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Warren Wilson College expands music offerings with new major next fall

Features general, traditional music concentrations

Forty-six years ago, a new president came to Warren Wilson College with big plans. From academic building construction to fundraising, the similarities between now and then are striking. But the introduction of a new music major in 1971 is perhaps the most interesting connection across time as Warren Wilson College prepares to relaunch the degree program in 2018.

After establishing itself as a center for the study and performance of regional music through programs like The Swannanoa Gathering and a popular minor in traditional music, Warren Wilson College is expanding its music offerings. While music majors have been in place before, this one will be different. It stresses regional and cultural contexts through a combination of music theory and performance, Appalachian studies, cultural studies, musicology and ethnomusicology, according to Kevin Kehrberg, chair of the department.

Kevin Kehrberg

Professor Kevin Kehrberg is the chair of Warren Wilson College’s Department of Music.

“Our successful minor,” Kehrberg said, “has elevated the level of student musicianship on campus. We know we can cultivate a culture of musical success here through what we do. If we can give students tools to make them more successful, why not offer a major?”

The music major will have a strong partnership with the global studies program, including an option to study away from campus. The foundation of Warren Wilson College’s education model is the integration of applied learning through on-campus work and community engagement. A recently completed sound lab presents digital-music recording opportunities. Students can even learn to build instruments as a member of the Fine Woodworking Crew.

Most important, Kehrberg says, is the program’s ability to prepare students for their post-Warren Wilson College career.

“If you want to equip students who are interested in being professionals in the world of popular music – which I define broadly – then you have to approach it differently. This is kind of an emerging field. Private instruction will include showing students how to arrange music and present it in an appealing way. In our old-time and bluegrass bands, we talk about working with microphones, who introduces who and how you build a set list. Professionalization will incorporate aspects of the industry, with opportunities to learn about marketing, elements of basic sound technology, and similar topics,” Kehrberg explained.

But majoring in music at Warren Wilson College doesn’t end with preparations for onstage performance. The program faculty sees various pathways for its graduates, including arts administration, music marketing or publicity, being an agent or a manager, or graduate school.

Professor Phil Jamison, a world-renowned scholar of Appalachian music and dance, demonstrates a few steps in downtown Asheville as alumna Maddy Mullany provides the soundtrack. Photo: Chris Polydoroff

“We’re not only creating talented performers, but also performers who are thinking about their program in creative ways of presentation and thinking about the context of the music, the history, the multicultural influences behind it and injecting a smart approach. How can a major offer a variety of potential career paths? That’s what we’re building,” Kehrberg added.

Warren Wilson College also has its eye on the famed program, The Swannanoa Gathering. For 26 years, the program has offered weeklong workshops in a variety of musical genres, including Celtic, old-time and contemporary folk. The roster of summer instructors reads like a who’s who of musicians and performers, including Grammy Award winners Janis Ian, Kathy Mattea and Tom Paxton and Grammy nominees Liz Carroll, Bruce Molsky and Tony Trischka.

Jenny and the Hog Drovers from HeatherStewartHarvey on Vimeo.

“I want to have serious conversations with the director of The Swannanoa Gathering and our music faculty about ways to look at The Swannanoa Gathering as potential academic credit,” said Paula Garrett, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Warren Wilson College. “It would be different, but it is an incredible resource. What we’re able to do in such a short period in the summer is unbelievable, and we should absolutely figure out how to make that accessible and quantifiable as part of a student’s path through the major.”

A cornerstone of the major will be a concentration in traditional music that emphasizes the multicultural roots, influences and varieties of vernacular music within southern Appalachia. Students with interests outside of traditional music will be able to choose a concentration in general music.

Warren Wilson College is currently enrolling students for the fall of 2018. To learn more about the new music major or request information, visit