Warren Wilson College band set to tour China in January

December 20, 2016

Traditional music students will collaborate and perform with China’s Manhu 

Warren Wilson College's Jenny and the Hog Drovers are touring China in January. From left to right: Phil Jamison, Clarke Williams, Maddy Mullany, Landon George, and Hayden Holbert.
Warren Wilson College’s Jenny and the Hog Drovers are touring China in January. From left to right: Phil Jamison, Clarke Williams, Maddy Mullany, Landon George, and Hayden Holbert. Photo by Reggie Tidwell.

Two bands made up of musicians from mountainous regions in their respective countries will spend the beginning of 2017 making music in China. A Warren Wilson College professor and his students are collaborating with an ensemble from southern China. The multicity, multiperformance tour includes venues in Beijing and Shanghai.

“Looking back over the years, I can now say that some of my most memorable and life changing experiences took place on international tours,” said professor Phil Jamison, an old-time musician and dancer of 40 years who leads the College’s Traditional Music Program. “I want my students to have those same opportunities. We’re going to experience China for the first time together as a band – Jenny and the Hog Drovers.”

With a home base at Warren Wilson College in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the old-time band consists of three undergraduates and one alumna in addition to Jamison. A mere 8,000 miles across the globe, Manhu, a five- to six-piece string band from China’s Yunnan province, creates its own kind of traditional music.

“The traditional music of both regions includes melodies that use a pentatonic 5-note scale. It will be interesting to see how this influences and enables this musical collaboration and ‘cultural exchange’ between the two groups,” said Jamison.

Warren Wilson College’s Jenny and the Hog Drovers perform at the Appalachian Stringband Festival in West Virginia.

Among the scheduled performances is a concert at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts, which Jamison calls “the Chinese equivalent of the Kennedy Center.” Other stops include the Linden Centre, billed as China’s only nationally protected heritage site; Shilin, which is also known as Stone Forest; the U.S. Embassy in Beijing; the Shanghai Concert Hall; and the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai. Jamison and his students will also take part in a recording session with Manhu during the visit to Shanghai.

The original offer to perform in China came from Chris Hawke and Kirk Kenney of the band The Hutong Yellow Weasels. The Beijing-based group’s mission is to teach “1.3 billion people to square dance one gig at a time.” Hawke and Kenney also take classes during Warren Wilson College’s The Swannanoa Gathering, a summer folk arts program dedicated to traditional music and dance. The program’s “Old-Time Music and Dance Week,” which Jamison coordinated for 25 years, attracts musicians from all over the world.

“This trip achieves a lot of goals a professor has for his students. We’re playing in very prestigious places. We’re learning about different parts of the world and sharing our own experiences. And we get to collaborate with international musicians who we hope will journey here one day,” Jamison added.

Warren Wilson College’s Jenny and the Hog Drovers will tour and perform with China’s Manhu.

In addition to Jamison on banjo, Jenny and the Hog Drovers is comprised of Maddy Mullany, a 2016 Warren Wilson College graduate with a degree in art, on fiddle; Clarke Williams, a global studies major, on fiddle and banjo; Hayden Holbert, a sustainable agriculture major, on guitar; and Landon George, a creative writing major, on bass. While there is not a “Jenny” in the band, the name “the Hog Drovers” is about George’s and Holbert’s work with pigs on the Warren Wilson College Farm.

Funding for the trip came from Warren Wilson College, including The Swannanoa Gathering and the Division of Academic Affairs; Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church; nearly 60 supporters through a successful crowdfunding campaign; and money the band earned from regional performances.

For more information about Jenny and the Hog Drovers, visit https://facebook.com/JennyandtheHogDrovers.