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Musical Roots

Dee Fretwell had one goal when she launched Modern Roots Foundation almost a 16 months ago from her Ashland home: help provide musical opportunity for aspiring young musicians throughout Southern Oregon.

Fretwell recognizes there is a socioeconomic gap concerning who can afford music lessons, and she is working to erase it.

“I figured, why not create a more sustainable program that’s great for the community, so that music teachers can remain in business and the kids can get access,” Fretwell said. “There isn’t anything like Modern Roots. There are some other organizations like the Youth Symphony (of Southern Oregon) and some other really great ones, but it’s all classically driven. I think roots music is a little bit more accessible to kids. It’s not as intimidating.”

In 2014, Modern Roots raised $25,000 and provided 26 kids with scholarships for music lessons, camps and workshops, said Fretwell, who is executive director of the nonprofit. She is proud of those numbers but far from satisfied.

With 20 more eager kids on the waiting list, there is demand for more, she said.

For individual lessons, Modern Roots works with 12 instructors in Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford. The group also offers scholarships for workshops and camps. Guitar, bass, ukulele, mandolin, fiddle and banjo are currently supported. Youths from 8 to 18 are eligible.

Karen Jacobsen heard about Modern Roots from her son’s teacher. Cedric, 11, is a fifth-grader at John Muir Elementary School in Ashland, and he has been playing violin since he was in the first grade.

“I think he had a teacher in preschool that brought her violin to school, and ever since he saw her play, he knew he wanted to play,” she said. “I am just really excited that Dee is putting this program together. I feel historically music has been available to a class of people that is more middle class ... it’s an extra. I feel so happy that Dee has found a way to help people who maybe can’t afford that extra $25 a week to have music lessons.”

Jacobsen said her son jumped at the opportunity and has been taking weekly lessons with Ashland-based Creekside Strings founder and instructor Duane Whitcomb since January.

“I don’t think my kid’s going to be a prodigy musician. I don’t think that’s the goal. But it’s really important to find a way to connect with people on a level that’s creative and connect with people in that different way,” Jacobsen said.

The opportunities to pursue music in public schools have become very limited, she said.

Fretwell is providing an avenue to a service that some families have felt cut off from financially, Jacobsen said.

Fretwell said she hopes to kick off a fundraising campaign this month to up the number of scholarships available in 2015. She plans to launch an appeal on Indiegogo.com and increase her search for grants.

Last year, the Oregon Community Foundation, Carpenter Foundation, Chaney Family Foundation and D’Addario Foundation contributed to Modern Roots, Fretwell said.

For more information, see www.modernrootsfoundation.org or email Fretwell at info@modernrootsfoundation.org.

Reach freelance reporter Sam Wheeler at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com

Dee Fretwell started the Modern Roots Foundation to provide music scholarships for kids. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Cedric Huston, left, and Zander Huston practice their instruments at a playground in front of their home in Ashland. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch