Carysbrook opens with Virginia Folklife film

By Page H. Gifford

Carysbrook Performing Arts Center opened Friday, Sept. 9, with its first show of the 2022-23 season and its first film. About 79 people attended the reception and film sponsored by the Fluvanna County Arts Council and Virginia Humanities.

The film, In Good Keeping in 2022, is part of an ongoing series celebrating the culture and traditions of native Virginians and those who have made Virginia their home.

Seven profiles of mentors and their apprentices were featured, talking about the folkways, ancestry, history, and culture connected to Virginia. Those from other countries living in Virginia shareed their unique traditions, incorporating them into modern-day Virginia.

The film begins with an Ethiopian coffee ceremony given by Lemlem Gebray. Gebray, who is teaching her daughters to carry on the tradition, explained how she makes and brews the coffee and its importance in everyday living. She said it was similar to the tradition of English tea time. In the ceremony, she sets the area, the guests sit on the floor, and she pours the coffee. Then they say prayers, similar to Americans saying grace before a meal. All are welcome to join in and friends and neighbors are treated like family. It is a ritualistic yet warm atmosphere.

Gebray isn’t introducing something alien to Virginia but something no longer practiced by Americans – serving coffee or tea more formally. To many Europeans and those on other continents, tea and coffee are taken more seriously than in America, where it has become more of a tradition to grab a brew and go. Gebray reminds us of our lost traditions of fancy silver or china tea and coffee sets, and even after dinner demitasse cups which most of the current generation has never been exposed to. 

There are many large Filipino communities throughout the U.S. and Virginia. Ken Garcia Olaes is learning from his mentor and mother, Lelis Garcia Olaes, about baking traditional Filipino bread in a shop that has been a staple in their community for over 20 years. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like if the traditional bread-making operation and Angie’s Bakery did not continue because of its identity in the community.

Yara Cordeiro discussed with her apprentice the art of Capoeira, Brazilian martial arts, and dance. There are many similarities to Asian martial arts though it’s faster and more energetic than the quiet stealth movements of the Japanese or Chinese.

The next segment of the film takes one on a journey through familiar rolling hillsides and pastures of Virginia to the Blue Ridge Mountains where Bluegrass music is preserved. Their focus was to pass along the traditional music of Virginia to the next generation of musicians, like mentor Mac Traynham and his apprentice, Ashlee Watkins from Australia.

Eddie Bond and Andrew Small continue the age-old tradition of fiddling. The original music of Virginia started with the violin because of its portability and as an easy way to create music and various moods. From Jefferson to the common rural folk, fiddling became a way of life. It has a long history and a musical heritage that began with that one instrument, spreading through Virginia and beyond.

Fixing these instruments is another custom connected to Virginia musicians. Chris Testerman and his apprentice make fiddles,  and Walter” Skip” Herman and his apprentice T.K. VanDyke, fix them..

Before the reception and film, Pat Jarrett, digital media specialist with the Virginia Folklife Program and Horace Scruggs, discussed being part of preserving the traditions and history that give modern society a better understanding of how people lived. Scruggs mentioned the evolution of the banjo, an instrument associated with early southern culture.

“The banjo was made by slaves from a hollow gourd with three strings. Later, it was crafted more like a drum.” It was a reminder that many of the instruments adopted by Americans had their roots in other cultures, including Spain and Mexico as well as Africa.

Jarrett was excited by all the history and knowledge of these customs and rituals originating from the ancient roots of many cultures. In the film, Jarrett uses a drone to capture the panoramic view of the James and Rivanna Rivers where Scruggs, along with his daughter Hanna, a genealogist, Justin Reid, and historian Niya Bates, took a four-day journey down the rivers, following in the footsteps of their enslaved ancestors. They stopped along the way, including at the Bremo Plantation. They discussed the lives these people lived navigating the river and moving goods, and providing services.

Jarrett’s fascination with the subject is the same as that of the many other young apprentices that are being mentored who are learning about their cultural heritage and how to preserve it.

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