Photo: Don Lewis
The highlight of the 2008 Bloomington Early Music Festival was a performance by Moira Smiley and her group VOCO. Entitled “Circle, Square, Diamond, & Flag,” the concert featured old and experimental folk hymns going back to the 18th Century. Moira Smiley, a versatile and dynamic singer, leads the L.A. based vocal group VOCO, who has been praised for its unique interpretation of early American and Eastern European song.
The ensemble’s program was largely drawn from a number of original American sources, including the Sacred Harp and Northern, Christian, Kentucky, and Choral Songbooks. An unusual feature of these songbooks is the use of shape note hymns, which was a way of printing music using special shapes to help the reader easily identify notes of the musical scale. The title of the festival’s program, “Circle, Square, Diamond, & Flag,” gives an idea of the kinds of shapes that were common.
Members Moira Smiley, Jessica Basta, Jessica Catron, and Christine Enns are all well-respected vocalists in their own right. Their collaboration as VOCO came to a climax in 2007 when they were voted the no. 1 a capella band in the US. Other acclaim includes being described as “a truly phenomenal act” by Folkworks Magazine. Not limited to unaccompanied songs and hymns, the group often incorporates the cello, accordion, and banjo.
One unique feature of the ensemble’s performance was their use of body percussion, which produced various attractive rhythms by tapping different parts of the body. Usually, this was done without any music, until we arrived at the encore. The audience was delighted at the effect that the body percussion had when juxtaposed with Moira’s arrangement of Huddie Ledbetter’s “Bring me little water, Silvy.”
Our new release of the week features the third installment of Telemann’s wind concertos by the German ensembles La Stagione Frankfurt and Camerata Cologne. Directed by Michael Schneider, the CPO label recording includes concertos for baroque piccolo, flute, oboe, and trumpet.
Here’s a video of VOCO performing “Bring me little water, Silvy”: