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UNC senior Anne Jarrell picked up the banjo on a whim at age 14 when her dad rescued one from a dumpster. She’s now been honored for her skills with the instrument by the International Bluegrass Music Association.

Anne Jarrell, a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of five recipients of the Sally Ann Forrester College Scholarship which recognizes outstanding college female bluegrass players through the International Bluegrass Music Association’s charitable foundation. Jarrell is studying biology and environmental studies and is an active member of the UNC Marching Tar Heels, Rameses Roots Revivalists, and the Carolina Bluegrass Band. We recently spoke with Jarrell about her experience as a female artist, the challenges musicians have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and her time at UNC-Chapel Hill. Enjoy the sneak peek below of a new Carolina Bluegrass Band project. 

Anne Jarrell playing “Leaving Cottondale” by Alison Brown using BandLab, a type of recording software.

Q: What made you interested in playing the banjo?

A: Funny enough, it was completely by chance. My dad found a banjo one day at the Mecklenburg County dump where it was in the path of a front-end loader, so he rescued it and brought it back home. I was 14 at the time and already musically inclined (I played classical piano and trumpet), so I just thought it’d be a fun summer project to mess around with. I bought a book called “Teach Yourself to Play Banjo” and had so much fun that I ended up sticking with it.

Q: What is it like to be a female banjo player in a historically male-dominant musical field?

A: It was a bit intimidating at first, especially back home where I’d show up to a jam and be the only woman there and the only person under the age of 50. I think the default tends to be that guys are expected to be good at the instrument, whereas when I play well it’s met with more surprise, like “Hey, this girl can play!” It’s meant as a compliment I’m sure, but it’s telling of the unconscious effects that can be brought about by a historic lack of representation. There are some fantastic ladies influencing the banjo scene right now like Rhiannon Giddens and Alison Brown, so it’s been awesome to be able to look up to them and aspire to be on their level.

Q: How have you had to adapt your banjo performances and practices since the start of the pandemic back in March?

A: Since the start of the pandemic, I have not performed live at all (nor has any musician I know). Instead, we’ve been collaborating over a platform called BandLab that lets us each record our parts remotely on top of each other’s recordings to be able to hear the full song all together. It’s been a learning experience for sure, but we are making the most out of what we’ve got while the pandemic is going on.

Q: How has your participation in the Carolina Bluegrass Band shaped your Carolina experience?

A: My participation in the Carolina Bluegrass Band has definitely been one of the most fun things I’ve done at UNC. I have learned and grown so much as a banjo player since I got involved!

Q: How have you balanced your passion for playing the banjo and your school course load?

A: It’s been a challenge at times for sure, but it’s forced me to get better at my time management and to take advantage of small moments during the day to be productive. Luckily, playing the banjo is fun for me so practicing and working hard on it never feels like work, which makes the crowded schedule a lot more bearable.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring female musicians?

A: Don’t be afraid to get out there and make mistakes! I struggled a lot (and still struggle!) with being self-conscious about people listening to me practicing and performing, but the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten is to play unapologetically. You can ask anyone in the band when we’re learning and rehearsing a song in person, I make a ton of mistakes, and it’s because I’m not afraid to venture outside my comfort zone and miss a few notes in the process of learning something new and cool.

Interview by Lauren Mobley ‘22

This story was originally published on the College of Arts & Sciences website on Friday, October 30, 2020.