HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — It's usually his day off, but on a chilly, snow-covered Sunday morning, Marshall University guitar professor Julio Alves found himself in a third-floor classroom lecturing with a fervor.
And he wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Alves and the Marshall University Guitar Ensemble shared their own Appalachian journey of boiling down West Virginia fiddle tunes into music for four classical guitars.
That unique musical presentation March 30 was just one of the more than 400 programs shoehorned into only three days as the 37th annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference rolled into Marshall for only the second time in its history.
Alves, whose research and thus writing of a 50-page book transposing fiddle classics to four guitar parts, said it has been an enlightening journey to go on as a Brazilian native classical guitar player diving headfirst into the mountain music of West Virginia.
"Most of my students here had no idea about the music here," Alves said of the project. "Then I realized that sometimes we take our own culture for granted. What I saw too was that some of my students had got this distorted view, and they were trying to run from the stereotypes, but by doing so they also turned their back on their own culture. I think there is a middle ground, and a compromise and a balance where you are able to overcome the barriers that we get with these stereotypes without penalizing what you have got in its pure form. The music is beautiful, why would you want to delete that from your being?"
While Alves and the MU Guitar Ensemble are planning a spring recital in April based upon the research, as well as an August trip to Costa Rica, they were all excited to share their ongoing research and translation of the music at the Conference.
The Ensemble tore through such interesting renditions of "Banjo Tramp," ''Abe's Retreat," ''Camp Chase," ''Forked Deer" and "Jack of Diamonds." Nate May, a Huntington native who graduated from the University of Michigan and now lives in Fayetteville, came back to the city for the weekend for the conference.
May presented a performance of "Dust in the Bottomland," an original musical monodrama (miniature opera) that paints a complex and moving portrait of modern Appalachia. That work was written with Andrew Munn, who sings in the performance while May accompanies on piano.
May said that like the uplifting guitar ensemble performance, the entire weekend has overflowed with knowledge and the sharing of possibilities.
"There's been so many highlights, really just seeing all of the performances and lectures and just seeing people who I already had a lot of respect for saying great things and then people I didn't know yet who introduced me to new ideas," May said.
While in past years the ASA conferences have been for attendees only, this year's conference, which had a theme of "New Appalachia: Known Realities and Imagined Possibilities," was more opened to the public.
Thanks to a West Virginia Humanities Council grant, the ASA Conference opened a number of sessions to the public, and for the first time provided all of the 400-plus programs, lectures, presentations and the Appalachian Film Festival for free to Marshall students.
While many counted Silas House's rousing, emotion and song-filled keynote address on March 28 as a highlight, or Ron Sowell's March 29 concert, others in the Huntington community enjoyed sharing the city's new energy with the more than 800 conference attendees from around the country.
The Shops at Heritage Station, Gallery 842, the soon-to-open business The Peddlar and other businesses opened to welcome the out-of-town throngs to the heart of downtown.
On March 28 and 29, folks packed into The Peddlar (in the historic Morris Building at 9th Street and 4th Avenue), where owner Drew Hetzer (Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar) and designer Seth Cyfers and Jill LaFear Cyfers hosted two nights of art shows and music-filled receptions.
While the second-floor space is still under construction (being transformed into a brewery and banquet space), it served well as an exhibit hall for a survey of Huntington's best contemporary artists such as fiber artist Jonna Donchantz, potter Jason Kiley, painters such as Hayson Harrison and Charlie Barager and mixed media artists such as Cyfers.
Well-known Huntington resident Tim White said he loved seeing the conference and events like the art show to shine the real light on what is Appalachia .
"I am just grateful that we are having this opportunity to showcase our city, out state and our region," White said. "Appalachia has so much more positive than negative, but you don't always hear that and see that. A lot of people aren't aware of the depth of the music and the art. It is up to us, and the conference allows us, a change to put that spotlight back on the positive."
Hetzer said while The Peddlar is not quite ready to open (the first floor brewpub and restaurant is about two to three weeks away), he said he had to be a part of the Conference.
"What I think can really help build a community and an economy is local arts," said Hetzer, standing in the turn-of-the-century space they uncovered during demolition of drop ceilings and carpeted floors. "You have something like this, and that creativity they see causes people to want to be more ambitious and to do something that they are passionate about."
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com