Country Music People October 2017 - Page 13

Bill Monroe and an early 1940’s line up of the Blue Grass Boys What makes bluegrass different from other music? Initially, what was to become Bluegrass was just another a part of country music. As a member of the Grand Ole Opry, bluegrass’ founder, Bill Monroe, would have seen himself as a country musician, sharing the stage, as he did, with the likes of Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff. Monroe took traditional music (what remains now in its original form as ’old time’ music with words and melodies brought from the British Isles by the early settlers, which became influenced by black musicians through the addition of elements of blues and jazz) and smartened it up. The following conventions developed: Bluegrass musicians did not play the tune in unison, as do those in old time, but took solo breaks as in the style of traditional jazz, usually between the verses of songs, during which the other musicians lowered their sound volume and played accompaniment only. It comprises a rare mix of tight teamwork and exciting, individual competition between Its members, as each takes his/her time in the limelight to strut their musical stuff. Vocal harmonies, based on the shape-note singing style learned by bluegrass musicians at their churches, became organised, with the basic layering of voices being: A lead singer topped by a tenor singing a third or fifth above; a baritone singing a fourth below, and for gospel songs, the addition of a bass singer, but there are several other variations according to the voice types available in the band, for instance, sometimes the lead might sing the top line with the other voices singing below, particularly in the case of a female lead. Harmony lines stay equi-distant throughout, and with no counterpoint. The bluegrass instrumental line-up became established as: Mandolin (as played by Monroe); fiddle; guitar; 5-string banjo and acoustic double bass. (Dobro was added and accepted in 1955). OCTOBER 2017 - cmp 13