The Vermont Folklife Center is now accepting applications for the 2019-2020 Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. For over twenty-five years this program has supported master artists in the teaching and passing along of their knowledge and artistry. Traditional arts—like the cultures from which they spring—are dynamic, developing and changing over time to address the unfolding needs and perspectives of the communities that practice them.
An apprenticeship is a face-to-face learning experience in which a master shares the skills and techniques of a traditional art form while also providing insight into the historical and contemporary roles of the art form within its culture of origin. Through the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program we seek to keep traditional arts living, thriving and relevant to the contemporary experiences of the cultural communities from which they emerge.
A master traditional artist is considered to be a longtime practitioner who has reached a high level of expertise in their art form and are recognized within their community as being among the very best artists in their field. Since several of Vermont’s ethnic and regional cultural groups extend into neighboring states and Canada, applications will be accepted from master artists living outside of Vermont, but apprentices (the person who will be learning from the master artist) must be Vermont residents.
Applications will be accepted until August 15. Applicants will be notified of their application status by Sept. 1.
For inspiration - here are some field notes from a few of our 2018/2019 apprenticeships
Migmar Tsering - Tibetan Dranyen
Migmar is a master of the dranyen, a traditional Tibetan lute. He also teaches the dances that accompany the melodies and music played on the dranyen. Originally from Tibet, Migmar was raised in India and came to S. Burlington in 2011. Migmar says:
“The only instrument that we can say clearly and loudly that this is Tibetan. If you go all over the world you will not find this. It is the king of Tibetan instruments – it clearly speaks that what you are hearing is Tibetan. Most of the songs we sing suit this instrument so much. You can say the dranyen is the face of the Tibetans.”
Migmar has been working with young people in his community for a number of years. With support from the Apprenticeship Program he has been able to purchase enough instruments for everyone who wants to learn. This year the group expanded their repertoire to include songs and a dance to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year holiday. Students will also perform for birthday celebrations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Tony Barrand and Amanda Witman - Traditional English Ballad Singing
Master Artist Tony Barrand is a Brattleboro-based singer who grew up in the Midlands of England with parents who sang songs and ballads they learned at home and at school. Barrand has now lived in Vermont for more than four decades and has expanded his interest to explore singing styles local to Brattleboro. He has worked with and learned from Vermont singer Margaret MacArthur of Marlboro, VT (much of Margaret’s song collecting materials are stored in the VFC Archive) and other local singers to develop his own repertoire and style.
Amanda Witman, also of Brattleboro, had studied traditional English folk singing with Tony for several years before the two of them conspired to start a monthly Pub Sing at McNeil’s Brewery in Brattleboro. Through a year-long apprenticeship Amanda is now learning from Tony some of the social and historical background of the tradition, absorbing new musical repertoire and in particular working to become a strong melody singer, able to lead songs, all with the aim of strengthening the Brattleboro Pub Sing community and ensure its continuation into the future.
Here in an earlier blog post you’ll find Tony and Amanda singing a Vermont sugar-makers song.
Mohamed Bulle - Somali-Bantu Instrument Maker
Mohamed is the only known maker of the Sharara, a 6-string bowl lute traditional to Somali-Bantu culture and music, in the United States. He learned to make the instrument when he was growing up in Somalia. Today he travels across the country to play for Somali-Bantu wedding ceremonies and other community gatherings. He continues to grow his collection of Sharara (all of which he makes himself, by hand) so that more people can participate in the music-making as he travels across the country.
This winter cartoonist Iona Fox joined VFC staff for a site visit to Mohamed’s home (which doubles as his instrument workshop). As a part of our National Endowment for the Arts funded Vermont Cartooning and Culture Project we partnered with Iona to create a series of comics about the Apprenticeship Program to be featured in her Almanac strip in Seven Days.
View the comics from our visit with Mohamed as well as comics from several other site visits in this earlier blog post.