Performances of bluegrass Mass scheduled in Shelby

It’s a high Mass not in the style of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, but Bill Monroe, Del McCoury and Dolly Parton.

A fusion of bluegrass music and Southern folk-hymns, “Away to the Skies: a High Lonesome (Bluegrass) Mass” will be performed April 14 at Shelby’s Don Gibson Theatre. It’s part of a two-day event that features Mass composer Tim Sharp, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association in Oklahoma City.

The Mass will be performed at 7 p.m. by the 45-voice Rutherford Community Chorus under the direction of Tony Spencer.

On April 15, a 7 p.m. performance by selected choral students from Cleveland County’s four high schools will be held at Malcolm Brown Auditorium on the Shelby High School campus.

Accompanying both performances will be a five-piece bluegrass ensemble and piano.

The two-day choral event is being sponsored by the newly opened Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South and Stonecutter Foundation of Rutherford County.

Scruggs Center Executive Director Emily Epley called Sharp “a rock star of choral music.”

In the Mass, he combines traditional sacred music with traditional roots music.

“Personally, I’m fascinated and want to experience it myself,” Epley said.

The description “high lonesome” comes from the vocal range of Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of bluegrass music.” In 1966, he released an album titled “The High Lonesome Sound of Bill Monroe.”

Growing up in Tennessee and West Virginia, bluegrass and hymns “were part of my upbringing,” Sharp said.

The Mass debuted two years ago in Tulsa, Okla., and has been performed all over the U.S. and in Dublin and London. Future stops are planned in Bulgaria, Hungary and Latvia.

“We’ve gotten great reception from bluegrass fans and church people,” Sharp said.

A bluegrass fan who plays the banjo, he’s looking forward to visiting the Scruggs Center, named after Cleveland County native and 5-string banjo master Earl Scruggs.

“It’s definitely a pilgrimage,” Sharp said. “It’ll be cool to see.”

Tickets for both events are free. For the bluegrass Mass at the 400-seat Don Gibson Theater, tickets are limited to four per person and must be picked up in advance. Tickets are not needed for the April 15 performance at Malcolm Brown.

For more information, call 704-487-8114.