February 2023: Learning and Teaching Traditional Arts
In our Spotlight series, we take a closer look into the kaleidoscope of traditional arts in Central Pennsylvania and the work of artists featured in our Folk Artists Gallery. This article spotlights the ways artistic traditions are shared and sustained within communities. As one example, Folk Artists Gallery participants Anthony and Reverend Moses Jackson are sharing an apprenticeship around their unique gospel music ministry.
By SFMS folklorist Amy Skillman
The cold days of February always seem like a good time to nestle in and awaken our inner creativity.
Many folks channel that energy into art forms that are meaningful to their community: singing old ballads, dancing, cooking from old family recipes, or making beautiful things with their hands.
Traditional art forms are learned by engaging with them — by participating in family and community activities, by watching and imitating, and by following the guidance of skilled mentors. Whether informally or formally, we apprentice ourselves to those who can teach not only the skills, but also their cultural significance and the history behind these valued arts.
Susquehanna Folk helps artists apply for and receive apprenticeship grants. We supported one successful application in 2021 and three in 2022.
As a folk arts partner with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA), the Susquehanna Folk Music Society is proud to help connect traditional artists with resources for learning and teaching.
Since 1983, the PCA has offered grants that support Apprenticeships in Traditional Arts, providing funds for master artists to work with qualified apprentices to pass on vibrant artistic traditions in their cultural communities. Each year about 20 artists are awarded grants to teach their arts, from ballad singers to wood carvers. Many apprentices also share their learning in concerts, exhibitions, workshops, and publications.
Join us for a free virtual workshop on February 7, 2023 to learn about the program, if you are interested in learning or teaching a traditional art form in the next couple of years. Folklorist Amy Skillman and some current grant recipients can answer all your questions.
In 2021, the Harrisburg-based ensemble “Spiritual Messengers Warriors for God” received an apprenticeship award to pass on their unique style of gospel music ministry.
With the guidance of Master artist Reverend Moses Jackson, apprentice Anthony Jackson is learning skills needed to move from his current role as the group's drummer into a larger leadership role as vocalist and spiritual messenger.
In many ways, the Spiritual Messengers' music defies category. The ensemble includes electric guitars and bass, a kick drum set, as well as mandolin and saxophone, which is certainly unconventional for a gospel group. Yet, their music is clearly rooted in a southern gospel tradition that traveled north in the 1930s and 40s and became electrified by the 1960s. Influenced by and influencing R&B, Blues, Jazz, and Soul music, their original songs draw on contemporary challenges and experiences.
The Spiritual Messengers’ style beautifully exemplifies the evolution of a tradition.
In February 2021, the Spiritual Messengers Warriors for God participated in a day-long residency with the nationally-known Campbell Brothers, exploring the roots of gospel music and its influences on contemporary music. That event was part of a series of virtual residencies hosted by Susquehanna Folk, pairing local traditional artists with well-known artists in the same genre.
Another evolutionary group, The Campbell Brothers, have evolved their soul-stirring pedal steel guitar music into the nationally-recognized Sacred Steel music style.
Thanks to the Kulkarni Theater at Penn State Harrisburg, The Campbell Brothers are back in town and they have invited the Spiritual Messengers to join them, live and in-person. The Spiritual Messengers will open the show, and then join the Campbell Brothers at the end to jam on some familiar gospel numbers.
Brothers Chuck and Phil Campbell have been playing music together since they were young. They grew up in the House of God Keith Dominion church in Rochester, New York, where their father was a Bishop, and they play a style of gospel music that is particular to that church: Sacred Steel music.
Chuck Campbell is a 2004 recipient of the National Heritage Award, our nation’s highest honor for traditional artists.
When most people think of the pedal steel guitar, they think of country music, where it is most commonly played. Chuck began playing the instrument as a child, but was told he could not play country music. So he developed his own unique tuning and adapted it into what has become the Sacred Steel music style.
Chuck Campbell continues to innovate within the tradition, and is often emulated by younger musicians, but he also remains true to the style of his elders. The National Heritage Award recognized his significant contributions to the continuation of Sacred Steel gospel.