News / Arts & Entertainment

For Moira Smiley, Global Music Journey Transcends Time

VOCO live at the Polish Plantation, Los Angeles, CA (Photo: Simone McSparran)
VOCO live at the Polish Plantation, Los Angeles, CA (Photo: Simone McSparran)
LOS ANGELES – Moira Smiley and the vocal group VOCO have performed all over the world. The women sing folk music that celebrates everyday life, steeped in generations of tradition, from far-off, tucked-away corners of the globe. Places where songs are passed down, learned by heart, rather than written down.


To hear VOCO is to be transported across waters, across worlds, across time.

“What I love about old music, is that there is a sense of your smallness in the big story," Smiley explains, "and that your song is about reaching out into the unknown with your voice as a searchlight.

April Guthrie, Moira Smiley, Sally Dworsky (Photo courtesy Moira Smiley)April Guthrie, Moira Smiley, Sally Dworsky (Photo courtesy Moira Smiley)
x
April Guthrie, Moira Smiley, Sally Dworsky (Photo courtesy Moira Smiley)
April Guthrie, Moira Smiley, Sally Dworsky (Photo courtesy Moira Smiley)
Smiley, VOCO’s main composer, arranger and musicologist, started exploring the world’s music as a little girl. She grew up in a farmhouse in Vermont where her parents had a big wooden chest, filled with records.

“From an early age, I wanted to organize them, and sort of understand the differences between these different styles that my parents liked," she recalls. "They were interested in classical music and art music and folk music. Basically, they were wanting to understand the world through music.”

Understanding the world through music became Smiley’s lifelong passion as well. When she was 12, she toured Europe with a folk music group, and was captivated by the music she heard there. After college, she continued her travels - to Russian villages, Irish pubs, Appalachian hollows, all to listen, learn and absorb songs that have been sung for generations, in places where music is woven into everyday life.

“It tends to have been the places that are not cities, they’re rural and people don’t think of themselves as musicians," Smiley explains, "and they would laugh if you said they were, but then they come up with 50 songs that they know by heart.”

In Ireland, she studied traditional Sean Nós (unaccompanied singing) mastering the vocal subtleties she calls the ‘ornaments.’ She compares it to learning the accents of a language.

Early on, Smiley was drawn to the folk music and harmonies of Eastern Europe - Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria.

“Mostly the songs that the women would sing and songs to accompany dance," she elaborates. "And they were full of harmony, at least two-, often three- and four-part vocal harmony.”

Smiley brought home the music she learned, taught it to her friends, and VOCO was born.

Listeners enjoying a backyard house concert at the Polish Plantation (Photo: Simone McSparran)Listeners enjoying a backyard house concert at the Polish Plantation (Photo: Simone McSparran)
x
Listeners enjoying a backyard house concert at the Polish Plantation (Photo: Simone McSparran)
Listeners enjoying a backyard house concert at the Polish Plantation (Photo: Simone McSparran)
Since then, the group - with a revolving cast of singers - has performed on international stages, at folk festivals, and under moonlit skies like this one, at a backyard house concert in Los Angeles. The voices may vary, but the experience is always magical.

Although at times, the voices of VOCO blend with the usual urban soundscape: barking dogs, distant freeways, even a little Ranchera radio bleeding through the speakers - they can still take us to a place where songs like these have been sung for centuries. And where the things that are sung about never change.

"Love, love, wretched love, why do you not blossom on every tree, and why do you not come for every boy, every lonely girl and every orphan boy," Smiley declares during a performance. "This is from Hungary," she adds, explaining the origin of the song they are about to hear.

Moira Smiley continues to search for the musical bridges that cross oceans - and generations. And to build them.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Video Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."