April 15, 2013

Windborne Goes Abroad!

In December of last year, my wonderful friends Lauren Breunig, Lynn Mahoney Rowan and Will Thomas Rowan invited me to join their trio Windborne, for a short quartet tour of New England. They are all wonderful singers who recently had put out a new album, which I loved. I had also sung with them in Renewal, but as Renewal couldn’t get enough folks together for a tour, we got to take its place. We gathered at Lauren’s father’s house a few day after Christmas and talked, drank, played games, went dancing, and generally had a great time! We also did some pretty serious rehearsing  putting together a concert with songs from the US, Bulgaria, Georgia, Corsica, and particularly exciting to me, Basque. I had traveled to Basque country last year to study sword dance traditions during my Watson fellowship, and in the course of my stay ended up learning lots of songs! I got the chance to teach Windborne two of them. Here is a video of us rehearsing a Basque song about a man sending a bird to his lover with a message of love!

Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 7.11.03 PMThe tour was a great success, both musically and in terms of the group dynamic. What a wonderful bunch of people to sing with. We recorded a new album on tour that should be out soon and started thinking about what might be next. Lauren moved out to AZ last year and is teaching circus professionally out there, so there wasn’t really an easy answer, but we knew we wanted to keep working, singing, and hanging out together. Later that month I was tagged by a friend in a facebook comment about this program called American Music Abroad. Basically, the state department picks 10 groups to represent the US by performing on short tours of countries around the world! The deadline was that day, but at the urging of my mother we decided to apply anyway and hope for the best. We were all blown away a month or so later when we found out that we had been one of 40 bands selected from 350 groups to perform in live auditions in NYC! The State Department flew Lauren out to rehearse with us in March. We sang a few of our songs, did a kick*** lesson plan about shapenote music that involved holding up shapes and getting the panelists to sing, and presented our version of the “international folk song” they had assigned us. Yep, one of the assignments was to do a version of one of the four songs they sent us “in our style.” This was a dilema for us, as usually our style is to learn as much as we can about the singing tradition it comes from and present it as close as we can to the original sound. However, one night we were hanging out late after dinner at Lynn and Will’s house. We were listening to the different songs, harmonizing them and trying to decide what we should do. We listened to the Chinese song “Jasmine Flower” and Lynn, hearing our harmonies, said “that sounds like a shape note tune.” Problem solved. We ended up merging from a more traditional sound into old-timey into fulla on shapenote tune! We hope you enjoy!

We then all piled into my car, headed down to NYC and found our hotel. Lauren instagramed our progress (thanks to everyone who wrote to support us!) and we had  a night on the town (asian food, cannolis, and tea). We got up early the next morning arriving an hour early as instructed for the 9am audition. We got to meet a few of the other groups while getting warmed up, which was great! Our audition came and we went into the church sanctuary where it was being held. I told the judges that we would just take a minute to set up and then we would start. A minute later we were standing ready to sing. “Oh you actually meant a minute!” said one judge in suprise. We smiled, “Yep, we are pretty low maintenance! We did our pieces and our lesson plan and it all went quite well. They asked us a few questions; “Say the King of Thailand has written a jazz piece he wants you to sing in shape note and teach to the University chorus…” and we even got them up to dance Selingers Round! We felt pretty good about it, but it still seemed like a long shot! We hung out in New York for a bit before heading on home, fingers crossed.

WindborneA few days ago, I was driving back from NYC (again) after dropping off my Chinese visa application when I got a call from an unfamiliar number. I pick it up, “Hello, this is Jeremy.” It was the director of the program and the main State Department contact. “We’ll be sending you an email later today, but we wanted to congratulate you in person; Windborne has been selected for the American Music Abroad Program 2013!!”

I of course thanked them profusely and went and called the rest of the gang! No one could quite believe it, but it looks like this is actually happening. Check out the AMA program and the announcement of our selection!!

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