Professor and Musicians to Perform and Speak at Forum Jan. 29

The Southern Virginia University Friday forum will break out of its customary pattern on Friday, January 29, at 11 a.m. Renowned Lexington fiddler, banjoist and guitarist James Leva, will bring his friends Nora Jane Struthers, PJ George and Matthew Olwell to fill the Stoddard Center with traditional Appalachian music.

Their old-time music will focus on vocal harmonies interwoven with fiddle, guitar and bass accompaniment. In addition to performing, the musicians will talk with the audience about the origin, depth and variety of Appalachian traditional music.

James Leva wears two hats in this venue. The Rockbridge area knows him as a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter whose music is deeply rooted in Appalachian tradition. Leva performs with “Purgatory Mountain” a band named after a peak near his home. Dave Higgs, who writes “Band to Watch Column,” extols the group as a band that has “kept the soul of its collective old-time and bluegrass roots while concocting a powerful, compelling and completely original sound.” They recorded an album together in 2007and recently toured in France.

Leva has composed and performed music for a variety of plays and theatrical productions in Europe and the US. In 1995 he won an NEH grant for the production of his original playVisitations which was performed at Lime Kiln Arts in Lexington.

Some audience members will be used to seeing Leva at the lectern instead of on the stage, since he is also a visiting assistant professor of French at Southern Virginia University. He holds a PhD in French Literature and was a Fulbright Scholar to France.

Nora Jane Struthers comes here from Nashville, where her passion for traditional American music — a combination of bluegrass, folk, old country and western swing — drives her music career. In July 2009 at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia, Nora Jane and her band won first place in the Neo-Traditional Band Competition, and Nora Jane received the award for Best New Song.

PJ George plays with Struthers in Nashville, though he originally hails from Radford, Virginia. George, like Leva, is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays the bass when performing in Struthers’ band.

Matthew Olwell, a member of Purgatory Mountain, will be dancing and doing body percussion during the forum. Olwell has roots in Virginia and has recently moved back after being away nearly nine years to teach, perform and tour full time with Footworks Dance Ensemble. Irish dance enthusiasts will appreciate knowing he is a veteran of the London production of “River Dance.”

Community members and Southern Virginia faculty, staff and students are invited to hear forum and devotional speakers each Friday morning at 11 a.m. in the Stoddard Center. Recordings of past forum and devotional speeches may be accessed online at