OK, I know bluegrass isn’t going to replace hip hop anytime soon as the music of choice for teenagers, but I’m no longer surprised by groups like the The Doerfels who suddenly appear out of nowhere. I don’t know too much about this family band except they are from Florida and just released a new CD featuring some of their original songs. The senior member (T.J. on banjo) is only 20 years old, joined by his sister Kimberly (19 on fiddle), and brothers Eddy (16 on mandolin), Joe (14 on bass) and Ben (13 on guitar). Check out this video:
I sometimes point to groups like this when I hear some of my colleagues express pessimism about the extent to which parents and other adults can influence teenagers in today’s media-saturated world. Let’s be honest here, teenagers who embrace and perform bluegrass music are not the norm. These are kids who have grown up in an environment, usually provided by their parents, where they have had constant exposure to the music and lots of encouragement from a community of bluegrass music fans.
I’ve spent time with many of these young musicians, like Nickel Creek (Chris Thile, Sean and Sara Watkins) who grew up here in the San Diego area. Also the Cherryholmes family, who also came from Southern California and have become one of bluegrass music’s biggest success stories. There are many more just like them. The Wright Kids, who were finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” show and The Clark Brothers, who won Fox TV’s “The Next Great American Band” competition a couple of years ago. I’m always impressed not only by the talent and skill of these kids on their musical instruments, but with how well-adjusted they are and how articulate and comfortable they are around adults.
So how did these kids become such accomplished bluegrass musicians? Did they find the sound of the banjo and fiddle too cool to resist?
To understand these kids, you have to meet their parents. I’ve met some of them and it’s clear that they made a choice when their kids were little to create a family culture that was centered around bluegrass music. In almost every case, these kids were home schooled and taught music as part of their curriculum. They made field trips to bluegrass festivals where they learned to play (jam) with adult musicians who were more than happy to show them how to improve their playing. I also have a hunch their parents turned off the TV and spent a lot of time playing and singing with their kids.
I know most people would shudder at their thought of their kids forming a bluegrass band, but I do think there’s something we can learn from these families about how to raise children up in the Christian faith.