Gladys Caines Coggswell
In 1988, Gladys Coggswell first entered MFAP’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program as apprentice in Jazz and Blues Gospel singing to Mae Wheeler, also known as “Lady Jazz,” of St. Louis. As her reputation as a storyteller and educator grew, Ms. Coggswell, a counselor with a masters degree in Education, began to focus more of her time promoting education, pride, and local knowledge through storytelling.
Frankford/Hannibal/Kansas City, Missouri
African American Storytelling
1992 Deborah Swanegan
1993 Deborah Swanegan, Vivian Hawkins, and Samuel Williams
1995 Dorine Ambers and William Grimmett
1998 Evelyn Pulliam
1999 Evelyn Pulliam
2003 Angela Williams and Loretta Washington
2004 Angela Williams
Ms. Coggswell grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York before moving to Missouri with her husband in the 1970s. She was immersed in traditional storytelling from an early age and learned many stories from her great grandmother who raised her. In 1992, she told MFAP director Dana Everts-Boehm in an interview, “When I was very small we had a boarding house, so there were other older people in the house. We heard stories, not only when people gathered, but also from my great-grandmother, who I sometimes had to follow from one room to the next to get the end of the story.”
Ms. Coggswell focused on showing her apprentices how to tap into their own family stories and personal experience narratives. When she introduced her apprentice, Deborah Swanegan at the Big Muddy Folklife Festival in April 1992, Ms. Coggswell spoke highly of her abilities: “Our sessions together are just something that’s beyond joy. Debbie is just such a wonderful learner. She has a natural ability to do storytelling. She has a wonderful family history of her own.”
Mutual inspiration, joyfulness and respect have marked Ms. Coggswell’s partnerships in TAAP. In 1998, apprentice Evelyn Pulliam wrote, “I want to work with this master because we have the same love of our culture and she has shown an ability to get important information from our elders that needs to be preserved and shared.”
Ms. Coggswell’s apprentices spoke highly of her talents as a tradition bearer and a performer with the ability to make a positive difference. In 1993 Vivian Hawkins described her goals for the apprenticeship with Ms. Coggswell: “I would like to encourage younger people to take pride in their past and to share it with others. I believe that when people know their own history and legends they become more interested in also sharing and learning that of other cultures.” Ms. Coggswell’s generous sense of humor is reflected in that of her apprentices; Sam Williams joked in a 1993 application, “I hope to keep an audience’s attention half as long as she does!”
In a letter of support for an award nomination, historian and editor of the Missouri Heritage Series Rebecca Schroeder wrote, “Gladys Coggswell can only be described as a national treasure, and her enormous contributions to the artistic and educational life in Missouri in the past two decades are beyond measure…Whatever their ages her audiences are drawn into the world she evokes in her performances and always emerge with a better understanding of the human condition.” Ms. Coggswell has received numerous awards, including a Missouri Arts Council award in 2005, and the Governor’s Humanities Award in 2010.
Today, Ms. Coggswell combines her talents and employs storytelling and gospel singing in her role as the Storyteller in Residence at the Mark Twain Museum.
Audio clip 1: Gladys Coggswell discusses how she encouraged her apprentice Evelyn Pulliam to learn more about harvesters and “going on the harvest” in her community.
Audio clip 2: Evelyn Pulliam tells the story of how African American workers would follow the harvest north to pick tomatoes, potatoes, apples and other produce during the wane of sharecropping and how the community left at home would care for the children left behind.
Edna Mae Davis
Any conversation about the notable music tradition of Ava, Missouri is incomplete without mention of Edna Mae Davis, square dance caller and dancer. In an application for the TAAP program, she listed her occupations as housewife, clerk, and ‘beauty operator,” but Mrs. Davis’ career in square dancing started much earlier than that, when she started dancing with her family at the age of three. “That was about all we did in our community,” she wrote.
b. 1929 d. 2003
Square/Jig Dancing and Square Dance Calling
1988 Donald Randleman, Imogene Kane, Cindy Keeling, Josh Bradley, Mark Kane
1989 Amy Jo Davis, Michelle Kane
1990 Lacy Davis
1991 Clinton Overstreet
1993 Desha Marie Worth, Mike Bristol, Crystal English, Mandy Whittenhall, Cathy Davis
Edna Mae Davis’s leadership role in maintaining the area’s musical heritage was evident in the active role she took as a teacher and performer. She stated that while “[t]he tradition is very good in this community, […] fewer young people are learning how to do this.” In order to keep the tradition alive, she apprenticed not only family members (her daughter Cathy, for example, apprenticed as a caller in the program) but also members of the community, often teenagers.
Noted Ozarks community scholar Gordon McCann complimented Mrs. Davis’ aptitude for teaching square dancing; he stated, “I have been to a number of square dances where Mrs. Davis was present and have witnessed her ability to take amateurs, ‘city slickers’ such as my wife and myself, and in an hour’s time having us keep up with the best of them as far as the figures are concerned.”
Outside TAAP evaluator Catherine Parce agreed with Mr. McCann’s assessment; she participated in a 1990 square dancing event in which over thirty children cycled in and out of the dance. “Some of the youngest children, several of whom had never danced before, had trouble distinguishing right from left. With tireless patience Davis and her daughter pointed out the errors and re-directed them time after time.”
In an obituary, Missouri Folk Arts Program director Lisa Higgins observed the joy Mrs. Davis took in her work, stating, “Every time I worked with Edna Mae or ran into her at events, like the West Plains Old Time Music & Heritage Festival, I could see how much she loved dancing and calling. As I have looked through old photos of her from the archives, Edna Mae is always smiling, sometimes even throwing her head back and laughing with joy.”
Audio clip: The square dancers tap out a lively rhythm to the music as Edna Mae Davis calls the dance at the Big Muddy Festival in 2001.
b. 1918 d. 1994
1985 Paul Knopf, John Winkler
1987 Joseph Seper, Louis Chaperlo
1989 Louis Chaperlo, Louis Gyaky
1990 Eric Noltkamper
1993 Alice Harfman
Arthur Treppler’s family immigrated to the United States from Austria and Hungary in the early 1900’s. He remembered of his youth that “every ‘fun occasion’ in his community in St. Louis included a button box band and dancing,” reported folklorist Donald Love, who observed Mr. Treppler’s work with his apprentice for the Missouri Folk Arts Program. He worked for 26 years as a quality assurance specialist in aviation for the U.S. Air Force and Navy; in his retirement, he devoted more of his time to playing, repairing and teaching the button box accordion.
Mr. Treppler learned to play the button box accordion in his teens from Louis Conrad, a friend of his parents and fellow immigrant. Mr. Treppler knew the old tunes by heart, and once he mastered the fingering, was able to play tunes by ear, though he also could read music. In his enjoyment of the instrument, Mr. Treppler co-founded the St. Louis Button Box Club and frequently played at St. Louis events like the Strassenfest and the Bevo Days festivals, celebrating the German heritage of the area. He performed music characteristic of the instrument—polkas, waltzes, and schottisches—traditional folk dances of his ancestors.
Mr. Treppler wrote about the button box with great fondness. In a 1988 publicity flier, Mr. Treppler stated, “Button accordions have the sweetest sound of any instrument; it is soothing to the central nervous system & pleasing to the ears.” He relied on the button box to cheer him when he felt down, and by teaching his art to apprentices he wanted to “retain the good sounds and happiness of this instrument.”
As a teacher, Mr. Treppler was characterized as kind, challenging, and praising, carefully keeping the techniques he was teaching just challenging enough to keep his apprentices engaged without frustrating the learner’s abilities. Mr. Treppler’s apprentice Erik Noltkamper wanted to learn from him because he was “the most knowledgeable in this area about the accordion itself, and he knows the old time songs. I want to learn the basics of the button box, and have a good foundation to keep learning.” A member of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program’s review panel stated, “Every observer who has visited this master comments on his teaching ability. He is a leader in the Slovenian musical community as an entertainer and a teacher.”
Audio clip: Apprentice Alice Harfman and Art Treppler discuss the relative scarcity of button box players in the St. Louis area amidst the rising popularity of the instrument in the late 80’s-early 90’s. Interview with Dana Everts-Boehm in Bridgeton, Missouri.
Christa Robbins was born in Bernbach, Germany (formerly East Germany). She started her lessons in kloppelei in a formal setting, the Kloppelschulen, or lace school, when she was a child. That particular region is known for the bobbin lace tradition, though after World War II, Mrs. Robbins stated in an application to the TAAP program, studying the craft in a formal setting was no longer an option.
b. 1928 d. 2006
Kloppelei (German Bobbin Lace)
1997 Beverly Bartek, Merrie Pendleton
1998 Lindsay Kempf, Jeanette Stegner
1999 Lindsay Kempf
2000 Phyllis Sprenger, Elizabeth Holtmeyer
2001 Kaylene Pendleton, B.J. Kapple
2002 Linda Hickman
Mrs. Robbins met her husband, a U.S. serviceman, in Germany. After World War II they moved to the United States, and Mrs. Robbins brought the kloppelei tradition to Missouri with her. She taught her craft to relatives like her sister, children, and grandchildren, as well as others who expressed interest. She enjoyed keeping the tradition alive. Outside evaluator LuAnne Roth noted that in the beginning of Mrs. Robbins’ career as a lacemaker, only a close circle of family and friends saw her work. Later, she was “’discovered’ by craft aficionados and German heritage festivals, and thus, she is now a much sought-after artist and teacher who ‘can’t keep up’ with all the requests for her work and time.”
Mrs. Robbins’s teaching methods included not only verbal instruction and demonstration, but also discussion of the history of the art form. Kloppelei was introduced in the 1500s in Germany as a way for peasant women to earn money, and the tradition continued into Mrs. Robbins’ childhood. She began the kloppelschulen at the age of 8 in order to learn a skill to help earn money for the family.
Her apprentice Linda Hickman, who has since become a master herself in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program with the kloppelei tradition, praised Mrs. Robbin’s teaching methods, fondly remembering her “tremendous amount of patience.” Mrs. Robbins adapted her teaching methods to suit the needs of the student; in Mrs. Hickman’s case, she focused on demonstrating the techniques while Linda took down notes (to Mrs. Robbins’ amusement and delight).
Mrs. Robbins’ legacy continues; whenever Mrs. Hickman demonstrates the art form at festivals, she estimates that 90% of the people she sees talk about Mrs. Robbins. They were “so taken with her and her work,” Mrs. Hickman said.
Audio clip: Wooden bobbins click as Christa Robbins and apprentice Lindsay Kempf manipulate the threads and discuss the art form in a site visit by MFAP staff. The “Bobbin Lace Lady,” a pattern that was Christa Robbin’s specialty, requires 150 bobbins, reports apprentice Linda Hickman. Recorded 6-23-98.
Dr. James Price grew up watching his father make ax handles, gun ramrods, sassafras boat paddles, cedar turkey calls and furniture. Dr. Price wrote in 1985, “Woodworking was important on our Ozark farm. My family owned a small sawmill which produced lumber for use on the farm. We built buildings, repaired wagons, made furniture and boat paddles, and many other objects and structures of wood.”
A joiner, as well as an anthropologist/archaeologist, James Price learned joinery from his father, Acel W. Price, from Doniphan, Missouri, and Bruce Debo of Devil’s Elbow, Missouri. Dr. James Price is a sixth generation Ozark dweller and descendent of Current River Valley settlers who came to the region in 1814.
While he specialized in making boxes and chests, James Price’s 1986 lesson plans included the exploration of “the philosophy of why we should construct something by hand in the machine age.” According to outside evaluator Donald Love in May of 1986, Dr. Price’s lessons with Nick Heatherly included “a constant barrage of encouragement, criticism, praise, teasing, coaxing. Jim seems to have spared no effort to find minor stratagems for raising Nick’s curiosity and determination.”
The careful process of creating useful art is important to Dr. Price. During an outside evaluation in May, 1988, Dr. Price told Dr. Erika Brady, “Without using any fossil fuel source, I can take a pile of boards and make them into an object of beauty. The tools are the instrument, and the piece becomes a kind of permanent music. If it doesn’t burn or blow away, it can last a thousand years—it will be impossible to pull apart.” His joy in creating functional, beautiful, and high quality art put him in high demand as a teacher.
Dr. Price’s enthusiasm for joinery works well with his love of teaching. In a January 1986 letter to MFAP staff, Dr. Price enthused, “Nick and I drove his chest together on Sunday. All 52 dovetails and 54 pins matched exactly!! Nick had a real case of the nerves since one wrong saw cut or too tight a fit would have meant disaster. We are both delighted with the progress we have made.”
According to Brady, “Price explained that his selection of apprentices is based in his perception of their interest and commitment, demanding physical activity in their spare time. In addition, they must be able to make use of the best resources and materials available, without shortcuts.” His care in choosing an apprentice was also reflected in his skill as a teacher. Dr. Price’s apprentices universally praised his skill and teaching ability. His apprentice in 1992, Tom Blair, told MFAP staff, “James Price is extremely knowledgeable and skilled in hand tool wood working…I would like to someday pass these skill on to my son and possibly teach these skills to other people as Mr. Price will have taught me.”
1986 Nick Heatherly
1987 Bernard Allen
1988 Christopher Miller
1989 Debra Hunt
1992 John (Tom) Blair
Audio clip: James Price describes the joy of rehabilitating old tools and “making them sing again” during a site visit to his Naylor, Missouri workshop on November 11, 1985.
West Plains, Missouri
Ozark Old Time Short-Bow Fiddling
2000 Don Buedel
2001 Amanda Case
2003 Jessica Collins
2005 Rachel Reynolds
2007 Rachel Reynolds
2014 Virginia Harden
2016 Joel Hinds
Cliff Bryan hails from the West Plains, Missouri region. He began playing in the 1940’s, and has stated he learned his art from old time fiddlers Charlie Hiler, George Edison, Emerson Briles, and “any other fiddler I could get cornered.” When Bryan retired from farming, his fiddling became “the big part” of his life. Mr. Bryan never cared to enter fiddle contests, preferring instead to play for community music gatherings and parties. Mr. Bryan fostered appreciation for the art not only by taking on apprentices, but also by playing often in public, especially at dances and at the senior center in West Plains.
Ozark short-bow fiddling differs from other bowing techniques used by Missouri fiddlers. Mr. Bryan’s first TAAP apprentice, Don Buedel, encouraged Mr. Bryan to apply to the program because he realized that Mr. Bryan’s style of playing was unique and could be endangered. In a report from an outside evaluation with Mr. Bryan and his apprentice Jessica Collins in 2003, Howard Marshall noted that “only five or six inches of the bow, near the tip, seem to be used to play on the string,” which is particularly good for playing dances. Students sought out Mr. Bryan as an instructor particularly to learn the tradition of bowing that is distinct from other bowing techniques even within the Ozarks.
Mr. Bryan’s teaching style was appreciated by his students and admired by outside evaluators like Howard Marshall. In describing his visit, Howard Marshall noted “Cliff’s teaching style is very supportive and very generous. He watches intently and politely, adding a comment or a suggestion as needed. But generally, like most old-time fiddlers, Cliff teaches by example and demonstration—just like a master blacksmith or carpenter. Cliff was generous but brief with praise during the lesson…There is a great amount of mutual respect and mutual admiration between teacher and pupil.”
Mr. Bryan’s apprentices frequently remarked on his kindness and encouragement. Apprentice Rachel Reynolds, who was applying with Mr. Bryan for a second year of the program, said in her 2007 application: “Aside from being just an all-around great fella, Mr. Bryan has a fiddle style and a repertoire of songs that I greatly admire. He is as excited about teaching me as I am about learning from him. The times that I have spent playing with him, he has offered instruction that I could understand and has offered endless encouragement.” Reynolds continued, “I hope to learn as many of the great old-time tunes from Mr. Bryan as I can. I hope to ‘make my bow shake,’ as he says.”
Audio clip: After playing “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine” together, Mr. Bryan tells his apprentice Amanda Case, “Now, I’m gonna let you play it by yourself so that you can hear it,” which she does, to the admiration of the backup guitar player. Audio Credit: Deborah Bailey.
Cecil Murray is a self-described “river rat.” Born and raised in Doniphan, Missouri near the Current River, Mr. Murray has been involved in the building of johnboats and the carving of johnboat guide paddles since he was five years old. Johnboat building and paddle carving are a long-standing tradition in Mr. Murray’s family. He learned this work from his father, and most particularly, from his Uncle Ernest (Punk) Murray (also a TAAP master artist in johnboat paddle carving). Punk Murray’s particular method of making sturdy guide paddles is a closely guarded secret that Cecil Murray has shared with his family members and long-time fellow river rats and woodworkers.
Johnboat Building & Johnboat Paddle Carving
1993 Steven Cookson
1994 Mitchell Sorrell
1995 John Murray
1996 Wesley Murray
1997 Jon Murray, Mitchell Sorrell
2010 Nathan Gordon
2012 Nathan Gordon
Historically, long, low wooden johnboats were the norm on Ozark riverways, but since the 1940s, aluminum boats and mass-produced paddles have replaced handmade boats and paddles. Mr. Murray and his family continue to practice an art form that is both rare and endangered but very important to the Ozark riverways heritage.
In 2011, two-time apprentice Nathan Gordon laughingly described his excitement with Cecil Murray: “Well, I’ll tell you—I didn’t choose—Cecil chose me. Not that I wasn’t wanting to learn from him very badly. I was honored and excited when Cecil first asked me to apprentice under him in johnboat building and am very excited about learning paddle making too. Cecil is the leading expert and the master craftsman of this art.”
Mr. Murray’s many apprentices speak highly of his skill and abilities. When outside evaluator Alex Primm visited Cecil Murray and his apprentice Steve Cookson in June 1993, he noted “I could see that he was careful that all the arrangements for his boatbuilding were well planned and his tools showed a mix of traditional implements as well as modern labor-saving devices.”
Mr. Murray balances protecting his family’s traditional boat-building and sassafras paddle-carving style with the desire to pass on his knowledge and skill to those who will carry it on. In his 2010 TAAP application, Mr. Murray wrote, “I haven’t built a johnboat in several years and I thought maybe I would stop now and be done with it. But I started thinking—while I can do this still—and I am not as strong as I used to be—I would like to pass this on to Nathan. Just talking about the project with him has made me pretty enthusiastic. Maybe I got a couple more in me.”
Audio clip: Outside his Doniphan workshop, Cecil Murray describes the advantages of paddling and fishing from a wooden johnboat to MFAP director Dana Everts Boehm in May, 1996.
Johnny Ray Bruce
Johnny Ray Bruce was born April 28, 1939 and as an adult lived about a mile outside of the small town of Bosworth, Missouri, in Carroll County. He made a living as a “dirt farmer” and a welder and ran a business with a cousin laying field tile. Mr. Bruce came from a musical family; his father, Tyson Bruce, was a well-known square-dance fiddler. Johnny began playing the fiddle at age nine. He credits his father and an uncle, Dewey “Dude” Bruce as musical influences, as well as friends, radio, and recordings.
b. 1939 d. 1992
1986 Holly Gorsett
1987 Robbie Schiezer
1988 David Bruce
1989 Heather Tietjens
1990 Robert Patrick
1991 Patricia Spainhour
Mr. Bruce made many friends as a contestant and judge in state and national fiddle competitions, as well as through his teaching in places like the Bethel Fiddle Camp and through TAAP. He played for “enjoyment, money, making people happy and most of all, hopefully passing on and keeping alive the art of old time fiddling.”
Bruce recognized that enjoyment is intrinsic to learning the instrument, as noted by folklorist Margot Roberson in 1986. She observed Mr. Bruce “doesn’t believe in the easy-to-difficult approach . . . they pick a tune [the apprentice] likes or they both like, and, difficult or easy, she learns it.” He was particularly interested in teaching his apprentices the subtleties of good playing. Outside evaluator, James M. Shirky, observed during a TAAP site visit in 1987, “Not just once, but several times, Johnny Bruce noted that ‘John Q. Public’ wants ‘show tunes,’ a lot of elbow action, burning up the strings – effect instead of essence.”
In a letter to MFAP in 1990, apprentice Robert Patrick (who was also a master blacksmith with TAAP) said, “I am really happy with what I learned from Johnny. He doesn’t realize how much he inspired me and helped me & the tunes have stuck–I am getting better at them all the time.”
Johnny Bruce died in a car accident in the summer of 1992 at the age of 53. In an obituary in the Daily Democrat, folklorist, fiddler and former director of the Missouri Cultural Heritage Center Howard Marshall had many warm recollections of Mr. Bruce: “He had a character that people really enjoyed, and he put Carroll County on the map.” Mr. Bruce’s wealth of knowledge and openness to sharing that knowledge were evidenced by another of Marshall’s comments: “’When a person like Johnny dies, it’s like when a library burns down.’”
Audio clip: As part of their participation in TAAP, Johnny Ray Bruce recorded his lessons with apprentice Holly Gorsett. Many tapes from these lessons are archived at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the Missouri State Historical Society in Columbia, Mo.
Joseph “Joe” Patrickus
Joseph F. Patrickus, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois but has been making custom Western-style boots in Camdenton, Missouri since 1978. Taught by his California-dwelling Uncle Aldie, Mr. Patrickus is a fifth-generation custom bootmaker. He credits his training as an electrical engineer with an easy transition into a second career in bootmaking.
b. 1947 d. 2018
Custom Handmade Western Bootmaking
1987 Joe Patrickus, III & Franklin Holler
1989 Kathleen Patrickus Flanders
1990 Kathleen Patrickus Flanders
2002 Kathleen Patrickus Flanders
2007 Stephen Mino
Mr. Patrickus makes custom boots for “the true boot connoisseur,” incorporating regional and exotic materials in the finished product. In addition to making boots, Mr. Patrickus is one of just a few artisans who still makes wooden “lasts”—the wooden form around which the boot is shaped—rather than relying on mass-produced plastic lasts. In 2007, Mr. Patrickus noted, “In my opinion, the art of making a great western boot includes every aspect of the boot—from the design and visual artistic elements to quality constructions and a perfect fit enabled by the use of custom lasts.
Outside evaluator Donald Love praised Mr. Patrickus’s teaching during a 1987 session, observing, “bootmaking is a slow, laborious process. Even a master requires weeks to finish a pair. Beginners could easily become burned out from trying to work too fast, or discouraged by the slow pace. Joe keeps up a steady stream of encouragement. He urges them to the next steps, and, when necessary, reins them in to make sure the work at hand is being done with sufficient care.”
Among his many apprentices are Mr. Patrickus’s son and daughter, who were eager to carry on the family tradition. According to MFAP staff evaluation in 1989, there were only three women who practiced traditional bootmaking in the United States. Kathleen Patrickus noted, “I love making boots, I always have wanted to learn. You can put your dreams in boots. I’ve helped my father in the shop for several years, and this program has made it possible for me to learn how to make boots from the beginning.”
Audio clip: Mr. Patrickus and Stephen Mino discuss the process of learning inlay technique with MFAP Folk Arts Specialist Deborah Bailey on a site visit to the apprenticeship in 2007.
Patrick “P.J.” Gannon is an internationally known performer and teacher of traditional Irish music. With his wife Helen Gannon, herself a master artist in the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program in Irish step dance, he founded St. Louis Irish Arts, a branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, (The Cultural Movement of Ireland) in 1973. Born in the Galway area of the West Coast of Ireland, Mr. Gannon moved to St. Louis in 1967 and eventually took a position as a professor of psychiatry at St. Louis University. Both his parents were accomplished singers and lilters, and as a boy, Mr. Gannon learned to sing, lilt, play harmonica, tin whistle and piano accordion.
St. Louis, MO
Sean-nòs (Traditional Irish Singing), Irish Tin Whistle, Irish Harmonica
1988 Linda Herndon & Meghan O’Connor (Tin Whistle)
1989 Kelly Russell & Sarah Casey (Tin Whistle)
1990 Michelle Sheets (Tin Whistle)
1993 Margaret Shannon (Sean-nòs)
1994 Amelia Flood, Margaret Shannon, Rachel Cameron (Sean-nòs)
1997 Sally Sutter (Irish Harmonica)
Lilting is a way of singing that fills the function of an instrument for dancers. In the village where he was born, Mr. Gannon’s father was the favorite lilter and singer. In March, 1994, Mr. Gannon recalled, “The only entertainment may have been one instrument, a fiddle or a flute, sometimes no fiddle, no flute, so what they would have would be a singer. Now if that singer could lilt, then they could dance. So I learned lilting also. So the lilter would lilt and they would dance the reel, the hornpipe, and the jig, which are the three basic dances. The reel would be the group dancing, the jigs and the hornpipe if there were single dancers. And lilters were held in high esteem.”
In his work with his apprentices, Mr. Gannon reinforces the traditional relationship between music and dancing. In 1988, outside evaluator Eileen Flanagan noted, “One aim of whistle playing in Gannon’s school is to become good enough to play for dancers. In Ireland many players of great reputation do not have the stamina and temperament to do it. At this moment Meghan [O’Connor] does play for dancers as does Linda [Herndon]. This came about as a result of their apprenticeship.”
In 1994, Mr. Gannon mused, “The apprenticeship is really what pushes them on. When you’re doing an apprenticeship you really put your best behind it, because they’re going to be the role models for the others. The important thing is that they don’t hide it. So we bring them out in March and they perform to audiences and that’s where their confidence develops. In fact, they get so confident that they get very cheeky.”
According to Eileen Flanagan, “A no nonsense teacher, P.J. allows no idle chatter and focuses on music throughout the 40 minute lesson. His teaching style is that of a parochial school teacher: he is in complete authority but not excessively rigid.”
Mr. Gannon’s apprentices appreciate his knowledge and skill as a teacher. Margaret Shannon noted in her application to apprentice in 1993, “He is easy to learn from. He understands all the stories and ways of being Irish.” In the same application, Sara Dobbs (eleven years old at the time) wrote, “I am very lucky to be able to study with Dr. Gannon. He knows a lot and is a great teacher. My grandmother was born in Ireland and I am very proud of my Irish heritage.”
Audio clip: During an interview with MFAP staff at St. Louis Irish Arts in August 2006 prior to their program and performance at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., Mr. Gannon talks about his family’s musical traditions in Ireland during his childhood in the 1930s.