The Cowan Creek Mountain Music School (CCMMS) is one of the longest running and most successful programs of the Cowan Community Action Group, Inc. (CCAG). Who knew thirteen years ago when Beverly May and Carol Ison turned their attention to the Cowan Community Center to introduce the idea of a week-long music school teaching the traditional mountain music of eastern Kentucky that it would be so successful and would soon be celebrating twelve years of continuation?
It feels appropriate as we prepare for the twelfth annual school, to reflect back to the history of how the school actually came to be where it is; right smack in the middle of Cowan in Letcher County, Kentucky.
In 2000, Beverly May, who can best be described as the real founder of the CCMMS, approached Carol Ison, a partner with Beverly in a grant she was directing through the Appalshop. Carol was also directing a grant within the Letcher County School System, but she was also deeply engaged in the affairs of the Cowan Community Center. Having served as President of the CCAG for over 30 years, she was very dedicated to finding and bringing new programs or services to the center.
Upon hearing Beverly’s idea of the music school, a dream Beverly had brought back to the United States from Ireland, Carol knew the perfect spot to make Beverly’s dream come alive. Together they visited the Cowan Community Center and presented the idea to Nell Fields and Stacy Dollarhide, employees of the center who would later be responsible for making it happen. Both ladies totally loved and endorsed the idea and felt it was perfect for the center.
The next step was to secure the cooperation of the local school because the school would have to be the classrooms for the music school. Carol and Beverly together approached the Cowan Elementary School Principal, Bill Stamper, and asked for his support. It took a couple of visits and some thorough explanations and a visit to the Letcher County Board of Education for their approval, but finally the 1st Annual Cowan Creek Mountain Music School was set to be held in June of 2001. The first year of the school was easy because Beverly and Carol could both supply many needs through their respective grants. It was an instant success, and it was never questioned that it would become an annual event of the center.
Upon expiration of both grants, funding became more of an issue, so alternative funding had to be secured. Fortunately; the center was able to secure grant funding from the Kentucky Arts Council, the National Foundation for the Arts, Kentucky Folk Life, and the Steele-Reese Foundation. Also, fees for tuition, individual and group donations, and the contributions of the students and faculty have kept the school going this many years. Some years have been so lean it looked as if it could not continue, but thanks to someone or something it has survived.
While Nell Fields and Carol Ison, both instrumental in the early development of the school, have taken directions away from the center, Stacy Dollarhide has remained a constant presence in the life of the school. For many years, Stacy, with the help of Beverly May and many loyal and dedicated members of the music school faculty, and staff of Appalshop have kept the school alive.
The CCAG is very appreciative of Stacy, who represents the Cowan Community, for her dedication and commitment. She has faithfully guarded the community’s position in keeping the school going in the direction it was started, that of preserving and teaching the best of the region’s real ‘traditional’ mountain music and other folk traditions.
On behalf of the Cowan Community Action Group, Inc., and the Cowan Community as well, let us say we are looking forward to having you on Cowan again during June of 2013. We hope that you are looking forward to your pilgrimage to the music school this year, and we hope it will bring you all of the positive experiences of your former years that many of you have described on our website. To any new comers, we welcome you whole heartedly and we hope that once you have attended you will share the passion that so many of the returning students describe of their experience. Those of us who live here and have been a part of the Cowan Community Center since its beginning back in 1964 understand just how special the place is, and we appreciate the fact that you recognize it as well. Until June, have a Happy Spring and come on down to Cowan!
Carol Ison, Director
Cowan Community Center