-Written by Heather Krantz, Springhouse Parent and Adult Programming Participant-
My name is Heather, and I am a Springhouse Community School parent, board member, and student. I have had the great privilege of having many important mentors in my life over the years and continue to have many today. The fact that mentorship is such an important part of Springhouse is something that keeps me coming back again and again to participate in the adult classes. It also continues to assure me as a parent that we’ve made the right educational decision for our son.
I am an old-time banjo player and have been taught to play traditional music from the area by Mac Traynham and others for about 8 years now. Old-time music is passed down and played mostly by ear, and I really enjoy the company of people who play this type of music as part of their culture and family history. Nothing compares with sitting down in person with an old-time musician who remembers when they learned a particular tune from a family member or another master. Usually when they teach the tune to you, they share the story of how they learned it and, most of the time, some other related story or history lesson comes along with it. This always makes learning a new tune so much richer for me. It makes me feel as if I am a continuation of that same story and that I can have a small part in helping it continue into the future.
Mac has been my primary teacher, but, a few years into playing, I got to meet the locally famous Rhoda Kemp from Roanoke, VA. It wasn’t long before we became good friends, and I was visiting her regularly to learn her unique ways of playing. I still have a long way to go in learning her techniques and renditions of tunes, but there was something that she said that was amazing to me that took us off in a whole other direction.
One day when I was visiting Rhoda at her home in Roanoke, I mentioned that I was building another banjo. I had had the privilege of making a banjo with Mac the previous year as he also happens to be a master banjo builder. I brought the banjo that I made with me that day and, as Rhoda held it up and inspected it, she said, “I think I would like to build my own banjo”. Now, this is not really that interesting or surprising a thing to say except that Rhoda is 89 years old. This was amazing and terrifying to me. I was incredibly impressed that at her age she would have any interest in doing such a thing and scared to death that she could get hurt in the process. I swallowed my fears and asked Mac what he thought. My guess is he had some of the same feelings about it as I did, but, I think for both of us, the excitement and honor of helping her do this was well worth the risk. Rhoda was thrilled and said she would join us the following week.
Now, I was well into making my second banjo at Mac’s shop along with Springhouse student, Hannah Cantrell, and homeschool student, Taegon Morgan. Each week, I pick up Hannah from school, and we drive the winding mountain roads to Willis, VA to Mac’s shop. She spends her school day working with all of us building her own banjo from scratch. Learning to use all the equipment and techniques needed to do so. When I told Hannah that Rhoda would be joining us, she was beyond excited. Now everyone in the shop ranges in age from 14 to 89. Rhoda jumped right in, using the bandsaw, table saw, and hand tools as needed and has caught up with the rest of us. Last week, we finished cutting out the headstock designs at the top of our banjo necks and worked hard to sand out all the bumps. I think next week we might begin the process of hand carving the rounded back of the neck, one of my favorite parts of the process.
Just like the stories about the tunes that are shared when I am learning them, at lunch break in Mac’s shop, we all sit around and share stories. Last week, we heard about Rhoda’s childhood, which was full of music. We also heard stories about her parents house where she grew up and how people would come from all around to play music at her house. An old-time band would stand in the doorway between two rooms and the dancers would follow the calls that her mother made. They had to do it this way to accommodate all the dancers as they couldn’t all fit in one room. Having the opportunity to spend time with people younger and much older than me is such a gift. I’m somewhere in the middle of young and old, and, in these moments, it’s as if I can see where I’ve been and where I’m going at the exact same time.
There is something so important about having mentors in your life and also being a mentor to others. The exchange of time, skills, and deep connection ultimately feeds one of the most basic needs of being human. Yesterday, I got my second lesson on carving wooden spoons from my Dad who made a 5-hour drive to bring me tools and to share his love of woodworking with me. The joy it brought me and the joy it brought him is mutual and unparalleled. This is at the heart of what mentoring is all about. There are not many people I know who are masters at something that don’t want to pass their love for their craft along to others, and, as we should all learn from Rhoda Kemp, you’re never too old to learn something new.
Published on February 5, 2019