CATLETTSBURG A local musician is accumulating honors for himself and attention to his preferred style of music — traditional.
Catlettsburg resident Scott Miller, an instructor at the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University, is a 2021 In These Mountains: Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist fellowship recipient.
“To be selected among so many qualified applicants is humbling,” Miller said. “Also, to be recommended by master artists, educators and those in leadership at the state arts level is a great encouragement.”
Winners were chosen based on essays, recommendations, support material and artistic work samples.
“The fellowship allows me to follow through with my learning objective, which is to create a small project studio where I can record traditional musicians and other projects that will preserve and perpetuate the traditional music of our Big Sandy and Ohio River Valley region,” Miller said, noting he plans to study with traditional music engineering expert Jim Wood of Tennessee Studios in Shelbyville, Tenn., to learn about studio recording processes, the proper equipment, computer software for Miller’s distance learning and specific techniques associated with recording traditional music.
“Traditional musicians typically do not have the budgets for lengthy studio work and most professional sound engineers are often not familiar with local community and regional nuances of traditional music which impacts how music is mixed,” Miller said.
Teresa Hollingsworth, program director with South Arts, stressed the importanc of what Miller and other Appalachian artists do.
“The artists we are supporting through this program represent the deep history and culture carried by families and communities across centuries of practice,” Hollingsworth said. “From white oak basket making to herbalism and from storytelling to old-time fiddling, each fellow embodies the work of their ancestors and are proudly carrying these traditions into the future.”
Miller also operates The Appalachian School of Music, where he teaches guitar, fiddle, old-time banjo, hammered dulcimer, mountain dulcimer, mandolin and baritone ukulele, as well as music theory. He also is director of music and worship at Christ Community Church in Huntington. He has performed on numerous recordings and has performed at the Grand Ole Opry, Opryland USA, Silver Dollar City and the Nashville Symphony.
Last year, Miller was awarded the SouthArts Cross-Borders apprenticeship grant, which paired him with master fiddler Bobby Taylor of St. Albans, W.Va., with whom he studied fiddle.
“Although I have known Bobby for over 30 years, this has been the catalyst to take advantage of his vast skill, knowledge and command of the region's fiddling,” Miller said.
Even in high school, where Miller began playing guitar, he became interested in traditional old-tme and bluegrass music.
“The music and the musicians really resonated with me. It’s also part of my cultural heritage which I am very proud of,” he said, adding his father supported his interest. “At that point, my life changed forever.”
Bluegrass music became his passion and he sought instruction avidly.
“As a seventh-grader, I played ‘Wildwood Flower’ in the school talent show, which I had learned by ear from an older gentleman who used to take me on coon hunts,” he recalled. “The next year, I teamed up with my banjo-playing cousin and, once again, played in the school talent show. However, this time the applause was much loader and many pats on the back by teachers and administrators.
“My cousin, Darryl, and I could only play four or five tunes together, but we would play them for two or three hours at a time,” he said.
Miller, who has a degree in music from Morehead State University, plays by ear as well as reads music, which he said beneficial.
“Some traditional and country musicians read standard notation, while most do not. However, down through history there have been those who read and also write down the tunes they know," he said. "We have tune books hand written from the 18th century on that has allowed tunes to stay alive and give us a glimpse into the past. Being immersed in the tradition allows you to interpret or play a written tune in the style. I always tell my college students they need to do both. The more you know and the more skills you have, the more work you can do."
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