Monday, February 20, 2012

Bluegrass Culture and Church

I want to express my gratitude to Sierra Hull. This weekend, I was at the Mid-Winter Bluegrass MusicFestival, and was able to be toward the front of the audience when she and Highway 111 took the stage. Certainly, I appreciated her virtuosic mandolin playing, and the technical prowess and artistic creativity each of the musicians brought to the show.

More than that, though, I appreciated this one action she took in her show. In the middle of the show, Sierra Hull paused and invited a young mandolin player onto the stage to play a fiddle tune with the band.

I appreciated the fact that she took some of her stage time to give to a young player who wasn't on the billing. The thing is, though, that this is part of bluegrass tradition and culture.

Ricky Skaggs, who first started playing mandolin at age five, was able at age six to play onstage by Bill Monroe. Further, Sierra Hull herself got to play with Allison Krauss & Union Station when she was 11 or 12 years old.

It's part of the bluegrass tradition and culture for the stars to recognize budding talent and give young players a shot at a wider audience, some notoriety, and therefore a better shot at a future in music.

It also seems to be part of bluegrass tradition and culture that (whenever a group's not rehearsing or performing) anyone is welcome to grab their instrument and start playing. And the thing is, whether a person is virtuosic or mediocre or just beginning, for the most part people are very supportive of others' playing.

There's a culture of support and encouragement which (I think) goes back decades in bluegrass, and centuries in roots music. This culture continues to be perpetuated today – at least in part, I imagine, because the great players now were supported and encouraged when they were young.

I wonder what church would be like if we fostered this kind of culture ~ the kind of culture where young people and newcomers to the faith are actively nurtured and supported by those who've been around longer.

In that culture, conversations would be more important than committees; relationships would take precedence over stains in the carpet; faith would be more important than finance; and worship of the living G-d, with the whole community, would be primary.

Would it be enough for us to just decide these things are already true, and then act like they are?


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