Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sundays Were Made for Gospelgrass

There are going to be many times on this site where I need to set aside my views or state them in a way that conveys more clearly how I feel.

This is one of those times.

In honor of the many great gospel performances and songs, I'm inaugurating Gospelgrass Sunday.

Of course it will remain to be seen whether I actually can keep up with my plan but I'm going to try.

Gospel music can be and is by many considered its own genre, but I consider it a category of bluegrass. The roots are generally the same, and many of the songs and performers emanate from the bluegrass tradition. It also seems sometimes that as performers evolve and become more comfortable either with their position on the charts or within their musical skins, they begin to claim a piece of Gospel territory. It is a place to put down your mark if you intend to stay around much in Bluegrass.

My own tradition was Catholic and then as I got older in school I pursued music study and was recruited into an anglican choir. I loved that experience. We sang some very old sacred music. I carried that love of these old texts and hymn settings well into my college years and to this day ensemble singing is something I deeply miss (but the rehearsal schedules are something I can't quite swing just yet with two school agers).

I didn't really discover or embrace gospel music right away when I launched into my bluegrass thing. It really wasn't until the Grey Fox festival in 2004, when I attended the Sunday morning performances led by Ron Thomason's Dry Branch Fire Squad that I got a good taste for the meaning of gospel music. The weekend had been full of it but I wasn't able to connect with it somehow until that point.

While I don't any longer rely on "gospel truths", I still find that this music can be beautiful and put to good use to help us meditate on our actions and our intentions. Some of it just sometimes makes me feel good, without any particular intent or message. I imagine there are many Gospelgrass pieces that we all love to sing or hear regardless of what our belief system may be.

To pull a song out of a hat is a toughie for a first run, but I'm going to give you a Dry Branch selection, since Ron Thomason kind of represents the ability to convey great gospel music and still stand one's ground as an individual. I'll leave you with "Touch the Hem of His Garments" which when sung by a quartet is about as beautiful as anything you're ever likely to hear. It's a song about healing. Remember that while we might wish to touch the garment of some heavenly resident, the only real healing power is within us, within the choices we make, the love we give, the friends we honor, the forgiveness we are able to give and receive.

Happy Sunday.

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