Lynn Young: Lessons in Fun and Fellowship
by Kara Martinez Bachman
According to poet W.B. Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pot, but the lighting of a fire.” What’s true of poetry is even more so of music. Yes, every good teacher instills knowledge, but every GREAT teacher inspires both through example and by assuring lessons aren’t stiff and functional but are actually fun and allow for experimentation and passion.
It sounds as if musician and educator Lynn Young does exactly that. Whether he’s teaching the general concepts of old time fiddle jam music, showing somebody a claw-hammer style technique on a banjo, or getting a beginner started on guitar or mandolin, he’s set his mind to inspiring a new generation of young performers.
He didn’t start out teaching; he actually started out as a forest ranger. While working in Public Affairs for the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service, he put together a group of fellow musicians to perform at a big celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Smokey the Bear. That was back in 1994, and Young said “the Chief of the Forest Service asked if we could play for events.”
Then came 16 years of performing with the group on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service. Called The Fiddlin’ Foresters, Young said his group traveled the country with educational programs consisting of music about topics such as “fire prevention, invasive species, the importance of water, and the importance of public lands.”
“For 16 years, we traveled all around the country,” Young reminisced, about the now-defunct band. They’d appear at National Forest celebrations. They performed at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. They’ve played at venues ranging from The Kennedy Center to the Opryland Hotel.
After he retired, Young wasn’t done with music and education. He soon became one of the instructors for banjo player Pete Wernick, of bluegrass band Hot Rize.
“After I retired, Pete Wernick called and asked if I would be his instructor,” Young explained.
The number of students of all types has multiplied over the years. Sometimes it will be a notable musician, such as Wernick. Sometimes, it will be a child receiving his or her first lessons in old time fiddle music. Young estimated he’s taught over 140 students since 2008. Right now, he said his schedule is full; he currently instructs about 22 students. He also teaches at the Big Horn Bluegrass Camp, located in Buffalo, Wyoming.
Young said he is “real proud” that today, eight of the ten instructors at the camp “were all students of mine.”
This teacher believes instilling a love of music isn’t about teaching to read notes and understand theory; it’s about lighting that fire W.B. Yeats described. He believes he’s a popular instructor because he goes straight to “teaching people how to play” immediately.
“We do what’s most fun first,” he said, “and start having fun from the very first lesson.” Then, he essentially aims to make himself obsolete. As any good teacher should do.
“I don’t so much teach them how to play, I teach them how to teach themselves how to play. In other words, the ‘p’ word…practice.”
“My personal interest is old time fiddle jam music,” Young said. Because of this, he was instrumental in 2006 in helping start a weekly jam at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo.
Music plays an important role in this teacher’s life, and he believes it should play a role in everyone’s life. He sees value in it.
“It’s like my ministry,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to play music. Bluegrass is a music that’s simple, that an eight-, nine- or 10-year-old…or a 78-year-old…can play. And they don’t sit alone to play, like at a piano.”
“It’s cool for kids to play music,” he added. “And it’s fun. It’s fun and fellowship.”