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come for the singer, stay for the band

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i’ll be forever grateful to wnyc’s studio 360 for introducing me to the music of shara worden. host kurt anderson spoke with worden about her musical background, formal education, and how she’s using her cultivated talents today. in studio with her was the pop-classical ensemble, yMusic, a group of talented, young musicians collaborating with some of the most creative acts out there, both in the US and abroad.

on the show they performed “we added it up,” a playful song written specifically for worden’s Lincoln Center “American Songbook” appearance. the string and wind arrangements, reminiscent of early disney films, were blended with cabaret vocal stylings. shara a contralto, the deepest female voice in classical music, gives her words a sultry feel, as if they’re wrapped in velvet before leaving her throat.

worden’s music is difficult to categorize. her band, My Brightest Diamond, is a mixture of indie rock, moody electronic, and classical—all done expertly. in 2004 worden put an ad on craigslist in the hopes of forming a band. rob moose, a man at home with both a guitar and violin, responded. completing the band, minus more than a few repeat collaborators, were percussionist earl harvin, bassist chris bruce, and keyboardist zac rae.

i was lucky enough to hear the wnyc interview with shara before her performance at the merkin concert hall for their ecstatic music festival this winter. the show, hosted by wnyc’s john schaefer, was a combination of premieres and recent works by both shara and sarah kirkland-snider, a new composer and co-director of a not-for-profit music label, New Amsterdam Records.

in 2010 the two women worked together on the album Penelope, an ode to homer’s odyssey,  with snider writing the score and worden as vocalist. the popular music site pitchfork called the work “dreamily disquiet” and described snider’s music as living “in a netherland between richly orchestrated indie rock and straight chamber music.” along with the 2010 collaborative song cycle, the first half of the night’s performance also featured two new works from the new composer, “taking turns in my skin” with poems by ivanna yi, a 2007 fulbright scholarship winner, and “daughter of the waves,” a tribute to the emotional landscape of motherhood.

from the studio to the concert hall, yMusic performed the pieces that night. the group, largely made up of juilliard graduates and each known for their revolutionary approach to classical music, was exciting to watch. a few of the members have played with worden in My Brightest Diamond, including rob moose, who switched effortlessly between guitar and violin—often within the same song—and nadia sirota, a violist who has played with the popular brooklyn duo ratatat as well as grammy award-winning arcade fire. she also hosts a weekday music show on public airwaves and devoted to contemporary music which the new yorker’s music critic, alex ross, calls, “radio we can believe in.”

also performing that night was cj camerieri, an accomplished trumpet and french horn player, multi-instrumented hideaki aomori who played clarinet, and alex sopp, a flutist who has performed and recorded with notable musicians such as bjork and philip glass. on cello was clarice jensen whose credentials include her position as the production coordinator for bjork’s drawing restraint 9 soundtrack and her current lead role in the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) as artistic director. on drums, doing some impressive things with his hands and feet, was brian wolfe, who has played live with My Brightest Diamond in the past.

the second half of the show featured shara’s compositions, including the premiere of her instrumental pieces written for yMusic. while perfectly engaging in the first part of the performance, it was during her own work that shara truly came alive: dancing, interacting with the musicians, and playing some interesting instruments—including a vintage toy ukulele from Sears fitted with proper pegs. it should come as no surprise, however, that shara was armed with a few cute folk instruments; her grandfather on her dad’s side “was an Epiphone-strumming traveling evangelist, her father an accomplished accordionist and her mother a classical organist.” shara obviously inherited her family’s love of music, if not their collective talents as well.

for the instrumental pieces, worden brought in barnard-trained dancer jessica dessner whose flowy interpretive style—the movements accentuated by her lithe frame and light, loose one-pieces—was well suited for the whimsical compositions. while dessner floated across the stage, off to the side, still in view but not distracting, shara sat wearing a mask—a slightly eerie creation portraying the musician in her elderly years—created for her by a puppeteering friend, lake simons.  i would be remiss not to mention dm stith, the guest vocalist accompanying shara on a few songs—their mutual admiration visible, i’m sure, from the back row.

after a thoroughly enjoyable evening of rejuvenating music and endearing stage presences, one thing is clear, these are musicians to keep tabs on.

ACME will be performing at the MATA Festival on tuesday, may 10th at le poisson rouge. MATA is a non-profit organization dedicated to commissioning and presenting works by young performers.

shara’s interview on studio 360
listen to the merkin concert hall performance
new amsterdam records
my brightest diamond website
sarah kirkland-snider‘s website
merkin concert hall
interview with lake simons (puppeteer)
nadia sirota’s radio show
pitchfork review of penelope

from the top of the world by My Brightest Diamond—puppets handcrafted by lake simons


Written by Gabrielle

April 12, 2011 at 7:48 am

Posted in music

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