Rogue Valley vocal group Samovila will share the stage with Northern Harmony at the Ashland Community Center. - Photo by Gaelwyn Larrick

Northern Harmony Quartet and Samovila

Traditional harmony singing from around the world will be celebrated in a concert featuring the vocal quartet Northern Harmony and the Eastern European women's ensemble Samovila at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26, at Ashland Community Center, 73 Winburn Way, Ashland.

Northern Harmony Quartet will also present a workshop in world harmony styles for interested singers from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday, March 27, at the center.

This concert program will feature a wide range of singing styles: ancient sacred and secular songs from Caucasus Georgia, featuring a dark, sonorous sound and startling, dissonant harmonies; oral tradition songs from Corsica, with two highly ornamented upper voices over a harmonic bass; village and arranged songs from Bulgaria and Macedonia, using the arresting Balkan "hard voice"; lively and contrapuntal traditional and contemporary American shape-note songs; 1930s tight harmony quartet gospel; ornamented Appalachian harmonies; hearty and rhythmic South African songs and dances; and delicate medieval motets.

Performing primarily a cappella, the quartet accompanies some numbers with accordion, banjo, guitar and keyboard.

Larry Gordon and Patty Cuyler are the founders and co-directors of Vermont-based Village Harmony singing camps and the touring choir Northern Harmony. For 20 years their inspirational teaching has introduced thousands of singers to these vocal traditions.

Suzannah Park and Nathan Morrison are among the younger generation of Village Harmony leaders, having toured and performed with Village Harmony and Northern Harmony since their early teens.

Cuyler is a powerful and passionate singer with a wide range. She plays accordion and has particular expertise in Georgian, Corsican and South African music.

A longtime leader of shape-note singing, Gordon also has expertise in medieval, Renaissance and early baroque music. His strong bass voice anchors the quartet.

Coming from a family of three generations of traditional musicians, Park is particularly at home in the ornamented singing styles of Appalachian music. Morrison sings tenor and also plays banjo and keyboard.

The Friday workshop will feature South African folk and struggle songs and dances, Appalachian harmonies and possibly a Georgian or Corsican song or two.

The teaching is particularly efficient with the four Northern Harmony singers there to lead each vocal part. Close attention will be paid to the distinctive vocal style of each singing tradition. Samovila, under the direction of Janice O'Connor, comprises 13 vocalists from the Rogue Valley.

The ensemble presents a wide variety of folk songs from the Balkan countries, Russia and Georgia. Samovila's diverse repertory includes soothing lullabies, lively dances, songs of love, vocal expressions of everyday family life, celebrations of spirituality and veneration of nature.

"The experience of singing the harmonies happens through your body," said Samovila member Megan Danforth. "It's haunting."

Danforth describes the music of the Balkans and Eastern Europe as being rooted in a community singing style.

"It isn't referenced to a piano," she said. "The music is tuned to instruments particular to the regions. A lot of Eastern European music is polyphonic. Most of the music we hear in the states is monophonic music. In polyphonic music the parts are independent of each other. There's a lot of dissonance, then it kind of resolves. It's so beautiful. You're singing notes right next to each other."

Admission to either the concert or the workshop is $15 at the door and $12 in advance. Call 482-1429.

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