Two ETSU Bluegrass students take talents to national stage

Thomas Cassell

Thomas Cassell

Two East Tennessee State University Bluegrass students were selected from a worldwide pool of applicants to attend the 6th annual Acoustic Music Seminar in Savannah, Ga. from March 23 to April 8.

George Wagman, a 20-year old native of York, Penn., and Thomas Cassell, an 18-year old native of Norton, Va, will attend the groundbreaking mentorship program involving six days of hands-on instruction for some of the most promising and talented young musicians in acoustic music. The seminar will be led by acclaimed mandolin player Mike Marshall. This year’s students will also study all week with clinicians Julian Lage, Bryan Sutton and Aoife O’Donovan.

Wagman, a junior at ETSU and a banjo player, said that he is honored that he was selected in a class of 16 people that include students from across the country and globe.

“We all share a common interest, but the diversity is what is also interesting, because everyone is coming from totally different backgrounds,” he said. “That is always going to create something that is much more interesting…it will be a lot of fun and an honor.”

Cassell liked the seminar so much, that this will be his second year attending.

George Wagman

George Wagman

“It’s somewhat of a big deal to me,” he said. “And I think everyone feels the same. The instructors are all the best in their respective field. They are the people that we listen to, so to be able to learn from them is pretty cool.

“Last year helped me a lot on how to write and arrange materials.”

That seminar guided the junior from ETSU to cut his first extended play album, which he said, he wouldn’t have been able to do without the knowledge he learned from the ASM.

A mandolin player, Cassell said the instrument was appealing to him because it is sort of the drum of Bluegrass music.

“I’ve always been really into rhythmic things,” Cassell said. “With the Mandolin is sort of the rhythmic role in Bluegrass.”

Wagman started playing banjo when he was 6 years old, but he put it down for a few years whenever he joined high school.

“Until about 14 years old, I was obsessed with practicing and playing and playing with other people, “ he said. “That was one of the biggest things for me, was playing in jams with older folks that could show me the tradition.”

And that older style of music is a big part of what Wagman does today.

“I see acoustic music seminar as a much more progressive look at these instruments, but I am a big proponent of following after tradition and knowing the past and what happened in the past,” Wagman said.

After high school, Wagman realized that music was his passion and decided to make it his life. Now he will find himself at the ASM and is excited to be in a group with so many diverse backgrounds.

“I am excited to work in an ensemble consisting of bluegrass instrumentation resulting in creations far from its predecessors, yet oddly still familiar throughout the big picture,” Wagman said.

Associate Director for the ASM Mike Marshall said that this is one of the most diverse groups that the seminar has hosted and he is excited to see what they will learn and the sound they will come up with.

“Know that when these sixteen musicians get together the magic they create will be nothing short of astounding. It will be really special to watch,” he said.

After a week of master classes the 16 musicians will culminate in a showcase for festival audiences, entitled Stringband Spectacular. That production will take place on the April 7th production at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts in Savannah.


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