It’s not clear when or where distinct folk music began in history, but there is evidence that various forms of storytelling and singing predates the written word by centuries. The evolution of music and its genres continues on an undetermined path with melting-pot bands, like the classical-folk trio Harpeth Rising. The all-female group combine classically trained talents who deliver their music via folk storytelling and mountain-grass harmonies. Lead singer and violinist Jordana Greenberg often equates their blended genre as a “chicken and egg situation.”
“These two ideas have definitely existed alongside each other for centuries,” she says. “In every sort of capacity music is presented, composed music has included melodies and motifs from folk music—both contemporary to the composers and far before their time as well. . . . You could say folk music came first; on the other hand, classical music dates back to the first written melody.”
Harpeth Rising—named for the Harpeth River outside of Nashville, TN—marries folk and classical with ease. Comprising Greenberg (violin, vocals), Michelle Younger (banjo, vocals) and Maria Di Meglio (cello, vocals), the three musicians have been building upon “chamberfolk” fusion for more than six years. Their current tour will bring them to Brunswick Community College’s Odell Williamson Auditorium this week.
They’re touring in support of their album, “Against All Tides,” which will be released on May 5. Though they’re still in the process of finishing everything—album artwork, track organization, naming songs—Greenberg describes the record in some ways as being an expansion of prior work and established sound. However, they’re infusing a brand new perspective and creative exploration.
“We’re not going electric or anything,” she clarifies, “but we are adding Michelle on guitar and we’ve added a few new concepts in our harmony singing. We have one song that is very sparse in its instrumentation, which is kind of unusual for us. . . . There’s a lot of different textures, sounds and colors on this album.”
One of their new songs will feature all three vocals in harmony throughout the track. A variety of percussion will pulsate underneath but added instrumentals will break in the middle.
“Usually, we layer things on top of each other,” Greenberg explains. “But we’ve made different decisions on when to bring some things in and when to leave them out . . . Every time we start writing a song I’d say we start from scratch of how we’re going to write, build and sing those harmonies.”
As the trio continues to develop their sound onstage, they tend to be inspired by delving deep into their respective musical interests. They try and see local performers wherever their tour takes them, as well as catch artists they’re currently listening to or even comedians. Leonard Cohen’s final album has been in rotation the most as of late, as well as prolific singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier.
“We’re all pretty voracious music consumers on our days off,” she tells. “Hearing other musicians perform keeps the constant stream of new ideas and sounds coming out of us.”
Eventually Harpeth Rising may find a linear place in the history of folk/classical music, but Greenberg says they’re not trying to change anyone’s perspective on these two genres. They merely want to strengthen the bridge between, which could be a part of their lasting impact.
“We’re making music based on our knowledge and our experience and our desires,” Greenberg says, “and it just happens to come out in this particular way for us. . . . We don’t have any kind of formula we use, so the learning process is definitely constant. We’re also always trying to refer to others’ materials.”
Their newly recorded songs have been (and remain) in development at live shows. Actually, work from their past five studio albums since their self-titled debut in 2010 evolves this way. Folks at the Listen Up Brunswick County performance, on Sunday, Feb. 19, can expect some of these yet-to-be-released and previous works in the set list.
Beer and wine will be available for purchase at the show. Tickets may be ordered online at listenupbrunswickcounty.com.