It seems fitting that Chambergrass—a Roanoke Rapids-based duo consisting of banjo player Kim Terpening and bassist Dave Schwartz—formed while the pair were fishing for shad on the Roanoke River in 2004. Remembers Kim, “We met, and after discussing our musical backgrounds, Dave said, ‘I always wanted to play bluegrass,’ and I said, ‘I always wanted to play classical.’ So we started to work it out.”
Terpening first picked up the banjo in the mid-1970s when her older sister, smitten by Bill Monroe’s records, wanted to form a family bluegrass group. They did, and eventually their all-female group the Wildwood Girls were taken under the wing of Bill Monroe himself. With guidance from former Monroe sidemen like Butch Robins and banjo pioneer Allen Shelton, Terpening developed into an accomplished player in the style of Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.“I try to keep my five-string banjo playing as traditional as I can,” she explains. “No embellishments. I don't try to play anything fancy…Less is better.”
After performing with the Wildwood Girls for over a decade—including a seven-year stint on USO tours and five years working at Dollywood—the group dissolved, and Terpening relocated to Roanoke Rapids to work as a food scientist.
Schwartz was also immersed in music from a young age. A longtime resident of Greenville, North Carolina, the bassist’s father was a music professor and provided formal cello training for the young Schwartz. Though a longtime fan, Schwartz explains that it wasn’t until he met Terpening that he started to grasp the complexity of bluegrass. “With bluegrass guitar and bass, it needs to sound like a motor,” he says. “You've got to keep it going, and it can't just last for five minutes. It’s like jogging—you have to stay in shape and practice…”
While Chambergrass freely mixes tunes from different styles—from Bach to Bill Monroe—together within the space of each performance, the duo pays respect to each genre by not overly hybridizing the music. Terpening says, “Most of the time, we try to keep the songs pretty pure in what they are, whether they're classical or bluegrass. We try not to mix them up too much.”
Chambergrass performs regularly throughout Eastern North Carolina. Terpening currently works for public radio in Roanoke Rapids and teaches private banjo lessons. Schwartz works in the bio-tourism industry.
Will consider all program opportunities.