When I was a kid I was not interested in bluegrass music, preferring more popular genres when choosing my own music, but primarily listening to the styles regularly heard at church or that my parents encouraged. Music can be an acquired taste. As much as I learned and was fascinated with music in those early years of music training in kids church choir and piano lessons, I simply went with whatever I was taught or told, forming a base for the Christian faith and a source of meditation in the music that we sang in church. The theme throughout was one that is about overcoming the adversity found in ourselves and tapping into the source of comfort and hope and peace in Jesus, maintaining a state of humbleness toward an almighty God and dependence on Him. It was formidable in my development.
As a kid, when I might have preferred to play video games or not do anything particular, music was a major source of development and entertainment that my parents chose for me. And yet, over time a fondness grew from it as I continued to grow and learn and develop some level of proficiency at generally reading music and harmonizing and how music is made up of instruments that come together to make a unified sound, melodic and inspiring.
As a young teen, I picked up my dad’s old acoustic guitar and tried to start teaching myself to play after watching a friend of mine who had learned a few songs and could play what looked to me as fairly effortlessly. After constantly hounding my parents to take guitar lessons and continuing to plunk away at a guitar that was extremely tough to learn on, I struggled my way to learning several chords. Finally, my parents gave in and got me a guitar from the stock at Sam’s Club, a Silvertone, certainly not a quality guitar but it was an electric guitar and one that I played for the next several years with a tiny electric amp. With the purchase, my parents bought me a month’s worth of guitar lessons and after the month ended my mom encouraged me to teach another person so I could use the money to continue taking lessons. I continued this process for years, building up a steady amount of guitar students as I continued to pursue learning and playing the guitar.
Then, when I was about 16 or 17, I met another teen who won the national banjo player of the year award a year or two prior. We got together to jam and I was blown away at how proficient he was at his instrument. Having mastered the formidable style for his instrument, he had been learning classical pieces on his banjo. We began discussing styles of music and he introduced a world of contemporary bluegrass to me. I might have never developed a taste for bluegrass except for this bit of inspiration as I was skeptical when he first introduced me to his favorites. I was introduced to artists like Nickel Creek and Allison Krauss and more eclectic instrumental groups like the Flecktones and Phish, some of which are my favorite artists now, and many others who have their roots in or were in some way influenced by bluegrass music.
I am convinced that contemporary bluegrass music, both rugged and raw, beautifully captures the spectrum of human emotions and connects on a deeper level. I cannot help to connect my path of appreciating bluegrass music, both as a listener and musician, to how one acquires skill or attains a certain degree of success in other areas of life. It was simple and consistent play and listening to other genres of music and many formidable years of training before I was able to appreciate a genre full of instrumental proficiency, and one that also grabs me and pulls me in for a drive on the road with the windows down and calmly speaks to my soul. Undergirds of spiritual and gospel truths with light effects of happiness and more sincere episodes of sadness in the lyrics and skilled musical undertones connects both the casual listener and the musician within me. I can fully appreciate contemporary bluegrass as it reminds me of my own humanity and the simple pleasures of life that sometimes seem to have already passed me by. I know, at the same time, simple pleasures are found in the small moments in the midst of life’s struggles and pursuits. I know you will come out on the other side better for it. Do not consider overnight successes or proficiency of skill, consider the long winding road as we learn, drift and observe, guided by our senses, smelling the air, the road, and the grass in the bypasses as we travel and hear the soft sounds of bluegrass in the background.