Lumpkin program preserves old-time music


17th annual Bear on the Square Mountain Festival

Music, arts, marketplace, auction and food. 10 a.m.-evening. April 20-21. Free. On the square in Dahlonega. 706-348-1370.

ExploreGeorgia Pick & Bow Traditional Music School

P.O. Box 1801, Dahlonega, GA 30533. 404-790-9211. Email:

Thinking of picking up a fiddle and regaling the neighbors at your next hoedown? Well, Selu Adams, 12, has been playing the darned thing since the middle of second grade and she would like you to know that you’ve got your work cut out for you.

“You have to kind of get used to finding the notes without any frets,” she said. “It’s a lot harder than mandolin.”

“Well, the mandolin is still hard,” countered her sister, Sarah, 14.

It’s just another minor family disagreement among youngsters who’ve honed their musical skills as part of the Georgia Pick & Bow Traditional Music School.

HEAR IT: The Georgia Pick & Bow Bluegrass Band live at Stone Mountain | Three Arrows play "Twinkle Little Star"

The program, based in Dahlonega since 2007, prides itself on the preservation and promotion of mountain music. Inspired by a program in Kentucky called Passing the Pick and Bow, the Georgia school has about 85 students from Lumpkin County schools, along with some home-schooled students.

“We want to spread the Appalachian music to the young people,” school director Ann Whitley-Singleton said. “We know kids love music, but we want our kids to know their heritage and want them to know there’s more than what they hear on the pop radio stations, or even country.”

Tuition is $100 for one semester, but no child is turned away for financial reasons, Whitley-Singleton said. Students in the program raise money by playing festivals and events. Some instruments are donated; others are purchased by the school for the youngsters’ use. Students can choose from fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin or bass, and may switch instruments.

“We have three bands now … two bluegrass bands and we have an old-time band,” Whitley-Singleton said. “Old-time music is the music of Appalachia that was played on front porches, and bluegrass sort of grew out of old-time in the ’40s. In old-time, it’s just the nitty-gritty of playing as a community.”

The Adams sisters and their brother Etowah, 13, play in Georgia Pick & Bow’s old-time band. The trio play mandolin, fiddle and banjo. They also perform on their own as Three Arrows.

The old-time music, Sarah said, has special appeal.

“Everything’s by ear in the old-time band,” she explained. “Our instructor will start playing a song and we’ll find the key and basically we’ll learn like that. Then we’ll look up the lyrics at home so we can sing those crazy songs. Old-time songs have lots of crazy, crazy lyrics.”

So what’s it like being center stage when you’re also dealing with the pressures of schoolwork and the trials and tribulations of everyday teen drama?

It’s pretty awesome, the kids said.

“A few years ago, we went on a field trip to East Tennessee State University, so we got to meet all the college students,” Sarah said.

She and the rest of the Pick & Bow group played onstage at ETSU, which offers majors in bluegrass and old-time music. They also traded riffs with their college counterparts.

“It’s just really, really great to be able to play with lots of people and be able to jam with them,” Sarah said.

By the time the Georgia Pick & Bow All Stars play April 21 at the Bear on the Square Mountain Festival in Dahlonega, maybe the Adams sisters’ fiddle vs. mandolin debate will be settled. Maybe not. Brother Etowah is resolutely silent on the topic. But they’d enjoy the chance to hash it out for you onstage.

“A lot of times we take requests from people and those requests give us a purpose to play,” Sarah said. “It takes a lot of time and effort to get to where you can play those songs. It’s a lot of fun.”