By Nicole Lemal
Times West Virginian
There was something special about Patty Looman.
A former dulcimer player, teacher, performer and music advocate, she inspired generations of musicians with her love to teach others.
And although she is now residing in a nursing home, her influence still resonates throughout the local community, especially during one time of the year. This Saturday marks the 11th anniversary of Pattyfest, an event to celebrate and recognize her contributions to West Virginia old-time music.
“I don’t care what state you came from,” her former student Lonna O’Dell said. “She had such a memory on her that if you started playing that tune a little bit, it came to her and she would play it. She was really great to keep a jam session going, and she’s greatly missed in that area right now.”
Even when it became nearly impossible for her to physically or mentally teach, she was insistent on being there for every class or function that involved old-time music.
“This was her life,” O’Dell said. “This is what she lived for. She would drive for two hours somewhere to teach a class for somebody, a group of women that was there. When she got older to where she couldn’t drive, even a couple times I had taken her to Pennsylvania. She still wanted to teach.”
Teaching and sharing her love of music with others made Looman thrive. Upon finishing her degree at Central Michigan University, she went on to spend 35 years in the Waterford School District as a teacher and general chairman for three local high schools. There, she helped assemble a speech program.
Yet she never forgot her roots, making trips back to West Virginia for vacations and summers. Even after retirement, she made old-time music her priority, playing at various locations and eventually taking over as chairman for the semi-annual dulcimer convention. At one time, she was credited for being an integral part of the Worley Gardner Festival held every February.
Her dedication has set the stage for a day jampacked with on-stage performances, workshops, group jam sessions and a square dance. On-stage performances will run from noon to 5:20 p.m. Saturday, while workshops for beginners to advanced musicians will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Instruments are available to borrow in some of the workshops. A group jam session is scheduled for 5:30-6:30 p.m., followed by a square dance from 6:30-9 p.m.
Because Looman was always so giving, refusing to charge admission for festivals or workshops, Pattyfest is a free event.
“She was a patient person,” O’Dell said. “She was always an encourager. There was never a person she couldn’t teach. She always taught somebody. Maybe they were a little slower than some, but she always made a way to teach them.”
In 2007, she was honored with the Vandalia Award, West Virginia’s highest folklife honor. Individuals who receive the award embody the spirit of the state’s folk heritage and are recognized for their lifetime contribution to West Virginia and its traditional culture.
She had three filing cabinets filled with a variety of music pieces.
“We did everything we could to keep her going because this is what her life was all about — to keep this music alive,” O’Dell said.
Wherever she was, people flocked to her. Some of her jam sessions in Glenville attracted such a crowd that not everyone had the opportunity to participate.
“It was so crowded at that church that people couldn’t even have the time to get in,” O’Dell said. “She really had a big gathering there, and she had a real love for music, and she always tried to teach people to play by ear.”
To this day, her influence is difficult to match. Volunteers and staff members associated with Pattyfest are trying to fill the gap left by Looman’s absence. But thanks to their tremendous support, O’Dell is optimistic this event will continue to attract a crowd, honoring the woman who had reached far beyond her musical influence and managed to touch their hearts.
“The ones who are organizing that and really volunteering are really the people, I think, that are keeping it going,” O’Dell said. “I think we’ll do this as long as we can. I don’t want her memory to go away.”
The festival will be held at Camp Muffly off the Goshen Road Exit of Interstate 79. Old-time food, such as soup beans, cornbread, fried green tomatoes, hamburgers, hot dogs, veggie burgers and sassafras tea and sarsaparilla drinks, will be offered. Camp is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. rain or shine.
For more information, visit www.pattyfest.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Nicole Lemal at email@example.com.