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Bluegrass Mass’ impresses audience at Saint Mary’s

Courtney Eckerle | Sunday, March 4, 2012

Monroe Crossings Band and the South Bend Chamber Singers performed a unique mass at Saint Mary’s College on Sunday, merging voices, strings and the twang of bluegrass.

The groups performed composer Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass” in O’Laughlin Auditorium as part of the Shaheen/Duggan Performing Arts Series.

“‘A Bluegrass Mass’ combines the text of a traditional Catholic Mass, contemporary choral music, poetry and bluegrass instruments into a unique musical experience,” Barnett said in a College press release. “To bring the solemnity of the classical choir-based Mass together with the down home sparkle of bluegrass — now there’s an assignment for a composer.”

Monroe Crossing began the night by performing with the South Bend Chamber Children’s Choir.

Dressed in plaid shirts, jeans and suspenders, the children sang “Oh! Susanna”, “The Merry, Merry Heart” and “Cripple Creek”.

“We’re bluegrass with a Scandinavian attitude,” Matt Thompson, mandolin, fiddle and vocalist for the Minnesota-based group, said.

According to Nancy Menk, professor of music at Saint Mary’s College ,in a College press release, Monroe Crossings was the best band for the job.

“‘A Bluegrass Mass’ is an outstanding musical piece,” Menk said. “It is tough and the rhythm is complicated. Monroe Crossing played the premiere of this unique Mass; it was written for them. The group knows the piece better than anyone. It was in our best interest to bring them here.”

Despite being the best band for the job, Thompson confessed that he and his fellow band members actually forget about the performance after they agreed to it.

“[We] completely forgot about it,” he said. “A year and a half later, [Barnett] came over and dropped this big stack of music in front of us.”

This was an unusual encounter, Thompson said.

“Bluegrass players are used to playing by ear, so most people in bluegrass don’t read music,” he said, “And some people in the band don’t even read!”

After a version was recorded for the band to orally hear their parts, “A Bluegrass Mass” was born, and the band will perform it 10 times this year alone, Thompson said.