Donna Hargis is the CBA Regional Director for Region 6 Huntington Beach. (photo credit, Robin Frenette)
Art students often hear, “You need to master realism before you can go abstract. Even Picasso started with realism.” I appreciate this sentiment, but it doesn’t really apply to bluegrass. We don’t ever go completely abstract, except maybe in jamgrass, which is another topic for another time. In traditional bluegrass, we learn to express ourselves within the confines and framework that has been handed down. This may sound constricting, but it isn’t, if you can find the beauty within the scaffolding.
Just last night I played a song I learned about five years ago. I ran around that song with a little more maturity and discovered all kinds of things I could now do within that same space. I hadn’t completely learned that song five years ago, and I never will. Within a simple 1-4-5 progression is a world of possibilities, a world of expression, a place I could spend my whole life exploring. Luckily there are so many variations on this simple progression that if you do something wild, like include a 7 chord, the possibilities bogle the mind. It’s a natural low found everywhere. Perfectly simple leads to complexity.
Director David Lynch said on creativity, “The purer the environment, the more the fantastic the interior world can be. . . habitual behavior frees your mind to think of other things. Order frees you to mentally go off, if you have a safe foundation.” Both Lynch and Albert Einstein where the same articles of clothing daily, to reserve brain space for creative thinking.
I’ve seen people happen upon bluegrass jams from other genres and say, “I like jamming, but bluegrass isn’t my thing.” They can be very accomplished musicians, who leave after a while because they don’t see the beauty in our simple progressions. They want looser reigns. It simply isn’t for them, and that is a fine thing to know.
This is exactly why I am feeling so at home in bluegrass. I’m comfortable yet also excited with this genre. It suits me. I feel grateful for the twisty-turns my life took that eventually landed me in a bluegrass jam. A place where I can roam free, artistically, in a way that feels like I’m meant to be.