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Cultural exchange, banjo scramble highlight Luxembourg visit

By Kathy Still

It’s not hard to find a banjo in Southwest Virginia, but it can be quiet a feat to locate the traditional mountain music instrument in Luxembourg.

The madcap search for a banjo occurred in early June when two UVa-Wise bands—The Wise Guys and the Bluegrass Band—traveled to Europe to perform at the third annual Transatlantic Dialogue Conference at the University of Luxembourg.

luxrip1The students were just settling in for several days of cultural exchange when they noticed that the banjo they brought had a broken neck. Playing bluegrass sans banjo was not an option the group could entertain, so UVa-Wise Director of Bands Rick Galyean and the group’s conference coordinator scrambled to find that mainstay African-American instrument in a traditional European city.

“I sent a message to our coordinator, but he didn’t know what a “Ban-Yo” was,” Galyean said.

After describing the banjo to the coordinator the next day, Galyean soon learned locating a replacement would be difficult at best.  He also learned that the manager of Neumunster Abbey might know a guy who knows a guy that could have a banjo in his music shop. The rest is now UVa-Wise music department legend.

“As best we could find out, there was only one banjo in Luxembourg,” Galyean said.

After paying a 90 Euros rental fee, about $130 dollars, student Corbin Hayslett was holding the elusive banjo. All was well in Luxembourg, and the performance was saved.

“He ‘Corbin-ized’ it, and he made it work for him,” Galyean said. “We practiced that night and the performance went on. We had to have the banjo back to the music chop the next morning.”

The outdoor performance took place on a colder than normal evening, but the music warmed the dancing crowd. The only regret was the concert ended before the two bands could play “Butter Beans,” the song made famous by Chancellor Emeritus Joseph “Papa Joe” Smiddy.

“They want us to come back in 2017, so maybe we can play it then,” Galyean said.

In addition to taking part in various sessions that focused on examining the critical role of culture and broad education for developing students who think broadly, recognize and respect cultural diversity and heritage, and whose engagement in the arts serves as a conduit to personal authenticity and innovation, the students and Galyean learned they were in the right city at the right time. They found themselves in the Luxembourg American Cemetery, the final resting place for American soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge.

The students were in the cemetery when they noticed a ceremony was ongoing at General Patton’s grave. Patton died in December 1945 from injuries he sustained in a vehicle crash. The students’ visit to the cemetery coincided with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, and Europeans turned out in many cities that day to pay tribute to all fallen troops from World War II.

“It was so moving to be there at that time,” Galyean said. “It was so moving for the students.”

The students spent some time in Paris as well. Some decided to visit places that Ernest Hemingway favored so they could get a true flavor of the city during that era. Malachi Phillips, a member of The Wise Guys, was one of the students who had what the group called “The Hemingway Experience.”

“I feel as though everyone had a great time,” Phillips said. “The trip gave us a better understanding of culture in other parts of the world, especially in Europe.”

The UVa-Wise students were also cheered on during their performance by other colleges and universities from the United States. Bowling Green students did some traditional mountain dance moves as the UVa-Wise students played.

“The trip is something that our students will never forget,” Galyean said.