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 Weldon 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."

Despite their genre differences, Terpening and Schwartz were both experienced and skilled musicians. Terpening first picked up the banjo in the mid-1970s, after her older sister, smitten by Bill Monroe's records, decided that the siblings would form a family bluegrass group. Over time, the all-female group--who became known as the Wildwood Girls--were taken under the wing of Bill Monroe himself. Under the tutelage of former Monroe sidemen like Butch Robins and Roger Smith, as well as banjo pioneer Allen Shelton, Terpening developed into an accomplished player who hewed closely to the style established by the 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. Quality playing. 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, where she had found a job as a food scientist.

For his part, 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 Schwartz began his formal musical training, on the cello, as a child. While he was always interested in bluegrass, Schwartz explains that it wasn't until he met Terpening that he started to grasp the complexity of the idiom. "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 20 or 30 minutes a day to keep the fingers going."

While the Chambergrass repertoire freely mixes tunes--including pieces by Bach and Bill Monroe--together within the space of one performance, the duo explains that they pay respect to each genre by not overly hybridizing the material. Explains Terpening, "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. We'll mix in little things, but I think 80% of what we do is pretty much either bluegrass or classical."

Chambergrass performs regularly throughout Eastern North Carolina.

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Kim Terpening
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