More than a bonus, bluegrass minor changes Lydia Hamby’s life
Published 11:25 am Friday, May 5, 2023
JOHNSON CITY – Most graduating students look forward to leaving the books, papers, projects and exams of college behind and jumping into their chosen careers, but East Tennessee State University senior Lydia Hamby plans a different path.
Hamby, who graduates Saturday, May 6, with a bachelor’s degree in human services and a minor in bluegrass music, came to ETSU as a junior right out of high school after earning an associate degree through dual enrollment from McDowell Technical Community College (MTCC) in Marion, N.C.
Hamby grew up in Marion in a family that loved music. Her sister began playing classical violin at the age of 4, and, jealous because she was missing out on all the fun, 3-year-old Hamby asked her mother if she could start taking music lessons, too. So, she started taking classical piano.
“I was homeschooled, and so music was a part of my upbringing,” she said. “It was a part of our daily class time. My mom was a great teacher and incorporated anything that we loved to do. So, music, reading – we kind of made our own education, and it was an awesome way to live.”
Hamby loved the psychology and sociology classes she took through MTCC, and talked with a professor about career possibilities in child life specialties or music therapy.
As she looked at colleges, Hamby was drawn to ETSU for its human services major and the hands-on experience it offered through internships and service projects that prepare students for such careers as drug and alcohol counselors, family support specialists, case managers, social services specialists, child abuse workers and more. And with her musical interests, ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music Studies was the proverbial “icing on the cake.”
“There were two alumni at my church who were in the Bluegrass Program and loved it,” she said, “and for me, it was like, ‘This is going to be the last time for me to really do this, because I’ll go get a career and settle down, have a family. I’ll always play music, but this will be my last time taking lessons.’ Bluegrass was kind of like the bonus.”
Hamby has learned and grown through her human services classes and calls her internships with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Northeast Tennessee and ETSU’s Women and Gender Resource Center “life-changing.”
While she loves her human services classes and activities, Hamby found her career goals shifting as bluegrass became more than a bonus.
“Now bluegrass is my favorite part, and it’s really what’s been like family for me. It’s what’s made ETSU home. I’ve learned so much. It changed my life. I want to do it for a career now.”
Hamby, who picked up mandolin in church, was chosen to play mandolin for the ETSU Bluegrass Pride Band, the premier band within the program that tours and represents the university most often. Through her work with that band, she felt the love of performing take root. She and the Pride Band have sung the national anthem and Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” at ETSU’s commencement ceremonies, toured in the Bahamas, and participated in the 40th anniversary celebration of bluegrass at ETSU.
Performing on stage with bluegrass superstar Rhonda Vincent and The Rage in concert at ETSU’s Martin Center for the Arts stands out in Hamby’s mind as not only one of her biggest highlights, but also a turning point.
“Rhonda Vincent has been a mentor to me and somebody I’ve looked up to in bluegrass ever since I started,” she said. “Getting to play with her was a dream come true and something I never thought would happen. I remember I was in line at Cookout right after that concert and thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh; this is real. I never want to stop this.’
“It’s so fulfilling, getting to meet people and bond over the love of music,” she continued. “Bluegrass, specifically, is such a small community, and when you meet other people at these shows, you’re there for the same reason – you’re sharing this art that’s so close to your heart. That’s what I love about it. I knew that if I was to ever quit doing that, it would be such a loss for me. So I thought, ‘Well, I just won’t quit. I’ll just do this forever because it’s amazing.’”
Hamby said she uses skills learned through her human services major in the performance and interpersonal interaction aspects of music. In the future, she may seek to combine both human services and music professionally, perhaps by bringing light to mental health within the bluegrass music industry.
But that will be down the road.
“I’m not ready to graduate,” she said. “I have only been here for a year and a half, two years, because I was a transfer student as a dual-enrolled high school student. And so when I was thinking about graduating, it was really bothering me that I was going to have to leave because I feel like I’ve made such good connections and such a home here.
“ETSU has been everything to me. These past two years, I made friendships that I never thought were going to be so deep in such a short amount of time. The Bluegrass Program changed my life. The Human Services Program just made me such a way better person than I was when I got here. And so I’m not going to leave. I’m looking forward to the next two years in the master’s program here in Appalachian Studies and seeing where it takes me from there.”