Mistress of the Mix: Bluegrassical

Even though I'm just as horrified as the next pussycat at the assault on my sensibilities every time I peek at the news headlines these days, I'm putting my worries aside for a moment to address perhaps the one thing that's more important than the current political disaster, and that is the next generation of human beings.



Don't you just love babies? They smell so good (when they've got a clean diaper on), and we dress them so adorably because, well, because we can get away with it for a few years. And even though they can't walk or talk yet, they look around with big eyes that are taking in everything in the world and soaking it all up.

A few weeks ago my husband and I took a quick - and I mean waaaay too quick - trip up to Astoria to visit our brand new grand nephew, our very smart and funny grandnieces, and one more (or, never know, could be two) still baking in the oven.

It was our first time meeting Owen, so we came bearing gifts, with a brand new outfit featuring a pair of pants with a dump truck on the bottom...because that's where the dump truck would naturally go, am I right?

Dump truck

Also, because Uncle Eddie is the reigning king of giving gifts to the kids in the family, we came bearing the best gift ever... a mustachifier. It was immediately put to use.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 6.26.39 PM

I'm proud of them, not just for making a beautiful baby, but for working hard to make their dreams come true. Soon they'll be opening up Astoria's newest brewery, Reach Break. My nephew makes a killer stout. In fact, if you've been to 7 Devils in Coos Bay you may have tried the Fig Stout that he did in a collaboration with that brewery shortly after Don Williams reviewed it in a column for A News Cafe. I'm also really fond of the Citrus Mykiss, with hints of lemon, pepper and rosehip. They just made the list of Top 10 anticipated breweries opening soon in Oregon, I have it on good authority that by the time you read this, they will have opened.

Reach Break

About that nephew, the one who makes beautiful babies and beer. While we were visiting, he told me that when he's hanging out with Owen, he likes to curate the music that his little man's mind is exposed to. To guide his musical journey with a little thought. I was immediately impressed, but even more so when he told me what kind of music he's exposing the little fella's ears to. Turns out, two kinds of music: Classical and Bluegrass.

You might think those two genres of music go together like green beans on ice cream, but I happen to know the relationship between Bluegrass and Classical is more like peanut butter and jelly. And I'm kind of an expert on these things. My little musical soul started doing back flips and cartwheels when he mentioned those two words in the same sentence, because a playlist immediately started forming in my head.

Classical music has been my day job for the past 15 years. During that time I've become intimately familiar with a lot of classical music and the people who make it. But my night time job for almost as long as the mistress of ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre has graciously allowed me to become familiar with hundreds of musicians who are successfully making a living recording and performing - for the most part - not classical music.

But musicians gotta start somewhere, right? And not everyone starts with a garage band (well, for a lot of people that's where it starts...and ends). I have found that a really large number of successful artists started out with classical music.

That's pretty much my story. When I was 10 we got a piano. My parents sent me to Mrs. Janes for lessons. I loved music, and wanted to immediately be taught boogie woogie and jazz. Mrs. Janes had other ideas about teaching me music, and started me off with Chopin, then moving on to Beethoven and Rachmaninov. Eventually, in a move to stop me from dropping out of class, Mrs. Janes also acquiesced and introduced me to Henry Mancini's Pink Panther Theme and a boogie woogie piece that I won 8th place for in a recital.

But enough about me and my lame piano skills. I share the music; I don't play it.

What I'm getting at - and what got me so excited to put together a playlist that I call Bluegrassical for Owen - is that almost all of the popular Bluegrass musicians of today have a strong background in classical music, and  in many cases, pay homage to the masters during stage performances by weaving in a piece or two from the classical repertoire.

Some have gone even further. Multi-instrumentalist Bela Fleck has written a classical concerto for the banjo, and has recorded classical music with mandolinist Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers).  Likewise, Edgar Meyer has written music equally in bluegrass and classical genres for his main instrument, the double bass. Fiddle sensation Mark O'Connor has written numerous lengthy classical works, but he and Fleck, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and others have recorded albums that combine their Appalachian style with the rock & roll of the 1700's, and the result is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

I can't think of a better way to honor my new grand nephew and his parents than sharing this Spotify Bluegrassical playlist with them (and with you) that lovingly combines some of my favorite classical works with my favorite bluegrass pieces, with some heavy emphasis on the mandolin, ukelele and lute. I hope you'll give it a listen by clicking on the play arrow below, and feel free to share anything you think might be missing from the list.

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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13 Responses

  1. Richard Christoph says:

    Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer (string bass)  gave one of  the most unusual and enjoyable concerts that we have seen at the Cascade. Banjo and bass together? Who would have thought…

  2. I love Old Crow Medicine Show’s version of Wagon Wheel! The only version I might like better is local artist Matthew Songmaker’s.

  3. A. Jacoby says:

    LOVE THIS COLUMN . . . I suppose that’s really no surprise. I about had heart palpitations when I heard Bela Fleck’s first classical album for the first time (I won’t admit how many years ago). And watching Mark O’Connor’s metamorphic development from an old time fiddle child prodigy into a bluegrass/jazz/classical adult phenomenon is one of the ‘funnest’ spectator sports I can imagine. (check out the O’Connor Family Band that include his wife and Mark’s son, Forrest and his fiancé/wife).

    Interestingly, my daughter just sent me this link to some pretty incendiary collaboration. Enjoy!!

    3 of my favorite musicians playing Bach. Yo Yo MA, Chris Thile and Edgar Meyerenjoy

    and the cute little 7 year old yo yo ma, so adorable.

    And, BTW . . . . one of the best things you can do for a child’s development, along with reading aloud to them, is to play music for them . . . . constantly. My kids slept with classical music playing in their rooms all night, from the day they came home from the hospital.


  4. A. Jacoby says:

    Val . . . I’m SO sorry. I didn’t realize that when I included the link that it would OPEN on your site. Now I don’t know how to erase it. I’ll work on that.

  5. Oh, Val, I love this column and playlist. (Lucky little Owen to have you and Eddie in this life.)

    I liked Jake Shimabukuro’s Ave Marie so much I’m making a Pandora station out of it.

    You come up with the best column ideas. Thank you, Val.


    • Valerie Ing says:

      Next time Jake plays at the Cascade, I think I’m bringing you as my date, because you would LOVE him. He just played here a few months ago – I think it was his 4th time – and every time I am absolutely mesmerized.

  6. Sally says:

    AJ – So glad the trio made it to Val’s playlist!!!  It made me remember the wonderful concert we attended in Chico to watch Yo Yo Ma all by his extraordinary self!!!

  7. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Valerie, I can’t wait to listen to your play list.  I listen to your classical selections almost every day on the radio, and I’m crazy about good bluegrass music.  I had a smartboard at my last teaching job, and would show some of Chris Thile’s videos of his classical work for the students who hung out with me.  They learned a lot.  Like….what is that little instrument???  (I do have a CD of Vivaldi’s pieces performed on mandolin).   Adrienne’s comments about exposing children to music is perfect.  Thank you for another great article.

    • Valerie Ing says:

      You’re comment makes me so happy Joanne, for many different reasons. Does the Vivaldi disc feature Avi Vital on mandolin? It came out last year or the year before, and it’s so dreamy. The 10th song on the playlist is the last cut off of the album, and I think it’s the only non-Vivaldi work on the recording.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      When they were at the Cascade, the Punch Brothers did a long classically inspired piece that ran about 15-20 minutes—I don’t recall the title.  Upstairs at the bar at intermission, a friend described it as “challenging.”  I enjoyed it just for the instrumental virtuosity on display, but it was a bit on the avant-garde side, as I recall.

  8. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    I liked the Punch Brothers’ version of Moonshiner, but Uncle Tupelo’s version is still my favorite.  Jay Farrar’s soulful/mournful voice is hard to beat.  The song originated in Ireland, but the bleak lyrics sung by Farrar are Bob Dylan’s version from his Greenwich Village days.  (Punch Bros. start with the original verse, then switch to the Dylan version.)

    Here’s John McEuen (multi-instrumentalist with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) doing Clemente Opus 36 on banjo.

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