Monday, August 18, 2008

Song catchers and story catchers

By Brownie Plaster, Chair, DCC Board of Directors

At the turn of the 20th century, “song catchers” traveled rural areas of America armed with the earliest of recording equipment with the goal to record (catch) the songs that were native and unique to each place they visited. This summer, Destination Cleveland County (DCC), through its oral history project led by Kathryn Hamrick and Darlene Gravett, is becoming a “story catcher,” traveling to homes and events to “catch” the stories that are unique to us and reflect this wonderful place where we live.

The reader might remember that in DCC’s research of successful museums across the country, we learned that the objects and the archives do tell the history, but what makes them come alive is the story of the people behind the objects. That’s how we came up with the title, the Earl Scruggs Center-Songs and Stories of the Carolina Foothills, for bringing alive the 1907 courthouse building and its contents in an innovative fashion.

This summer DCC has “story catchers” roaming the county with the latest of recording devices. This is being made possible by a unique affiliation between DCC and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Here’s how it is working. We have hired four graduate students in that program to come to Cleveland County to help us identify the stories that need to be told. Each student is paired with a local citizen who acts as a guide/host during his or her stay. Buzz Biggerstaff, Gail Daves, Tommy Forney and Joy Scott are volunteering in the host capacity. This group (along with the co-chairmen and Emily Epley, DCC’s, executive director) traveled to Chapel Hill July 17 for a day of training at the Center for the Study of the American South.

Since then, each pair -- local citizen/ grad student -- has hosted a kick off meeting with local residents and is beginning the interviewing process which will go on for several months. Tape recordings and transcripts resulting from the interviews conducted for this project will be housed in the Earl Scruggs Center where they will be made available for use by the general public. Typical uses may include publications, audio/visual presentations including CDs and DVDs, exhibits and websites. Participation by the story teller is purely voluntary. Our four focus areas are the textile story, the music story, the African American story, and then a miscellaneous category in which we are exploring the changing face and cultural landscape of Cleveland County. Several generous county residents have opened their homes to house these students and for that we are most appreciative.

We are having great fun! Sure, it’s a lot of work, but we are learning so much about ourselves that we would like to pass on to future generations that this work is worth our collective efforts. Come along with us. Would you like to become trained in the fall as a “story catcher?” Would you like to be a transcriptionist? Do you have a story? Want to contribute in any way? Just give us a call, 704.487.6233.

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