Virtue & Mischief: Math and sounds and…


I am not a musician. I’ve never learned the rudiments of playing an instrument, much less mastered them. I can’t sing. I can’t read music. Still, I know what I like and I’m cocky enough to believe that I know excellence in musicianship when I witness it.

When I was a law student in Nashville, Tennessee, I remember being mesmerized by the sounds of music during my walks from my apartment to campus (or back). Open air restaurants were everywhere and aspiring bands or solo artists plied their considerable artistry to lunch and dinner crowds in the hope of being discovered in Music City. My neighborhood was in the middle of Music Row, so recording studios also abounded and it was rare when I wasn’t serenaded by guitars and mandolins and phenomenal voices on my way to Secured Transactions or Torts. If you want to attend a church with off-the-charts, knee-slapping, pleasing-to-the-ears music worship, move to Nashville. There are more exceptional musicians per capita in that town than anywhere else in the world.

I was reminded of those days this past Saturday evening when my wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law attended the Darke County Center of the Arts (“DCCA”) presentation at Memorial Hall. A few moments after we found our seats and settled in we were treated to a two hour musical cyclone of bluegrass virtuosity known as “Rhonda Vincent and the Rage.” Oh, my.

Let me reiterate: I am no musical maven. I admit that I don’t know a treble clef from an F sharp. Pitch? Rhythm? Tempo? Look, I’m a musical moron. To me, music is math and sounds. Great music is brilliantly configured math and pleasing sounds nicely knitted together and performed by people who use their fingers and their vocal chords (and, occasionally, other body parts) in a way that is in equal parts both stunning and thoroughly foreign to me.

As the seven members of this gifted group began to play and sing, my aural senses were overwhelmed. I couldn’t decide where to focus my eyes at any given moment, so I ultimately settled on gazing at each for 10 seconds or so then moving to the next musical magician to the immediate right, one after the other. Once I reached the band member at the end, in this instance the banjo player, I repeated the process. Over and over and over, all night long. Their hands flew and their fingers bobbed and weaved and picked and strummed with the precision of an accomplished surgeon or crackerjack diamond cutter. Their perfectly melded voices soared from the stage to the upper reaches of Memorial Hall. I tried—I seriously tried—to keep my legs still, but was unable, so beautiful, so hypnotic, so energetic were the notes emanating from the fiddle, guitars, mandolins, dobro, and bass. They performed with such delight and genuine regard for their audience that it was impossible not to be sucked in by their vortex of artistry and joy.

Sorry to say, I was only vaguely familiar with Rhonda Vincent and the Rage prior to Saturday night, but rest assured I know them now and plan to see them whenever I get the opportunity. Ms Rage and her colleagues—Hunter Berry, Brent Burke, Mickey Harris, Aaron McDaris, Josh Williams, and her daughter Sally Berry—earned my thanks for entertaining us so thoroughly on Saturday night, and for reminding me that truly great music is something more than math and sounds and virtuosity. Love—for art form and for the audience—takes it to another level completely. And they reached and surpassed that very lofty height.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the column series Virtue and Mischief. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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