FRANKFORT — Folk musician Sue Massek, of Willisburg, has experienced the Kentucky Arts Council’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant as an apprentice and a master, which she says has enriched both her playing and teaching of the banjo, her primary instrument.
Massek studied under the late Grant County master folk musician Blanche Coldiron in 1995.
“I felt so blessed to know her and so happy there was a way to pay her for what she was giving me,” Massek said. “Those resources were helpful to her, and she moved my playing several levels up and gave me a whole new technique to use.”
Today, Massek is teaching Louisville musician John Paul Wright, the second apprentice she has taken through the Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant program. The grant is giving her an opportunity she doesn’t have with her other students, who take lessons from her in 30-minute timeslots.
“This grant allows me to work with John Paul in depth. I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford to give that kind of time,” she said. “It’s intensive. In addition to playing, we do a lot of storytelling and talking about the music business.”
Both Massek and Wright have a shared interest in songs that tell the story of Kentucky’s labor history, coal mining in particular.
“This grant is giving me the opportunity to share my musicianship and skills and techniques with someone who’s already a good banjo player, and it’s giving me the opportunity to open up a whole new level of playing for him,” Massek said. “It feels like I’m passing it on from Blanche, Lily May Ledford and all the people who mentored me. It gives me a chance to make sure their music lives on, not just mine.”
Folk and traditional art has a rich history of being handed down from generation to generation, and in recognition of this heritage, the arts council offers grants to folk and traditional master artists to help them pass knowledge to skilled apprentices.
The arts council’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant provides up to $3,000 to a Kentucky master traditional artist to teach skills, practices and culture to a less experienced artist from the same community during the course of a year.
Applicants must be folk and traditional artists who are considered masters within their community and who have identified an apprentice from the same community who has potential to become a master. Both master and apprentice must be Kentucky residents.
Massek said the apprenticeship grant is integral to conserving Kentucky traditional art and craft.
“I think it’s important on a large scale because it helps preserve traditions that, if not passed on, might very well pass away,” she said. “On an individual level, it allows an already-skilled musician to learn more than they already know, and how to apply those skills. When you teach the skill, you allow that person to pass it along to more than just the next apprentice. They also pass it along to the audiences they play for.”
The grant application deadline is Feb. 16. Visit the Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant page of the arts council’s website for more information or contact Mark Brown, arts council folk and traditional arts director, at [email protected] or 502-564-8110, ext. 495.
The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, fosters environments for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts council, along with the NEA, is celebrating 50 years of service in 2015, which the arts council is recognizing as the Year of the Arts in Kentucky.