People are Important

I used to love playing Tony Trischka’s Chromania (still do, actually). It’s a rather challenging tune to play from one of his early melodic banjo tablature books. It’s a very satisfying feeling to be able to play it cleanly and smoothly, plus it’s rather interesting to see it being played, as your left hand fingers are really flying; more like a typical mandolin break than a banjo break.

I remember playing it once with my brother Curtis while at a friends house. I noticed, to my half-surprize, that a certain guest obviously didn’t like that tune. I wouldn’t have admitted it to myself then, but I knew exactly why; such tunes can easily be seen as being cold and lifeless technical exercises, void of feeling, warm and a basic touch of humanity. They are more for the player than for the audience,according to this perspective.

Musical preferences are strong in just about anyone; we all have our likes and dislikes. But I see that our friends reaction still has a grain of truth in it. Musical scales and human interest just aren’t the same in song sometimes.

Do all songs, then, have to have a certain amount of humanity in them? Of course not; yet all songs, even the highly technical type are there for someone’s enjoyment. To this end, we should not forget that people are important; they are the central focus of any musical genre. And especially bluegrass music, I believe, is really more about people than processes.

I remember when I had a Bible class in college by Dr. Carrol Ellis. He was covering the start of the book of Matthew where there are many verses on who begat who. Seemingly a bit dry as verses go, but I recall his one main commentary of this long passage was that people are important. And that’s true in any context, whether biblical genealogy or music. Always try to keep that perspective, whether it’s Danny’s Song, you’re playing, or Foggy Mountain Breakdown. It works for both.

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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