“It’s in the blood.”

“One can become an artist, but one must be born a griot.” – balafonist Fodé Lassana Diabaté

The members of Malian group Trio da Kali have known each other “like family” all their lives, but they hadn’t played together in a formal group until collaborating with Kronos Quartet for last year’s phenomenal album “Ladilikan.” The trio is currently touring the US, and making its Boston debut tonight in a solo show. I talked to Lassana Diabaté about griot families, religion and griots, and how Islamist extremist activity in Mali has impacted musical life.

Read over at the Globe!


My latest(s)

I’ve had two feature articles published this week in the Boston Globe. One is an interview with soprano Kelly Kaduce, who captured my attention after her performance as a remarkable down-to-earth Mimi in Boston Lyric Opera’s “La Bohème” two years ago. I caught her in a break between BLO “Threepenny Opera” rehearsals to chat with her about preparing for new roles, planning childcare when both parents are performing opera singers, and why it’s easier to play onstage lovers with a stranger than with her husband. Read it here!

The second has to be some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing a Globe article. I wrote a preview of Celebrity Series of Boston’s experimental new music series Stave Sessions, which runs for five night next week. I talked on the phone with Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond, a personal favorite of mine. (I’ve admired her ever since she sang the role of the imperious, terrifying Queen of the Forest on the Decemberists’ 2009 album “The Hazards of Love,” which came out when I was 15, during the height of my Decemberists fandom.) I also got to spend an hour observing the jawdroppingly impressive musicians of Boston experimental art rock sextet Bent Knee, and talk to them and their percussion mentor Samuel Solomon afterwards. I now know from experience that if you ask the six a question, you’ll get seven answers. You’ll probably also laugh. A lot. Read it here!

“I became the thorn in people’s side, and I’m proud of that. . . . I feel like I have a role to play here and I’m going to play it.”

I talked to composer Joan Tower for a profile in advance of her 80th birthday celebrations in Boston. This was one of those interviews that I thought was going to last 20 minutes and instead lasted over an hour. I probably could have written three articles with the material I had from her and Kati Agocs, a composer she mentored who also told stories about meeting Tower at a crazy dance party and benefiting from her “bullshit detector.”

Read Joan Tower’s thoughts on growing up in South America, writing for amateur orchestra, being the only woman in the room, and dancing, over at the Globe!

Hybrid species.

When Sierra Hull arrived at Berklee College of Music on a full ride at age 17, she didn’t fit the profile of a typical incoming freshman. First of all, instead of spending her weekends exploring Boston and hanging out in the dormitories, the school’s first Presidential Scholarship bluegrass musician was heading to the airport to take off for performances at clubs and festivals all around the country with her touring band.

There was also the fact that she couldn’t read a note of printed music. “Not at all!” Hull laughs, speaking by phone from her Nashville home.

Hull’s reputation as a virtuoso mandolinist began from a very young age. She released her first all-instrumental album, “Angel Mountain,” at age 10 in 2002. The same year, she took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry with her idol, fiddler and singer Alison Krauss. It was onward and upward from there.

But bluegrass music is an aural tradition, learned at the knee of more experienced players or by osmosis at campfire jam sessions. Most bluegrass teachers don’t include reading music or theory, says Hull, 26. Describing her experience in a Berklee sight-reading class, she recalls: “I don’t know what note that is on the staff without taking a minute to go ‘Wait! Every Good Boy Does . . .’ ”

Read more in the Boston Globe!

Tomorrow’s Globe today: it’s wabbit season at Symphony Hall!

When playing the music live, there’s no room to fall out of synch, Daugherty said. “The sound effects were designed to absolutely be synchronous with the music. We have to be exactly to the frame with it. And it’s fast, it’s very fast, and it’s wall to wall. We have an expression; there’s no slow movements in Looney Tunes.”

But it’s also a fun concert, he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I look into the orchestra — and I’m talking about the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” Daugherty said, “I see musicians mouthing the words “Oh Bwunnhilde, you’re so wuvwy. . .”


Read more here.

Chorus America: Illuminating Early Music

Early music can seem intimidating, as imposing and immutable as a stone cathedral. The context for which much of it was written—liturgical ritual—is no longer a part of daily life for most. The music adheres to mathematical and technical principles, rather than sweeping listeners away with the pathos of Romantic repertoire. And the training required to play most period instruments is expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. Perhaps as a result, early music (usually defined as Western European music written before the death of Bach in 1750) is often viewed as a monolithic obstacle to surmount or a gleaming ideal on a pedestal.

These musty conceptions are exactly what some of today’s most innovative choral directors are seeking to topple. It helps that the voice is a much more accessible instrument than, say, the theorbo or the viola da gamba. A cappella early music in particular has spread beyond the domain of conservatory-trained professionals, and many community choruses regularly perform early pieces.

Inaccessible? Actually, People “Get It”

The choral directors interviewed all agreed that early music is, in fact, warmly appreciated by their audiences. “A tremendous amount of early music is a cappella,” says Kent Tritle, who helms ensembles such as the Oratorio Society of New York and Musica Sacra in addition to his duties as director of choral activities at Manhattan School of Music. Tritle has also directed the choral workshop  program at the Amherst Early Music Festival, a one-week intensive for experienced volunteer singers. “What the human voice can do with monophony, polyphony, and antiphony has a magnetic way of touching people deeply. Early music, performed beautifully—people get it.”

Read the rest over at Chorus America!

October 9: HONK! feature

Deidra Montgomery remembers exactly her first encounter with the HONK! Festival.

“I was not at all familiar with the area,” she said. “I was meeting up with some friends in Davis Square, by chance, on the weekend of the festival. I don’t remember which day it was, but I definitely remember the spectacle. It was just there, and it was brilliant.”

At this weekend’s free HONK! Festival, a whole roster of street bands from all over the country (and sometimes from outside it) will perform in public spaces around Greater Boston, with activity centered on Somerville’s Davis Square. The festival is taking to the streets for its 10th year of colorful parades, wild dancing, and merriment with a message.

The germ of the idea that became HONK! originated at rallies against the Iraq war on Boston Common, where an impromptu band of amateur musicians started playing raucous brass music. “We were feeling the power of music and social change,” said Maury Martin, a festival cofounder and family physician. This group eventually became the Somerville-based Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society, taking their name from the New Orleans parading tradition of following behind a street band and dancing.

“We had had Second Line going for a few years,” said Martin. “Then I went to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, and here came the Hungry March Band, a street band from Brooklyn. So we thought, I wonder if there are other bands like that?”

Read the rest over at the Globe!