosted the Smithsonian’s Things Come Apart exhibit last summer and fall, and it is a great example of how a special exhibit can address a host of learning goals – due to its heavy STEAM focus, we saw several school groups visit the exhibit and we experienced firsthand how teachers can use our content as a supplement to their curriculum.

One school – Sullins Academy – decided to make the most of all that Things Come Apart offered, and we asked their Head of School Roy Vermillion to blog about their experience, sharing with us and our readers how the exhibit enhanced their learning goals – and was just all around good fun!

“Sullins Academy’s faculty and staff had a chance to experience the wondrous exhibit Things Come Apart last summer right as it opened. We came to the museum for one of our faculty workdays, which gave us the chance to dig deep into this Smithsonian exhibit firsthand and to actually see how touring and working with the content of this exhibit could benefit our students.

Group of teachers working together at a round table to build a structure of colorful straws.
Sullins Academy teachers used their faculty workday to explore the Spark!Lab activity kits that came with the Things Come Apart exhibit. As can be seen here, they took the task of building a structure from bendy, colorful straws seriously! © Birthplace of Country Music

After having lots of fun ourselves, we booked several of our classes to visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to see this exhibit focused on various common items that had been taken apart and presented in a most unique and artistic format. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education is such an important part of our school’s curriculum, and the Things Come Apart tour supported and affirmed the importance of providing such opportunities for our students. The experience gave our students the opportunity to view things differently and to begin to understand the complexity of items and the engineering that goes into the manufacturing of such objects.

The tour enjoyed by our faculty, as well as our students, was enhanced with a fortuitous chance to have a hands-on experience through a variety of Smithsonian Spark!Lab activities where groups worked together to create a product specific to a particular need. These makerspace centers encouraged the groups to collaborate in order to solve a problem, which further enhanced what was taken away from this educational “Beyond the Classroom” experience.

A group of students grouped around their finished Invent-a-Vehicle, all making silly faces and poses!
A group of Sullins students used the Smithsonian Spark!Lab activity kit to build a functional vehicle from wheels and plastic pipe. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Hampton

The principles highlighted in this exhibit also carried through into our classrooms back at Sullins – for instance, prior to visiting the museum, our eighth-grade students actually disassembled a broken cell phone to see all the components and applied what they would see at the exhibit to a real-life experience.

This exhibit was important to Sullins because it gave us a unique educational opportunity to enhance our students’ learning experience. It also served as an inspiration for our students to explore and to experiment as they participated in their own Things Come Apart projects back at school.

Left pic: Male student taking apart a cell phone; center pic: Two female students working on a circuit board; right pic: A group of students with their Things Come Apart science fair display, along with their teacher and school principal.
Sullins teacher Sarah Hampton used the faculty workday, the student visits to the Things Come Apart exhibit, and its related STEAM concepts as inspiration for a variety of learning lessons back in the classroom. Photographs courtesy of Sarah Hampton

We encourage everyone to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities a facility like the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is able to bring to our community. We are fortunate to have the availability of such an innovational entity from which we can garner these unique and important educational opportunities for ourselves and the children we serve.”

The experiences of Sullins Academy’s students and teachers really reflect the goals of our museum: to provide an educational and inspirational experience, one that brings real engagement to those who visit us and acts as a support for learning within our local community and schools. And they also reflect the dedication of our teachers and educators to bring out the curiosity of our children and get them excited about learning.

As we move forward, we embrace the excitement of engaging with students – and all of our every day visitors – in order to share our resources with them and highlight the value that museums – and teachers – bring to communities like ours on a daily basis.

Guest blogger Roy Vermillion is Head of School at Sullins Academy in Bristol, Virginia. Head Curator René Rodgers provided context to his guest post. Thank you to teacher Sarah Hampton for sharing her wonderful pictures of the students at the museum and in the classroom.

African American History in a Country Music Museum? Exhibits and Programs Explore the Connections

Each year February is highlighted as Black History Month. This call to recognize the central role of African Americans in our history was first put forward by Dr. Carter Goodwin Woodson in 1926. As a blog post on the National Museum of American History website notes: “When mainstream history either largely ignored or debased the Black presence in the American narrative, Dr. Woodson labored to inject a fair portrayal of African Americans into the national record.”

At first glance, you might not think that the history of early country music intersects a great deal with African American history. However, the intersections exist and are significant, and we’ve explored some of these in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – for example, in the development of genre, with musicians who had impact on early commercial country music, and of course, through the African origins of the banjo, an instrument now indelibly linked to country and bluegrass music. And there has been a continuing presence of African Americans in country music beyond the early commercial years, for instance with artists like Charlie Pride and the celebration of black stringband music by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music by Diane Pecknold explores these connections more deeply.

Prior to the recording music industry, musical categories such as blues or rock or country did not really exist. However, the recording and marketing of music created a need to target audiences in order to make money, and so record executives began advertising music and musicians based on what they assumed different audiences would like, leading to the development of a variety of genres.

Detail from Decca record sleeve listing several genre types such as Hill Billy, Race, Sepia, Mexican, Irish, and Scotch, along with their price.
This Decca record sleeve in the museum collections includes a list of various genres and the price of records within each series. © Birthplace of Country Music; gift of Betty Lou Dean and Roger Allen Dean

One of these genres was known as “race records,” commercial recordings that were aimed specifically at African American audiences. Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” produced by OKeh Records in 1920, was one of the first recordings in this new genre. Selling around 8,000 copies per week over several months, the popularity of “Crazy Blues” proved to record executives that there was a market and an audience for “race records.” Companies began developing catalogues aimed at these audiences, and they often hired black talent scouts and agents to find musicians to record. Much of these early recordings were focused on blues artists.

Despite the seeming segregation of audiences – with black audiences targeted through “race records” and “hillbilly records” marketed to white audiences – the lines between genres were often crossed with musicians, styles, and songs from each influencing the other. And, of course, just because a record was marketed to a particular audience doesn’t mean that other audiences didn’t listen to and buy that record.

Photograph of "genre" panel in the museum exhibits with listing of different genres, descriptive text, and several images illustrating artists from these genres.
The museum panel on genre explores some of the different types of music that have been marketed to different audiences, including “hillbilly records” and “race records.” © Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Haley Hensley

The Bristol Sessions involved few African American musicians. Each of the two Bristol recording sessions held by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company – the 1927 and 1928 Bristol Sessions – featured only one such act. At the 1927 Sessions, El Watson recorded two instrumental harmonica pieces, “Pot Licker Blues” and “Narrow Gauge Blues.” The fairly arbitrary categorization of genre is reflected in the marketing of Watson’s recordings – Victor released Watson’s two sides in the label’s “race records” series, while two similar blues-inspired harmonica pieces by white musician Henry Whitter were marketed as “hillbilly records” and promoted predominantly to white audiences. There is little information about El Watson to be found in the historical record, but we do know that Peer was very much impressed by Watson’s sound and musical skills, inviting him to record four more songs with Victor in New York: “Fox Chase,” “Sweet Bunch of Daisies,” “Bay Rum Blues,” and “One Sock Blues.” It’s also likely that he recorded with Columbia Records in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1928. With both of these later recordings, Watson played the traditional instrument of the bones, and it is likely that he played the bones on some 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings too.

Left: Two sets of historic bones; center, a set of manufactured bones; right, a photograph of a group of customers in a record shop holding manufactured bones.
In 2015 musician Dom Flemons, cofounder of The Carolina Chocolate Drops and known as “The American Songster,” donated to the museum two sets of bones (ca. 1927), a set of manufactured bones patented by Joe Birl, “The Rhythm Bone King,” and a photograph of a group of customers in a music shop with their sets of rhythm bones. © Birthplace of Country Music; gift of Dom Flemons

The duo of Tarter & Gay recorded the next year at the 1928 Bristol Sessions. As with Watson’s recordings, the two numbers recorded by these talented musicians – “Brownie Blues” and “Unknown Blues” – were also issued in Victor’s “race records” series. Before they recorded in Bristol, Stephen Tarter and Harry Gay had performed live for white and black audiences at dances, and the style reflected on their Bristol Sessions recordings touches upon ragtime and stringband music, amongst others.

Race records panel in museum, with descriptive text and three images: Lesley Riddle, a Victor race records catalog cover, and Stephen Tarter with his cousin
This panel in the museum explores “race records” – an image of one of the Victor marketing pieces for their “race records” series can be seen here. The photograph to the upper left is of Lesley Riddle; the other photograph had been previously identified as Steven Tarter and Harry Gay, but new information tells us that it might be Tarter with his cousin Carson Anderson. There are no known photographs of El Watson. © Birthplace of Country Music

And then, of course, there’s Lesley Riddle, a hugely influential musician who worked closely with A. P. Carter in his search for songs and music worth playing and turning into hits. And don’t forget: Riddle has also been credited with teaching Maybelle Carter a specific style of guitar picking, and her mastery of this style is now well known and revered as the Carter scratch. His significance to the history of early commercial country music cannot be overstated – you can read all about his impact and influence in our blog post here.

While Black History Month may be a starting point for talking about African American history in early country music, it is not the stopping point. This is why we have worked to share relevant content within the museum’s permanent exhibits and also to continue the conversation through special exhibits and public programming outside of this one month of the year – from the special exhibit We are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of American Music in 2016, the Smithsonian poster exhibit A Place for All People, and the forthcoming special exhibit For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights (November 2018) to the live simulcast of the opening ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a roundtable discussion about the history of the local African American community, and engaging performances by a host of artists.

Two photographs of the Music Maker exhibit in the museum's Special Exhibits Gallery; the one to the right shows visitors enjoying the exhibit.
Museum visitors to the We Are the Music Makers exhibit really connected with Music Maker Relief Foundation founder Tim Duffy’s images and stories of southern old-time and blues artists. During the exhibit, the museum also hosted a performance by NEA National Heritage Fellow John Dee Holeman, a Music Maker Piedmont blues guitarist, and we got the chance to interview Dom Flemons about his work with the foundation and why its mission is so important. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

Three shots showing different parts of A Place for All People, a poster exhibit from the Smithsonian.
The A Place for All People poster exhibit – a survey of the African American community’s powerful, deep and lasting contributions to the American story – marked the historic opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History. This poster exhibit is now a permanent part of our collection, and we rehung 10 of the posters this January to mark the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. © Birthplace of Country Music
Photographs of Amythyst Kiah and Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton performing in the museum's Performance Theater.
We held several events as part of our “Lift Every Voice” series, based around a global initiative highlighting organizations co-celebrating the Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. These included a powerful performance by Southern gothic, alt-country blues singer/songwriter Amythyst Kiah, a fan favorite in Bristol, and an academic lecture by Dr. Cece Conway on the African roots of the banjo followed by a concert by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, a multi-instrumentalist who not only shared some amazing music with us but also had everyone in the audience enthralled by his wonderful storytelling and his deep knowledge of the history of his craft. © Birthplace of Country Music

Today there are criticisms aimed at setting aside a month or a week or a day of the year to commemorate important historical subjects – for instance, the question of whether setting aside a designated time to explore those histories means that they aren’t fully integrated into the study and understanding of American history. While in some ways the name of our museum – the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – might seem to narrow our focus, through exhibits, programming, and even collections we have tried to bring together the histories and voices of a variety of musicians and communities in order to underline just how much American music has been built and created from the intersection of different styles, different stories, different artists, and different backgrounds.


With a Little Help From My Friends: Creating Equal Opportunity Enjoyment for All

We all need assistance at some point in our everyday life, no matter the range of our abilities. Often, these needs ultimately put us in a position of relying on the consideration and preparation of others, usually strangers.

Some examples where there could be a need for assistance are minor injuries like a sprained ankle, maybe something like an eye procedure that causes temporary sight issues, or even accommodations for a small child. These types of things are situations that we all encounter at least at some point in our lives. But there are other members of our community who need accommodations that may not always come to mind when we are planning events, experiences, or programs – for instance, individuals with seeing, hearing, or mobility challenges. However, don’t let the word challenges misguide you – these fellow citizens are very motivated and as “able” as most of us. They enjoy the same things, and with the same small amounts of consideration, they can take part in all that the world has to offer.

I have always thought myself to be sensitive to those who are considered to be dis- or differently abled, and I guess this is most likely a result of minor physical birth defects that I have and the over-reactions to these that I have experienced throughout my life. Even though I had my own experiences, I recently learned a lot and gained some valuable insights from working with a couple of local agencies who serve these community members and from some of their individual clients as well. These relationships and exercises came about as part of the museum’s recent completion of the Museum Assessment Program, or MAP, through the American Alliance of Museums.

When our museum first opened in 2014, I assisted with some of the efforts in making sure that we are ADA compliant in the area of mobility, and as part of my graduate studies, I also researched the areas of visual and hearing compliance. Therefore, I was happy to take the lead on the accessibility learning and activity that was part of our MAP experience. Part of this activity was to reach out to members of the community to come in to the museum as visitors and give us feedback on their experiences. I was able to recruit two area organizations – the Appalachian Independence Center (AIC) in Abingdon, Virginia, and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI) here in Bristol. Both agencies were very gracious in bringing multiple staff members and clients who provided us with extremely valuable information regarding accessibility elements that were already in place in the museum as well as candid suggestions for things that needed improvement.

All of the films in the museum’s permanent exhibits have closed captioning for the hearing impaired. © Hillmann & Carr

One conversation between Museum Director Jessica Turner, myself, and a DVBI employee named Debbie Able packed a particularly powerful punch. Debbie, who happens to be blind, told us that she had visited the museum previously with a companion to assist her and that she joined as a member at the same time. I asked her about her overall experience in her previous visits to the museum – she obviously enjoyed the museum but I was surprised to hear her say that she felt like she had missed out and express a wish that she could have experienced more during those visits.

I remember looking at Jessica, and we both had the same expression of concern on our faces. This was a big deal – and something that we both agreed needed immediate attention – and so we asked for more feedback on ways to improve a museum visit for someone who might need to approach our content in a different manner than we had planned for within the exhibit layout or format. The first things that we talked about were ways to address interpretation of our content for those with visual and aural challenges. This led us to discuss technology-based solutions like audio tours, Braille captioning, and large-text labeling and gallery guides. From our conversation, it also became apparent that even when people with disabilities visit a museum with a companion who we may think will assist them, we should not assume that their companion has the knowledge or even intent to help with interpreting our exhibits and content. With the depth of time and energy that we can provide in a scheduled guided tour that addresses our visitors’ needs, we can assure that they have the best experience possible.

Since these initial visits during the MAP exercise, we have held training classes for museum staff and docents conducted by the AIC and DBVI, and these have provided invaluable information and perspectives for us to use in preparing solutions for making our museum accessible and enjoyable for everyone. During these trainings, museum staff and docents were given the opportunity to experience the museum in the same way a disabled visitor might.

Our docents and staff explored our recent special exhibit with clients of ACI and DBVI, gaining valuable insights on ways to make our content accessible and enjoyable to all of our visitors. © Birthplace of Country Music

Docent Mary Geiger was especially moved by the experience, saying: “The instructors were informative on how to approach a visually impaired visitor, how to physically contact them, how to lead, and why various movements and verbiage were necessary.  Additionally, I found invaluable the experience with the blindfold, learning the feel of degrees of darkness and to trust a person leading. Coupled with this was the exercise of actually leading an 11-year-old visually impaired visitor. This visitor was mature and articulate regarding what I was doing correctly or not (I flunked “doors,” which gave us both a good laugh!). All in all, I will feel more comfortable leading such visitors now.” Docent Barbara Smith agreed, saying: “Touring with a visually impaired person changed my perspective. I noticed things I had not seen before, I was asked about things I took for granted, and I needed to explain things for which I had no words. After this tour I had an even better understanding of the museum’s content.”

To follow up on this training – and in line with October being Disability Employment Awareness Month – the museum also held an event on October 6 to encourage our community to view their everyday surroundings and experiences through the eyes of a differently abled person. Various agencies set up tables with information to share with interested parties, enabling us to make important contacts with these agencies and for them to talk to each other about possible ways to work together in the future.

A client listens as Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services counselors discuss individuals with disabilities in the music industry (left). Jack Owens explains Virginia Relay’s services to Delegate Israel O’Quinn (right). Photographs courtesy of Kathy Malone, DBVI

All of these activities and training sessions have helped us to see our museum in a new light, to look at different ways to approach our content, and to begin working on solutions that take us beyond simple ADA compliance to providing a museum experience that brings enjoyment to all!

Scotty Almany is the Digital Resources Manager & Catalog Associate for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. He would like to thank all of the nonprofit agencies who donated their time to attend the event on October 6 with special appreciation to the DBVI and AIC, who have given so freely and generously of their time. For more information on accessibility tours, please contact the Birthplace of Country Music Museum at (423) 573-1927 or And if you have any suggestions or ideas for how our museum can become a more inclusive environment for those with different abilities, please feel free to contact us!

Fun, Fun, Fun: Families Make, Take, and Create at the Museum

At the end of the day this past Saturday we found nine marbles in the museum vault area, locked to the public, inaccessible to all but the few of us who have a key. How on earth did those marbles get there?

It sounds like a mystery or a riddle – you know like the one where you find a body in a pool of water in a locked room with a cat in the window and you have to figure out what happened.* Our story is much simpler, the result of having around 150 children and adults in the museum for our Family Fun Day maker event, held on Saturday as complementary programming to Things Come Apart, our current special exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).

We have worked hard to find cool ways to engage the public with this SITES traveling exhibit, and one of our earlier blog posts went into more detail about the planning that went into this exhibit and the related programming. Our biggest event during the exhibit has been Family Fun Day – filled to the brim with a variety of maker-type activities. Check out the pictures and videos below to get a real sense of the fun, invention, and sheer enthusiasm that kids of all ages, from 2 to 92, brought to the event – and to find out how those marbles got in the vault!

© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

The Bristol Public Library brought their 3D printer to the museum, giving kids and adults the chance to explore the software used to create 3D designs and then see the printer in action. To illustrate the printer’s capabilities, they had a variety of printed objects on display from small hearts to a flower in a vase to a megalodon tooth – and even a prosthetic hand, made for the charity Prosthetic Kids Hand Challenge. Individual guitar picks embellished with text chosen by each person were also designed, printed, and given out – perhaps inspiration for future engineers AND musicians!

© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

Upcycling is cool these days; all you have to do is hit Pinterest to find hundreds of craft ideas to make from common recyclables. Our Bristol Rhythm & Roots Green Team is always looking for new ways to be crafty with kids, and they brought out the washi tape, stickers galore, pom poms, and cloth flowers – plus a 5-pound bag of rice and a box of dry macaroni (because it’s never a real craft project until you use dry macaroni…) – to make old plastic bottles into maracas. There was a whole lot of shaking going on throughout the day!

Wood and metal worker extraordinaire Terry Clark, along with his wife Deb, brought items big and small with them to show our visiting families the cool and functional art you can make from a host of “found” objects. From the dragon weather vane to the lamp made from World War I helmets, the creativity on display was fantastic. And while kids got the chance to take away colorful iron spigots, I got the chance to see a steampunk spinning wheel in action.

© Birthplace of Country Music; photographers: Billie Wheeler and Rene Rodgers

A “take apart” table proved to be one of our most popular activities. We had kids clustered round the table for the entire event, brows wrinkled, tongues sticking out, intense concentration on display as they unscrewed, pried open, pulled off layers, and took every single electronic completely and totally apart. At hour three of the day, I had to run to the local thrift store and buy some more items. Several of the kids took home bits and bobs from their taken apart objects, excited to show other members of their families and their classmates at school what they got up to at the museum over the weekend. It was wonderful to watch the excitement the kids felt as they examined the innards of all these common, everyday objects. And just in case that excitement carried over to home, we put up a sign saying “KIDS: Don’t try this at home. Your parents will get upset!”

© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Billie Wheeler

The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation’s Spark!Lab provided three activity kits with the Things Come Apart exhibit. One of these is focused on creating soundscapes by sending marbles along a variety of wooden pathways that have different methods of producing sound. This soundscape activity has proved hugely popular with all ages, from toddlers to teachers. For Family Fun Day we set up the soundscape activity kit in the gallery, not too far from where the locked doors to our vault are found. Long pathways, tall pathways, curving around on themselves pathways were built; marbles were launched; bells rang, xylophones clanged, metal clinked, and wood knocked – and marbles went absolutely everywhere. Despite our eagle eyes and unbeknownst to us, quite a few escaped, shooting through the small crack under the vault door, only to be found later by Emily, our collections manager. We might still be finding marbles for days to come.

Photograph by Jessica Turner

Families also got the chance to take a maker project home with them – we had a take-home instructable on how to create your own “wrenchophone,” generously shared with us by Maker Media from the book Make: Musical Inventions, DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck and Switch On by Kathy Ceceri. This project showed kids how to make their own musical instrument at home – in the instructions, wrenches were used, but our museum director’s son Ian got creative, making his own version with butter knives and rubber spatulas. Apparently the spatulas helped to make the knives really ring out!

While all of the activities held on Family Fun Day were great, and the enthusiasm and engagement from the participants was especially wonderful, it was also really satisfying to see the other ways that kids were inspired to create and make in the museum. One of our visitors bought a small Lego kit from The Museum Store and built a small ukulele. But being in a museum meant that he didn’t stop there – he then used the plastic packaging (upcycling!) from the washi tape to create a display case for his ukulele, and wrote out his very own museum label for it to be on display during the event. A future curator perhaps!

© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Rene Rodgers

Finally, to cap it all off and to really underline that music is the center of all that we do, a family of five musicians stopped in and asked if they could share some of their tunes with our visitors. With songs from the 1927 Bristol Sessions and The Carter Family in their repertoire, it was a spontaneous and perfect end to a fun day!

René Rodgers is the Curator of Exhibits & Publications at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.*And by the way, the answer is that the body is that of a goldfish…

No Bouncy Houses? No Problem! Bristol Rhythm Children’s Day Focused on Family Fun

“It’s hot. We’re hungry. Why are we just standing here?”

Whiny, yet totally legit complaints heard at every summer festival in existence since the advent of festivals. Why not move on? Find some shade? Go get a snack? You can’t. Because you and your whole family are trapped, covered in flop sweat, held hostage in long lines to an attraction some parents consider the kid equivalent to a cage match – the bouncy house.

Is all that waiting in line really worth it when there are so many other awesome things to do?

Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion happens annually on Saturday mornings of the festival from 10:00am—2:00pm. It’s free and open to the community, so nobody needs a ticket to attend. Last year the event underwent a change when the staff at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum took over the organization of Children’s Day so it could better serve our mission of music.

As scholars do, museum staff asked a lot of questions about Children’s Day: How was this mini-event honoring our music heritage? Was it creating lasting memories that would make families want to return? What could they do to make it more fun? At the end of the day, the decision was made to bounce anything families couldn’t participate in together, sooo…bye-bye bouncies. And you know what? Nobody really missed them.

Since the first Children’s Day began with the 4th annual Bristol Rhythm in 2004, we have been blessed to have dozens of local nonprofits, organizations, and businesses generously donate their time and an array of fun crafts, games, and activities for the event. Last year we saw more families interacting with these activities than ever, and we are so grateful to those organizations for being part of Children’s Day, adding so much creativity and making it even more special.

We were thrilled to see the young ladies of YWCA Bristol TechGYRLS work their booth – a fine example of youth leadership for all the kids attending Children’s Day! © Birthplace of Country Music

Families gathered at the Upper Tennessee River Roundtable booth to make art with recyclables and did hands-on gardening with the volunteers from Appalachian Sustainable Development. There was also lots of interest in the Keep Bristol Beautiful mobile classroom, and everyone wanted to make a cool terra-cotta pot wind chime, thanks to the Sullivan County Soil & Water Conservation District. Whether families were making puffy letter art, necklaces from small discs of wood, paper plate tambourines, or shaker drums from cups, they all got to be creative and bring back a memento to keep or give as a gift.

A treasured make-take-and-do item – wind chimes made from terra-cotta pots! At another booth, kids used Sharpies to customize wooden discs recycled from small tree limbs for the centerpiece of a colorful, beaded necklace. © Birthplace of Country Music

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum’s special exhibit We are the Music Makers: Preserving the Soul of America’s Music was on display inside the museum during last year’s festival, so an extension to the exhibit was placed outdoors for the duration of Bristol Rhythm. The temporary and waterproof display introduced families to the striking images in the exhibit and also invited kids to make music with the attached spoons and Boomwhackers. The museum also hosted a separate Boomwhacker station where groups of children and adults played a variety of songs together, which proved to be a huge hit!

Song notes were projected on a screen in the Boomwhacker station to teach families how to make music with these simple instruments. ©Birthplace of Country Music

Of course, our favorite Children’s Day activities involve music. And there were lots of musical options at last year’s festival. Families square danced and dosey doe’d with the Empty Bottle String Band and frolicked to the sounds of Silly Bus, while the kids from local school Sullins Academy performed for the audience with big smiles and a sweet dash of sass – appropriate for their tribute to the great Loretta Lynn!

A sight we love to see: the entire family dancing together! During a later part of Children’s Day, Millie Rainero performed a solo with the Sullins Academy kids. © Birthplace of Country Music

Each year we look for new and entertaining additions to Children’s Day. Last year Jalopy Junction took everyone on a wild ride with death-defying balancing acts and feats of strength – an adrenaline rush for the performers and audience alike.

Children’s Day brings so much value to our festival each year – an opportunity to partner with and highlight the many wonderful nonprofits and organizations in our local community, a chance to extend our mission beyond our brick-and-mortar doors, and most importantly as a way to share a deep love of music with children. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll see some of them on our festival stages!

So we invite everyone to come out to Children’s Day at Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion in 2017, bring the whole family, put on your dancing shoes, and get ready to have fun!

Contortionism and breathing fire were just a few tricks the vaudeville troupe Jalopy Junction performed during Children’s Day. In another area of the event, the music brought people out to dance together. © Birthplace of Country Music, photographers: Dyan Buck and Jonathan McCoy, King University Department of Digital Media Art & Design

Charlene Tipton Baker is a Marketing Specialist at the Birthplace of Country Music.

Creating Experiences for Engaged Learning through Music: A Key Component to our Organizational Mission

At the Birthplace of Country Music (BCM), we believe that engaged learning in museums should be a component of every child’s experience, and those museums should be welcoming, accessible, and relevant. Whether with a school group, as individuals, or with their families, inviting young people to interact with the arts and history in museums and through outreach programs gives us opportunities to teach elements of these subjects through broad lenses in the humanities – and this in turn helps children to understand the world around them. These hands-on learning experiences give students the chance to explore and connect history to their own lives. We offer a variety of youth programs at BCM in an ongoing effort to serve the region – our school group programs, youth summer camps, free Family Fun Days, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Children’s Day, and a variety of outreach programs at schools or area agencies provide opportunities for arts education that is an important component in a well-rounded education. And research into visitor engagement at cultural organizations suggests that children who visit museums or other cultural events are TWICE AS LIKELY to visit them as adults. (So take your children to experience the arts and culture at the museums, festivals, and art galleries all around us!)

Clockwise from left: Docent Richard Horner and a young visitor ponder the uses of a unique hybrid guitar-accordion on loan from the Music Maker Relief Foundation; docent Barbara Smith explores the mixing station with students during one of her tours; and a young visitor looks at a piece of folk art from the We are the Music Makers exhibit. © Birthplace of Country Music

Planning educational and outreach programs takes enormous amounts of time. Museum staff members develop programming for each new exhibit so that groups visiting the museum have the opportunity for a variety of experiences and so that schools can link to state standards as they plan their visit – because Bristol is located on the state lines of Virginia and Tennessee, we include two different state standards in our planning. Talented volunteer docents are trained in museum content and are ready to provide a tailored and engaging group tour for area students; our docents often gain as much from the students as the students do from their visit!

Our Pick Along Summer Camp coordinators and instructors spend numerous hours developing curriculum and activities so that summer camps provide not only a really engaging and enjoyable week, but they also nurture and develop skills in instrument playing and performance competence. These summer camp sessions are a fantastic way to introduce kids to string band music through individual and group instruction, museum-focused activities, songwriting, and arts and crafts. Campers get a chance to perform live on Radio Bristol in the museum, and some have also had the chance to produce their own short programs for broadcast. Scholarships for campers who need financial assistance are always available (we eagerly accept donations for these scholarships and to help with bus transport!) so that we are able to serve our entire community regardless of income level. By offering instrument instruction in a camp format, we have the ability to integrate learning experiences with museum exhibits and radio, facilitate lessons in history and social context for the music they are playing, and give students the opportunity to develop a social network of young musicians interested in regional string music. And, of course, the Pick Along camps are also lots of fun and filled with laughter!

Students enrolled in the Pick Along Summer Camp learn string instruments individually and in groups; young campers also get their first taste of live music broadcast on Radio Bristol. © Birthplace of Country Music

Family Fun Days provide hands-on activities for kids of all ages and encourage families to bring children to the museum. These events give free entry to our Special Exhibits Gallery and often include programming that goes along with the particular exhibit that is featured in that space – from songwriting Mad Libs to a chance to play real instruments to coloring sheets. Our Family Fun Day visitors also get to create entertaining craft takeaways from various activities (and sometimes even prizes, especially after a rousing game of Banjo Bingo!).

Our free Family Fun Days provide the opportunity for families to engage in making music together – here a family enjoys the Boomwhacker Music Station. © Birthplace of Country Music

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion’s Children’s Day is another space for engaging families and features a variety of hands-on music-related and arts-focused activities for kids. Participants at this free event get the chance to dance and sing, play instruments, create take-home crafts, and learn about BCM and other nonprofits in the community. It’s also a chance for them to enjoy the feel of a mini-festival with some kid-focused music.

In 2016 the festival’s Children’s Day featured an interactive square dance and a short performance from students at Sullins Academy, while Collections Manager Emily Robinson do-si-doed with her family and children enjoyed crafts with the area nonprofit agencies who participated in the event. © Birthplace of Country Music

Many of our educational programs and events are geared towards giving students a short learning experience that might shape their understanding and create a desire to dig deeper, while others delve further into museum content through a longer program that helps students gain skills in history, music, writing, and critical thinking. One particularly successful program was an outreach project that museum staff provided for a youth group at the YWCA Bristol. It was developed in response to a special Museum Day Live! event on March 12, 2016, which focused on encouraging all people – and particularly women and girls of color – to explore our nation’s museums and cultural institutions. After thinking carefully about programs that fit in with this theme, we approached the YWCA Bristol TechGYRLS, a local after-school program based on a STEM-focused curriculum and geared towards supporting girls aged 9—15 who would otherwise have limited access to and experience with technology. The goal of the partnership was to give the TechGYRLS access to a new technology and the opportunity to explore the music history of their hometown in a meaningful way – this project provided an innovative STEAM educational program that connected our museum to our community by empowering the TechGYRLS to create a special radio program on Radio Bristol, our in-house working radio station. The program took a creative approach to our museum content and gave the participants a learning experience that has resulted in a strong and continuing partnership with the YWCA, enabling the museum to share its mission with a much wider audience and to engage students in an interesting way.

This project introduced the students to the museum, gave them opportunities to engage directly with radio technology and to learn more about how a radio station works, and helped them to research, write and produce a special radio program that highlighted the importance of the TechGYRLS program to them, their experiences in the museum, and the content that inspired them from our exhibits. The TechGYRLS visited the museum four times for a museum tour, to work on their radio script, to record the program, and as participants in Museum Day Live! We also went to the YWCA Bristol to give them additional coaching on their script and being “on air.” The half-hour radio program they created was played during the Museum Day Live! event at the museum, both on air and in the museum’s Performance Theater (attended by several girls and family members, along with museum visitors). For museum staff, it was a wonderful experience to work with these girls, and it was really gratifying to see them explore the museum and share their enthusiasm and learning on air.

Our goal with this program was to create a new opportunity for an underserved group in our community, while also sharing an enjoyable learning experience that would tie into that group’s needs. Not only did this partnership accomplish that, it also resulted in many of the TechGYRLS becoming advocates for our museum and for the musical heritage of our area – we have seen them as school group visitors sharing the things they learned with their friends, at our summer camp, and at special events. This program is also now saved in our archive collection for future use. By exploring our museum’s content in a new way through the TechGYRLS radio program, we were able to share our mission with a wider audience – across the radio airwaves and within our community – in an engaging way, and more importantly, provide an opportunity for tangible and creative learning to underserved local children, really highlighting the role of our museum as a community resource.

The YWCA Bristol TechGYRLS Radio Program brought together history, the arts, and radio technology as the students researched and recorded their show. © Birthplace of Country Music

At the risk of sounding overly romantic, I’ll finish by saying that the responses of students when they engage in our programs can be rewarding and overwhelming. We see students whose first-ever visits to a museum are on a school visit to our museum, and we’ve heard local students remark about how the Birthplace of Country Music Museum makes them proud to be from somewhere “important.” That’s a significant gift to give, along with inquisitiveness, a general appreciation of the music all around us, and an understanding that history matters now and shapes how we think and live our lives. Those concepts, along with the music history of the region’s rich traditions, are some of the core values driving our educational mission – and these are the things that make our day-to-day jobs so rewarding.

A young camper poses with a few significant “figures” in country music history during a Pick Along camp lesson. © Birthplace of Country Music

Jessica Turner is the Director of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.