by The Press and Standard | February 27, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: February 24, 2016 at 2:03 pm
March 31 is going to be an important date in the future of the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club.
On that date Pam Wiley, who founded the club, has to be ready to assume the costs of operating the Jacksonboro Community Center at 1718 Hope Plantation Lane.
The building that houses the community center is owned by the Sanders family.
Kenneth Sanders, who has administered the after-school program conducted at the center since 1996, is retiring and the after-school program is shutting down on March 31.
The Jacksonboro Fiddle Club has been a part of that after-school program since it was founded.
When Wiley learned that the after-school program was going to shut down, she approached the family, asking if the club could continue to operate out of the community center building.
The family told Wiley the club could keep using the building if Wiley would be willing assume the costs of operating the building.
Wiley agreed and began a search for funding to operate and maintain the building as well as cover the costs associated with the growth of the club.
“The club has been growing so much that I am going to need help,” Wiley said.
Wiley worked with the Coastal Carolina Foundation to put together a proposed budget for one year of operation.
“I’ll need $27,493 a year for everything. Everything includes staffing costs, utility bills, maintenance on the building, transportation, summer camp for some of the students and more violins to ensure that each member has a fiddle as the membership continues to grow.”
Wiley believes her bid to raise the necessary money is going to be successful. Walmart and several other local businesses have donated. She anticipates receiving a $3,000 grant from Coastal Carolina Foundation’s NEW Fund, and Boeing has expressed an interest in helping.
“Everyone is just so supportive and excited about this,” Wiley said.
The need to insure the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club has a home comes at a time when the club’s membership is swelling.
When the club members visited a recent Colleton County School Board meeting, 19 members performed for the board and those in the audience. During that board visit, the club did not have enough fiddles to go around. Some of the children would perform a song and then pass their fiddle on to another child for the next song.
At the beginning of the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club, Wiley said, “We limped along with five or six children from the immediate neighborhood.”
Wiley attributes some of the growth to Colleton County resident Gar Linder, who volunteered to help get word out about the club in the Walterboro area.
“Gar is helping me a lot,” Wiley said. “He has helped us get broader attention, especially in the Walterboro area.”
Now the neighborhood kids in the club are being joined by children from Walterboro, who travel to the club meetings in car pools organized by their parents.
One of Linder’s efforts on behalf of the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club has been to put together “Freedom Fest Banquet, a free performance on March 5 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Walterboro Elks Lodge as a fundraiser for the continued operation of the club and for establishing a scholarship fund to send club members to a week-long summer music camp in Charleston.
Wiley said she believes those attending will see the benefits of the program and hopefully donate to its survival and growth.
Last Saturday evening, the club members were back on the road to Walterboro, appearing as part of a Black History performance program held at the Colleton County High School Performing Arts Center.
“American fiddle music is one of the truly integrated things in our history.” The music would not be what it is today, she said, without the contributions to its history made by African-Americans and Irish-Americans.
The club is also scheduled to make appearances at Smoke in the ‘Boro, the Walterboro-Colleton County Chamber of Commerce’s St. Patrick’s Day party and at the Rice Festival.
A Jacksonboro transplant
Wiley moved to Jacksonboro from Pennsylvania in 2005.
In Pennsylvania, Wiley spent 28 years performing with the Harrisburg Symphony and taught violin and fiddle in schools and privately.
The difference between violin and fiddle, Wiley explained, is based “on the kind of music being played — it does not have anything to do with the instrument or the technique.”
When her daughter Sadie became a member of the Charleston Symphony, Wiley began visiting the Lowcountry.
Like many newfound residents, she said, “I started visiting, then wanted to stay.” Since moving to South Carolina, Wiley operated a private studio in Charleston and bought a home in Jacksonboro.
As a new resident of Jacksonboro, Wiley began attending the Concerned Citizens of Historic Jacksonboro meetings at the Jacksonboro Community Center and in 2010 was elected treasurer.
She said at those meeting, Kenneth Sanders would discuss the after-school program, asking residents to get involved.
Wiley decided to put her experience in teaching violin and fiddling to work for her community. “I wanted to give it a try with the Jacksonboro kids. I wanted to do something for my neighborhood and for families who can’t afford private lessons.”
Wiley secured a one-time, $4,000 grant from the Mockingbird Foundation to kick-start the program. The Mockingbird Foundation was organized by fans of the band Phish to support music education in rural areas.
One of her first steps in forming the Jacksonboro Fiddle Club was securing instruments for the students. She scoured area pawn shops for the instruments, got families to donate instruments they weren’t using.
The program is free to all the children participating in the after-school program, and the instruments are provided free of charge.
Twice a week the children, ages 5 to 18 years old, arrive at the community center where Wiley teaches them old American songs and fiddle tunes.
She said that the choice of music “connects the children to their heritage and culture.”
“Music is a language, taught like a language by copying and imitating. Kids learn the music like they learned their language,” she explained. “The older children mentor the younger ones.”
Wiley said learning to play an instrument helps children in their classrooms. “Scientific studies show that learning music helps the brain function in other areas,” she said.
Wiley wants to see the club continue to grow and invites those interested to visit the center during one of the club sessions. Those seeking additional information can contact her at 843-743-5322.
By GEORGE SALSBERRY