Banjos, jaw harps and a Pork & Beans guitar

Jeff Robbins brings educational entertainment to local library
Jul. 24, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Children gathered at the Rutherford County Library on Tuesday afternoon to join entertainer and educator Jeff Robbins in sing-alongs, sit down square dances and jaw harp lessons during his "Mountain Music, Stories and Dance" program.

Participating as part of the library's summer reading program, 'Dig into Reading,' Robbins has performed at libraries for more than 22 years, encouraging children to read, read, read.

His upbeat music program engages audience members and is intertwined with stories, history and age appropriate jokes.

"I especially like performing for kids because I enjoy their spontaneity and genuine interest in music," Robbins said. "You can see when they are engaged and uninhibited."

Robbins grew up in the hills of southwestern Virginia with authentic Appalachian sounds that he performs across the country at schools, libraries, festivals and fairs, from the steps of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. to the Norman Rockwell exhibit in Vero Beach, Fla.

"He was here at the library three years ago, and the kids really enjoyed him so we invited him to come back," said Jeannie Smith who is in charge of the library's children and young adult programs and services.

On Tuesday afternoon, Robbins led children in several sing-alongs and interactive tunes including "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain," "Hunk of Tin" and "Summer Reading Blues."

Robbins performed his songs with a variety of instruments, most of which he and his father have made. These include a mandolin, fiddle, dulcimer and two banjos.

"My favorite instruments to perform are my dad's fiddle and banjos," he said.

His passion for music was inspired by reading books and researching the history of instrument making, and as a student in high school he made his first banjo.

"Instead of writing a paper I had asked my teacher if I could make a banjo for my project. The first thing I did was go to the library and find books on how to make banjos," Robbins told the children.

On his wooden banjo is a hand-carved image of a Dogwood tree, while he made his other banjo using a fruitcake tin he found in his mother's refrigerator.

Robbins also shared an instrument that children can make on their own called a "One String Pork & Beans Guitar." The instrument consists of a tin can atop a narrow piece of wood and attached to a single guitar string.

Sliding a can opener up and down the instrument's string to reach different notes, Robbins played tunes from "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to "Smoke on the Water."

Robbins completed his performance with a demonstration of a jaw harp, a hand-held instrument consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo reed attached to a metal frame. Robbins provided jaw harps for the children, teaching them how to place the reed in their mouths and pluck it with a finger to produce a note.

"It's always great performing for the kids and getting to see some of them when I return to the library," Robbins said.

For a video of the Pork & Bean Guitar click this link HERE