Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Moira Smiley + VOCO

Music that mourns and dances at the same time


By JENNIFER LIEBRUM
Express Staff Writer

Inga Swearingen, Moira Smiley and April Guthrie (from left) blend their vocals for an appearance at the Sun Valley Opera House on Friday, Nov. 11, in an appearance touted as filled with joyous, magnificent and hair-raising harmonies. Courtesy photo

Moira Smiley's original work "Stand in That River" is a staple among ensemble musicians around the world, and that's just as she intended things when she chose the unusual musical genre that travels with—and without—her.

She calls it a blend of Appalachian and Eastern European traditions, performed mostly a cappella and with a whole lot of stomping and clapping and harmonizing with Inga Swearingen and cellist April Guthrie. It's what she will be doing Friday, Nov. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at the Sun Valley Opera House.

Moira Smiley + Voco is being brought here by the Sun Valley Center of the Arts. While they're here, they will hold two days of workshops with Wood River High School students and two assembly performances at local elementary schools in the valley.

Smiley answered a few questions about her style to provide insight into what they can expect:

Q) When choosing how to use your instrument, how does one find their way to a seemingly obscure combination like Appalachian and Eastern European influences?

A) When I was about 10 and was a classical pianist, I was exposed to Russian, Bulgarian and Croatian music through some teachers. I always felt like this music brought me to people—it was less lonely celebrating it with people.

< Half of singing is listening. Both the Appalachian and Eastern European styles are about harmony and community singing. They have really different ways of sounding, so it's like getting into that different emotional coat of each one. Eastern European music is passionate and extroverted. Appalachian music has the way of singing about something really dark and sad or even celebratory, and the tone will be the same, more like that of a narrator. That's the stuff I really like—the emotion comes before the story. The real sharing between the two styles is that songs are made to be sung by many people, not just listened to—they are to be shared.

I think that I've always worked with a cappella music, and why my music is performed by ensembles around the world is because choral music is about coming together and doing something. That's an exciting rare thing. We're mostly watchers these days—we mostly watch others do music, or we do it all alone. People do my music because it's got a little bit of the old with some new ideas mixed in.

Q) Who are your cohorts on stage?

A) I'm really excited about these ladies. They both have their own solo careers as well. Inga is frequently on Prairie Home Companion doing "farm jazz" that is rooted in the land. And April is an experimental cellist. She plays orchestrally and explores the broader role of the cello. She also has deep roots in the Ozarks and Croatia.

Q) What will you be teaching the local kids?

A) We're working on two songs, an original arrangement of "Bring Me Little Water Sylvie" by Lead Belly, and we've added a body percussion sequence—step rhythms, stomps, claps, brushes. A little dance sequence creates the backdrop. And we'll be doing my song "Stand in That River."

Q) What's the best part about sharing the storytelling you do?

A) We were just in Eastern Washington, and there are kids from all different cultures and speaking all different languages. It's always inspiring how they hold on to the music from their culture. It's really amazing to see them realize that music is useful and this thing that you can take with you, just inside your head.

It has a whole other way of holding memories than words themselves.

How to hear for yourself:

Call Sun Valley Center for the Arts at 726-9491 for tickets.

Visit: www.moirasmiley.com

for a preview.

Jennifer Liebrum: jliebrum@mtexpress.com




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