Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bluegrass Music; Sierra Hull

I love bluegrass music! It just has an infectious spirit about it. And it has a simplicity and an honesty--a country, American, "down home" honesty--that is just great. I grew up in a pretty rural area of northern NY (my grandparents were dairy farmers and were 1/2 mile down the road from us. I spent lots of time on my grandparents' farm as a young kid), and I like to think that there is something familiar from the farmer side of my family that I recognize in the spirit of bluegrass music.

It's a more homey, less sophisticated music than jazz. But, this is one of the things that gives it its own special greatness. Bluegrass has a humble majesty about it. And it is a musical style born on the back porches of good ole American hillside farmer folk. It's a music not born with commercial reasons anywhere near in anyone's mind. Rather, it's a music born from real community; born of an organic need for rural farm families and their friends to be together in their leisure time after a hard day's work doing something wonderfully human--making music together. This is what rural Americans in a certain region of the country did with spare time before they had TV to numb their noggins and isolate them from each other in their own homes. Farming on a small family farm is very hard, physical work. It requires of a person a certain kind of honesty about life. And the joys of daily farm life are simple joys: a home-cooked meal, clothes dried on the clothesline in the backyard, the accomplishment of getting the hay in the barn. And you can't have any pretenses. You can't play games with mother nature; she will not bend and cannot be fooled. I think perhaps this hard-working, unpretentious, hard worn honesty, with an ability to find delight in simple daily moments, forms the spiritual foundation for the music.

If you appreciate the simple, honest virtues of bluegrass, you'll love young bluegrass musician Sierra Hull. She is a phenomenal talent, and has been winning contests since around age nine. She recorded her first album at age 16, called Secrets, which I highly recommend. I own it and it's a great album! The instrument she loves best is mandolin, at which she is awesome. She is also a very good bluegrass singer.

Here is a video of Sierra performing live with another great musician, Alison Krauss. At the time of this performance, Sierra was in the sixth grade! I just love how the musicians show their love for making music together. And the young Sierra's joy at performing is also fun to see. The band Alison has with her is a collection of some of the best bluegrass musicians on the planet. They perform, "Cluck Old Hen," which I think is a bluegrass standard.

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