Festival Fringe Focus: moira smiley & VOCO

I’ve just heard something…amazing: a quartet of young women known as moira smiley & VOCO. This is compelling and totally unique music…I’m increasingly blown away by it each time I put a disc in the player. [They] push the envelope of vocal music every which way – go there and be amazed.

– Kennebec Journal

Inga Swearingen, Moira Smiley, and April Guthrie of VOCO

We at Festival Mozaic talk a lot about programming performances that reflect the genius and spirit of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  None will do so as clearly as that given by moira smiley & VOCO with guest artist Inga Swearingen on July 21 as part of our Fringe Series.  Using various instruments like banjo, cello, accordion and body percussion along with tight vocal harmonies, Moira and VOCO bring a rascally exuberance to the Festival’s lineup.  Here, we chatted with Moira about her influences and what it’s like to perform such personal music for a crowd.

Festival Mozaic: When did your musical interest begin?

Moira Smiley: I started playing my older sister’s piano pieces by ear when I was four, and was dubbed ‘the little belter’ by my parents for singing folksongs that I learned from them at the top of my lungs around the house and farm where I grew up.

FM: Who are your musical role models? Heros? Inspirations?

MS: Musicians who travel and play with virtuosic humility and open-ness. Béla Bartók (Hungarian composer / pianist), Bobby McFerrin (American vocalist/conductor), Lena Willemark (Swedish vocalist/fiddler), Meredith Monk (composer / dancer / singer)…

FM: Do you approach different musical styles differently? How?

MS: Each musical style allows you to inhabit a culture of gesture, color and values. There are certainly common approaches in all the ones I’ve studied and practiced, but it is the differences that are thrilling.

Moira Smiley

FM: What differences do you notice between different listeners? E.g. A classical audience vs. a folk audience?

MS: People come to live music shows to be moved – whether moved to dance, to cry, to recognize themselves, to tickle their intellect. Having traveled between several networks of live venues throughout my career, I love to feel the spark of energy in any of those directions. Sometimes an audience wants more stories to tie everything together, and sometimes the fewer words the better.

FM: What is your all time desert-island favorite piece of music to play?

MS: Hmmmm…. improvisation, preferably with another human!

Moira Smiley, singer-composer, leads moira smiley & VOCO, travels the world (from los angeles) as a vocalist and creates music for dance, theatre and film.  Her voice, improvisations and compositions can be heard on feature films, documentaries, BBC, PBS, and on over 40 recordings including her recent albums “blink” (with VOCO) and “rua” (solo): fiercely spare and elegantly lush collections of warped traditionals and new songcraft.  She has sung with leading ensembles and artists around the world including Paul Hillier’s Theater of Voices, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, KITKA Vocal Ensemble, New World Symphony, Shakespeare Santa Cruz.  Featured in Lincoln Center, UCLALive, Royal Festival Hall, folk and classical music festivals across the U.S. and Canada, Moira’s work has received praise from Billboard to Gramaphone. www.moirasmiley.com and www.myspace.com/vocoinfo.

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