Our Program

Whether you have career ambitions in music or want to incorporate music into your broader liberal arts experience, our music program is a great opportunity. We offer a major (BA) and minor, stressing regional and cultural contexts through a methodological hybrid of music theory and performance, Appalachian studies, cultural studies, musicology, and ethnomusicology. A cornerstone of our program is a unique concentration in traditional music that emphasizes the multi-cultural roots, influences, and varieties of vernacular music within southern Appalachia. Students with interests outside of traditional music can choose a concentration in general music that maintains the framework of the degree with an alternative set of core criteria and coursework.

Applicants are not required to submit a formal audition, however we welcome recordings as part of the standard application process.

Traditional Music

Warren Wilson is inextricably linked to our location in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and our traditional music program is firmly tied to the Appalachian region.

Traditional music courses include:

  • Old-Time Fiddle
  • Mandolin
  • Appalachian Flatfooting and Clogging
  • Appalachian Square Dance
  • Old-Time String Band
  • Bluegrass Band
  • Folk Guitar
  • Flatpicking and Fingerpicking Guitar
  • Banjo (Old-Time and Bluegrass)
  • Appalachian Ballads and Folksongs
  • Appalachian Music and Dance


Music performance is an integrated part of our program. You will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of ensembles, including:

  • Old-Time String Band
  • Bluegrass Band
  • Jazz Ensemble
  • College Choir
  • Gamelan Ensemble

Taught by Professional Musicians

Our faculty of accomplished musicians and experts includes:

  • Kevin Kehrberg Theory/History/Culture Courses, Gamelan Ensemble, Old-Time Ensemble, Individual Instruction: Bass
  • Phil Jamison Appalachian Music and Dance, Old-Time Ensemble, Individual Instruction: Fiddle, Banjo, Dance
  • Ben Krakauer Theory/History/Culture Courses, Bluegrass Ensemble, Individual Instruction: Banjo
  • Katie Cilloffo Individual Instruction: Voice
  • Jason DeCristofaro Jazz Ensemble, Individual Instruction: Piano, Percussion
  • Parrish Ellis Individual Instruction: Guitar, Banjo
  • John Engle Individual Instruction: Fiddle
  • John Miller Songwriting, Individual Instruction: Mandolin, Banjo
  • Ben Nelson Beginning String Band, Individual Instruction: Fiddle, Banjo
  • Suzannah Park College Choir
  • Travis Stuart Old-Time String Band, Individual Instruction: Banjo
  • Natalya Weinstein Individual Instruction: Fiddle

Where Music Goes, Dance Follows

Dance classes at Warren Wilson include Appalachian Flatfooting and Clogging, Appalachian Square Dance, Jazz, Tap, Modern, and Ballet as well as Hip-Hop and African dance. In addition, we offer “Dance, Culture & Identity” every spring as an anthropology course. Half of the class is spent reading theory and scholarship on dance, and the other half moving, dancing, and participating in workshops (for example, Javanese Dance, Flatfooting, Tango and Salsa), and we offer free Salsa classes each week.

Warren Wilson is also host to the Old Farmers Ball, a community contra dance that takes place every Thursday in Bryson Gym. This dance, founded in 1982, is known throughout the country.

The Swannanoa Gathering

Since 1992, the Swannanoa Gathering has offered a series of weeklong folk music workshops on campus during the summer. The programs include Traditional Song Week, Celtic Week, Old-Time Music and Dance Week, Guitar Week, Contemporary Folk Week, Mandolin and Banjo Week, and Fiddle Week.

Explore Classes in This Program

MUS 2090

Theory & Improvisation

This course helps develop your improvisation skills. You’ll study the scales, chords, and progressions that are the basic elements jazz musicians use to improvise. By using the traditional blues and jazz forms for structure, you’ll develop your spontaneous ideas into a logical musical statement and a meaningful improvisation.

MUS 1120

Music Cultures of the World

In this course, you’ll use music as a lens to examine different cultures around the globe. You’ll explore music as a functional activity in people’s lives, as a reflection of gender and other identity issues, and as a form of artistic expression. Through enhanced listening skills and contextual analysis, you can develop a framework for understanding the meaning and significance of music in various societies, including your own.

MUS 3890

Traditions of Work and Music in the Southern Mountains

What’s a gandy dancer? Which side are you on? And why did Gastonia Gallop? Such questions beg an examination of the ways work and music are bound together in modern Appalachian culture, and this course examines those connections while investigating intersections of musical and social history in this region. You’ll focus on three main themes: work music, music about work, and music as work. The entire class also completes service-learning components at area music events.

Meet Our Faculty

I am fortunate to work at an institution that allows me to split my time between two subjects that I love to teach: mathematics and music. As I am constantly reminded, there is a connection between them, and it is not unusual for me to see some of the same students in my classes in both departments.

Phil Jamison, M.S., M.A.
Phil Jamison with banjo
Phil Jamison, M.S., M.A.
Kevin Kehrberg

As a professor, I love that Warren Wilson students are unafraid to take risks, to challenge themselves, and to engage a topic or a work of art despite whether it aligns with their opinions or preferences.

Kevin Kehrberg, Ph.D.
Kevin Kehrberg
Kevin Kehrberg, Ph.D.

At Warren Wilson, I seek growth opportunities for my students, colleagues, and myself by approaching learning with curiosity, compassion, collaboration, critical engagement, and a commitment to social and environmental justice.

Ben Krakauer, Ph.D.
Ben Krakauer, Ph.D.
Phil Jamison with banjo
Fieldwork Profile

Trading Traditions in China

I returned from a three-week tour of China with my Warren Wilson student band, Jenny & the Hog Drovers. On this cultural exchange, supported by the US Embassy in Beijing, we met and collaborated with a group of Chinese musicians known as Manhu (Fierce Tigers). These traditional musicians, from the Yi ethnic group, live in the Yunnan Province in the south of China, a mountainous region not unlike Appalachia. We created six collaborative pieces that we could perform together. From Beijing we rode the 200 mph bullet train to Shanghai, where we performed at the Shanghai Concert Hall and the American Center at US Consulate. Most of our performances ended with dancing, drawn from both traditions.

an excerpt from music Professor Phil Jamison’s reflections on a trip to China with Warren Wilson student musicians