Last week the world suffered one of the worst tragedies the year has seen – which is saying a lot considering the vast amount of talent 2016 has cost us. Dr. Ralph Stanley, one of the greatest artists in the world, a man who contributed even more than he ever understood to my region, went to his Heavenly home on Thursday. I can honestly say this loss cut me very deeply. As a lover of music (and a player of it when time allows, although I would say even at my best I’m on the very bottom of mediocrity) and an artist who strives to bring my region a strong voice, Ralph Stanley meant a lot to me.
Growing up in Southwest Virginia, the culture and roots of bluegrass and folk music always struck something deep within me (even if I often prefer the power of a good hard rock song) but the voice of Ralph Stanley was one of the ones that always stuck with me. The wailing vibrato that brought to life some of the greatest hymns and folk tunes to ever be written was and is one of the most powerful and recognizable and meaningful voices I’ve ever heard and I will never forget the power it brings to the table. And honestly, as an artist, that is all we can ever really hope for, is it not? To know that at least one person out there who encounters our work finds something so powerful and meaningful within it that it even inspires them to create something of their own is, to me, one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable.
So how do we make this happen? How do we rise above the masses of other individuals who have interests similar to our own in order to be at the top of our game? Passion. Knowledge. Individuality. These things can have so much more impact than we realize sometimes. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it countless more times in my life I’m sure, but passion is something that completely alters everything. You may not have to be passionate about everything you do, but you definitely need to make a real effort to do the things that you are passionate about. That is one thing that made Ralph Stanley so monumental. He had an extreme passion for music and he had an incredible passion for the region he called home. So often in his music he called out to his home, his family, his history and his savior. These are what were important to Ralph. These are the things he knew and loved, and these are the things that brought people to his music and made them want to come back again and again.
When it comes to individuality, there are a number of ways to make yourself different from others. The way Ralph did it was often by using his natural gift, which was the voice God gave him. He was quoted as saying that it was his voice that set him apart from others. It was something no one else had. God had given it to him. The same goes for the ideas in our head. Some say that there isn’t a story out there that hasn’t been told, and that may be true. But I would put money on the fact that, similar idea or not, no one has ever told the story in quite the same way you would. So why wait? Why hesitate? Your ideas, your talents, your strength are all unique to you, and you owe it to the world to set those things free, whether it be through writing, music, painting or anything else.
I’ll leave you something that has always given me a little motivation, no matter what mood I’m in when I think of it, but I read a quote some time ago that had a similar message to this post, but it ended with words that truly gave me chills and inspired me immensely; someone out there needs your book. So get up, go paint, go write, go play your music. Whatever it is, get out there and do it, because someone out there NEEDS your work.
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