Much like folk music's Von Trapp Children and classical music's Ying Quartet, the bluegrass band Cherryholmes has evolved into an impressive family operation. Jere and Sandy Cherryholmes, along with their children Cia, Molly, B.J. and Skip, have combined elements of bluegrass, Celtic and jazz to create a lively band with a distinctive sound.
Not long ago, the group began collaborating with symphony orchestras in an effort to showcase the diversity of their music. Cherryholmes will join the Oklahoma City Philharmonic this week for a pair of pops concerts.
“When we started out, our goal was to be a hard-core, traditional bluegrass band,” said Sandy Cherryholmes. “As our kids grew, we kind of rewrote the rules. They would soak up movie soundtracks, and I'd start hearing them jamming to that music.
“As we began to write our own music, the whole structure changed even more. By adding other musical influences, like gospel and Americana, we were able to create our own eclectic sound.”
Cherryholmes understands those who may scoff at the idea of symphonic bluegrass, a term that indeed sounds like a strange oxymoron. The group has also experienced some reluctance from orchestral musicians, given the wide gap that exists between their musical styles.
“Every orchestra we've played with, there's this distance that exists between the orchestra and our group,” Cherryholmes said. “But after the first rehearsal, many of them get a new respect for what is happening on stage.
“Today, there is so much blurring of musical lines that everything has kind of cross-pollinated. A bluegrass group can survive year after year within that limited niche, but if you're able to market yourself into other areas, it opens the door professionally.”
Evidence of that can be seen in Cherryholmes' four Grammy Award nominations, the last of which was earned for a single titled “Sumatra.” That song was nominated in the best country instrumental performance category.
Today, Cherryholmes also incorporates step dancing into its concerts, a happy by-product that happened after Sandy Cherryholmes first saw “Riverdance.” After ordering shoes from Ireland, the family matriarch learned the intricacies of step dancing by watching a tape of the Irish group frame by frame.
“The kids just laughed at me at first, but within a few months, I saw them start to imitate me,” Cherryholmes said. “That soon became a contest winner for us because there weren't any bluegrass bands with five step dancers.
“Step dancing became a part of our show in 1999, and we've been doing it ever since. There were no formal lessons; we just learned by imitating. We've always had fun with it, and we've managed to stay pretty athletic. I joke that soon I'll have to be looking for some orthopedic tap shoes. We have to show the kids we're not old.”
Cherryholmes with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic
• When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
• Information: 842-5387 or www.