JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – With the twang of a banjo and the warm tones of a standing bass, Science Hill High School students are slated to start a brand-new bluegrass program next year in partnership with East Tennessee State University.

In a release from Johnson City Schools (JCS), the first trial run of bluegrass camps was lauded as a success Monday and served as a backdrop for an even bigger announcement: the eventual creation of a full-fledged bluegrass program within Science Hill.

Any kind of new school band is a big undertaking, but JCS said it was much easier with help from ETSU’s world-renowned Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies Program.

Dr. Daniel Boner picks out gospel on a Fender Telecaster he owned since he was three years old. It was the first guitar he ever heard in person. (Photo/WJHL)

“The administration of Science Hill reached out to us and asked ‘What do you think of this idea of having youngsters learning to play bluegrass instruments, old-time instruments at our schools?'” said Dr. Daniel Boner, director of the ETSU program. “And of course, that’s right up our alley.”

Part of the program’s creation was a rise in grassroots interest from the school system, especially as students began asking for the chance to learn.

“There are so many students in this area that already know about this music, and already love it,” Dr. Nate Olson, academic director of ETSU’s program said. “They already want to do something in it, there just aren’t opportunities in the school system to do that.”

A projected start date of fall 2023 was floated in the release. The curriculum for such a program, complete with an emphasis on local history and culture, is still in the works.

“From the very beginning, the administrators at JC Schools are talking about this,” Olson said. “It’s not just about the music, but we understand that this music has a lot of cultural significance, and we want the students to understand the historical roots of it.”

Dr. Nate Olson (Left) describes his hope for the program as one of history and culture as well as musical know-how. (Photo/WJHL)

At ETSU, faculty are hoping even more systems will reach out and tap into the vast musical, educational and historical resources available within their walls.

“It will take interest from the school districts for us to be able to provide the service,” Dr. Boner said. “We can’t just dictate what they should do, we can spark interest.”

Dr. Olson said bluegrass and old-time music present an opportunity for systems that may not otherwise be able to provide full-size bands and orchestras for students.

“A rural school might not be able to field a huge marching band, or a full orchestra or even a full choir,” Dr. Olson said. “But they can do a five-piece bluegrass band or a few of them, and we’re excited about that.”