*** This story appeared June 27, 2010 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
ABINGDON, Va. – Every summer, Toby Neil has cut grass with his grandfather – the one he calls "Papaw."
This summer is no exception.
Except, over the next few weeks, the 16-year-old student at Patrick Henry High School is also learning what it takes to cut a rug in a "Music Makers" class at Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC).
Nope, Neil is not dancing.
But Neil, who lives in Meadowview, Va., is learning how to write songs and even how to make an electric guitar from a kit.
And, he said, "I like to play music sometimes."
"ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS'
"Music Makers" is part of the Upward Bound program, funded by government grants through the U.S. Department of Education.
"This is designed for potential first-generation college students," said Beth Page, the college's Upward Bound director.
"Part of it is just being on a college campus, so it's not quite so unfamiliar," Page added. "It's also exposing them to a subject that they wouldn't normally have."
Like "Music Makers."
Other Upward Bound courses this summer include Aquatic Biology and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
All students take a class in world cultures, Page said.
Best of all, it's free.
This summer, "Music Makers" instructor Gill Braswell and assistant instructor Luke Parks are teaching students about the different components of songs – and how to market them.
They're also using kits to make guitars.
"The concept is leaning around songwriting in a creative writing context," said Braswell, who spent five years as an actor at Abingdon's Barter Theatre.
As a musician, Braswell has written about 60 songs – with four recorded by other artists. Today, he's the owner of Capo's Music Store on Abingdon's Main Street.
"We're hoping, when they leave this class," Braswell said, "that they will have an idea of how to create a song, how to create an instrument and how to play the instrument."
YOU SHOULD KNOW
What: Upward Bound
Where: Virginia Highlands Community College, Abingdon, Va.
When: Students meet weekly during the academic year; the "Summer on Campus" program is held when school is out.
Info: (276) 739-2506