We recently lost a dear and tireless advocate for our mountain culture – Audrey Hash Ham.
She devoted her life to promoting the traditions of her native mountain culture. I apprenticed with both her father, Albert Hash, and Audrey, his daughter. As we worked, they discussed the idea of teaching traditional mountain music to anyone who was interested in learning. Audrey obtained the initials grants to begin the project.
Her efforts were successful from the beginning. Every Monday evening of men, women and children, some in elementary school, would gather at the Whitetop Fire House and separate into the musical instrument group of their choice to learn to play or enhance their skill. It was truly amazing and an innovative way to get more folks interested in mountain music. It was the only program of its kind in the entire country.
From those initial evenings emerged the successful traditional music program at the K-through-12 Mount Rogers Combined School. Audrey, her father and a few others taught music at the school which led to the formation of the Mt. Rogers Combined School Band.
After Albert died in 1983, the band was renamed The Albert Hash Memorial Band. Through this program many people have learned to play an instrument and further their musical interest, some for their own enjoyment and others making a career in music. Audrey, with strong support of family and friends, was instrumental in creating opportunities for folks to learn about, explore and enjoy the music of their culture.
Audrey’s talent for making beautiful mountain dulcimers and fiddles is renowned. They are pictured in and written about in many books and publications and are prized possessions by hundreds of folks far and wide. She not only made musical instruments but she generously shared her instrument making knowledge and skills with anyone who came to her for assistance. There are many dulcimer and fiddle makers but there aren’t many as immersed in the history, traditions and culture of these mountains as Audrey was.
She was the embodiment of all this and until a month ago she was still sharing her wealth of knowledge with her latest protégée, Chris Testerman. Chris is now making beautiful musical instruments and he is carrying on the Hash tradition of old time music.
Audrey Hash Ham might not be known much beyond these mountains, but she was a towering presence to those of us who were privileged to know her, love her and in turn be loved by her.
Walter T. Messick
Mount of Wilson, Va.