Music plays a big part of our lives and crosses all cultures in our hometowns in the Maritimes. My family was no different. My childhood memories go back to singing around the piano or with a guitar. We never questioned the song or why we were singing, we just did it! I believe that is because it was part of who we were—it was part of our culture. As an adult, I realize the big impact music played and still plays in my life. Our ancestors arrived with instruments and a song to share and passed it down from one generation to the next. It worked and worked well. It is magical when you find a new musical friend and learn a new tune. An instant relationship is struck and usually lasts a long time.
There are a number of styles of music played in PEI and one that has become a part of PEI culture—bluegrass music. I found bluegrass or it found me at a party with a few friends a number of years ago. We played a variety of tunes that evening with the bluegrass tunes sticking in my mind. It was like opening a door to a new room of music with new musicians.
A bit of history on bluegrass tells us that it originated in the United States after Scottish, Irish and British settlers landed in the Appalachia region. They brought instruments and their musical traditions with them. Bluegrass is played on acoustic stringed instruments such as guitar, five-string banjo, fiddle, mandolin and upright bass. Instruments take turns playing lead or the melody and improvising on the tune using runs, intros, licks and endings while others accompany. The music is a mix of Scottish and Irish tunes with sounds of American roots and country music. Some call it “hillbilly” or “mountain” music as it is influenced by music played in the hills of Appalachia. Vocals are also a part of bluegrass and feature harmony in two to four parts. The playing approach shares some similarity with jazz [improvising on a theme].
Bluegrass is a part of my routine now. My participation in the bluegrass scene on PEI goes back almost twenty years now. I joined the Bluegrass and Old Time Music Society and help with organizing fundraising concerts, music jams, workshops, and one of the largest festival in the Maritimes which is held in Rollo Bay the first full weekend in July.
When I hear the chopping sound of a mandolin, the flat picking sound of a guitar—boom chucka boom chucka—the finger rolls of a five string banjo, the doghouse bass, and of course the harmony vocals, it makes me happy. In the words of the late Doc Watson, famous musician and bluegrass singer and picker, “Music feeds my soul.”