Author: Campbell, Bruce

Express Yourself!

In addition to music, I have always enjoyed fine arts, especially paintings. I was born with a knack for drawing, but not painting. I could express myself very easily with line, but color always defeated me. Like Mozartís contemporary, Salieri, I have the gift of appreciation for painting, but not the gift to create a compelling painting.

It occurs to me that this is the situation for those people I meet at festivals and concerts who are music lovers, but not musicians. Iím so accustomed to nearly everyone being a musician at festivals, Iím always surprised when someone says ďOh, I donít play Ė I just love the music.Ē I used to wonder why these people werenít saddened or even bitter, as Salieri was. But then I realized it was just like me and paintings.

I think everyone has some outlet for expressing themselves artistically or creatively. And I think sometimes people donít even know theyíre expressing themselves. Have you ever come home from shopping, and began placing the fruit in a bowl, and found yourself taking a little extra time to make the bowl of fruit look aesthetically pleasing? So something as mundane as putting away the groceries can be an artistic endeavor. Of course, sometimes, putting the groceries away is just putting the groceries away.

The same applied to music. It is intrinsically an artistic act, but if you donít make an effort to express yourself, youíre just making pleasing noises. It can be challenge sometimes, in bands that rehearse a lot and try to get things just right, to avoid reducing a high art to just simple mechanics. As you polish the music to make the best, and most consistent show possible, you can buff the soul right out of it.

Those whose role in the ensemble includes lead breaks get a regular chance to recharge their creative batteries, but what about those of us who are playing rhythm instruments? If we do our job perfectly, does that necessarily mean we deliver mechanical precision, at the expense of the art? Absolutely not!

When 4 or 5 different instruments play at the same time to create an ensemble sound, there is a constant interplay among the parts. Each part has to have its own space, and itís actually more difficult to maintain that space with the basic rhythm instruments, because theyíre being heard fairly constantly. The lead instruments can dive in and back off as the arrangement requires, but the guitar and bass need to adjust constantly to make sure theyíre not competing for the listenerís ear with the other parts of the sound. Thereís no one right way to do this, and accomplishing it is a personal expression.

Of course, the bass and guitar can ignore what the other instruments are doing and itíll still sound like bluegrass, but it wonít be exquisite. You can throw you fruit in a bowl any which way, too Ė but itíll never inspire a stillĖlife painting.

Of course, thereís a real easy way for us bluegrass musicians to make sure weíre properly expressing ourselves , and thatís what happens every time we jam, right? I canít WAIT until the fall campout. Iím gonna express like crazy! See you there!

Posted:  10/6/2010

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