Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bluegrass & Loar Part 2

Last week I posed the question, “Can Lloyd Loar’s memory be rightly honored through a Bluegrass Festival?”  In order to sort through this question, I need to give thought to several things; the first being, “What is the history of Bluegrass?”

As settlers migrated into the Appalachian Mountains around the 1700s, they brought their musical talents and traditions with them.  Some brought instruments from their homeland, such as the fiddle, others engineered “instruments” from whatever they had available.  For years, their songs of life on the farm and in the hills echoed through the remote mountains, but no further.  Big stages, instrument amplification and glitzy clothes weren’t even heard of.  Family and friends simply came together for fellowship anywhere there was space to gather and music was often their common ground.

Mountain music was also greatly influenced by African-American slaves who brought their harmonic blues and the banjo to the region in the 18th century.  With the emergence of mail order catalogs, instruments such as the “mountain” dulcimer, autoharp, guitar and mandolin soon became popular in Appalachia and set the stage for string bands.

With the invention of the phonograph and radio, in the early 1900s, this “mountain music” filtered into the homes of the rest of the world.  While many refer to what developed as “mountain hillbilly music,” one of its most influential pioneers,

Bill Monroe characterized the genre as: ‘Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'.  It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist.  It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound.’”

Bill Monroe, a Kentucky boy with Scottish roots, was born on the farm into a musical family.  By “default,” Monroe grew up playing the “less desirable mandolin” while his two brothers played the fiddle and guitar.  After his mother’s death, when he was 16, Monroe lived with his uncle Pen who played the fiddle.  Love for many of the traditional fiddle tunes was now in Monroe’s blood.

After having played with several bands, at the age of 28, Monroe formed “The Bluegrass Boys” in 1939.  This band is recognized as having “created the definitive sound and instrumental configuration that remains the model to this day for what is known as Bluegrass music.  In Bluegrass, as in some forms of jazz, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment; this is especially typified in tunes called breakdowns.  This is in contrast to old-time music, in which all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout while the others provide accompaniment.  Breakdowns are often characterized by rapid tempos and unusual instrumental dexterity and sometimes by complex chord changes” (  Monroe became know as “The Father of Bluegrass.”

Mountain music, a “simple” farm boy playing his mandolin and the development of “Bluegrass music; what does all of this have to do, if anything, with the musical genius, Lloyd Loar?

Stay tuned for week three of Bluegrass & Loar.


P.S.  Please feel free to contact me with questions, thoughts, topics you’d like to ponder or to read past articles at:  You may also contact me at:
             Bonnie Jaeckle
             In Search of the Whole-Hearted Life
             Diagonal Progress
             505 Jefferson St.
             Diagonal, IA 50845