HVBA member Andrew Bing, 61, is just a year into his retirement from a career as a lawyer for New York State, but he’s staying busy running Vassar College’s continuing-education program, “Bluegrass–Folk Music in Overdrive.” The program is “a six-session examination of the history and development of bluegrass, focusing on the instrumental and vocal techniques that make bluegrass distinctive,” according to the course prospectus.
“It’s not an academic course as you might traditionally think of it,” Andy Bing explains, “it’s a bunch of presenters talking about their instruments and the music they make. I’m the master of ceremonies, you might say. I start off each session with a short introduction and maybe a slide show, just a little background about how the music came to be, through Bill Monroe, and how much influence Monroe had. And then I turn it over to the instrument presenters.”
They will be Tara Linhardt on mandolin, Keith Edwards guitar, Ambrose Verdibello fiddle, Dick Bowden banjo, David Gandin bass fiddle, and Bing himself with his Dobro. Vocal harmony will be demonstrated by Edwards and Gary DiGiovanni. “These are all people who have a lot of performing experience. Some of them have done this sort of thing before, and they are all incredibly knowledgeable about bluegrass. The last class will feature a concert, where the presenters put it all together,” Andy says. Classes begin on April 5 and are limited to 35 students.
The program is sponsored by Vassar College and is called Lifelong Learning–not for undergraduates but older people. The HVBA is one of many groups and individuals who want to educate this population. It was the HVBA who recruited the musicians to make it work, and they’re paying the presenters a modest stipend to be involved.
“The HVBA did something similar in 2012, 2014 and 2016 at Marist College, called The Evolution of Bluegrass. It was set up in a similar way–six sessions. I wasn’t the MC, but I did a Dobro presentation at each of them.”
Bing has been playing with a variety of Hudson Valley bluegrass bands for over 35 years, though he calls it “a weekend warrior kind of thing.” Andy’s favorite instrument is the Dobro, but he has also extensively studied and played the mandolin and banjo.
“Part of the Bluegrass Association’s mission is education–trying to further interest in and knowledge of bluegrass music,” Bing points out. “That’s why I do it as well. But also–and this is true of the other presenters too–this is music that all of us want to learn and play and perform, and there’s this enthusiasm and love of it, and with that a desire to share the music with other people.”