Northern Harmony Quartet performs

The Northern Harmony Quartet will present the sacred and secular singing traditions of Russia, Africa, Caucasus Georgia and various regions of the United States in its performance this week in Ashland.

"It's being a part of a living oral tradition," said Suzannah Park, one of the four vocalists in the group.

The quartet, an extension of the Northern Harmony ensemble, operates under the umbrella organization, Village Harmony, which sponsors a diverse range of choral, world music and harmony singing programs.

Northern Harmony Quartet will perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way. The group also will present a workshop in world harmony styles for interested singers from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, March 15, at Pioneer Hall, 73 Winburn Way, Ashland.

Performing primarily a cappella, the group does incorporate banjo, mandolin and piano into numbers when it sees fit.

This year's lineup features the musical stylings of alto vocalist Park, tenor vocalist Nathan Morrison, alto vocalist Zara Bode and bass vocalist Stefan Amidon.

"We have the ability to manipulate our voices to either really stand out or to really pull together into one unified voice, and I think that speaks to all of us," Park said.

The group will perform a wide range of ethnic singing traditions, including ancient songs from Caucasus Georgia that features a dark, sonorous vocal quality, startling three-part harmonies, a dark timbre and a tempered scale. There also will be Bulgarian harmonies that Park describes as a "very bright sound mixed in with all these delicious crunchy chords."

The African pieces and dances were learned from Matlakala Bopape, director of the Polokwane Choral Society out of Limpopo, South Africa, and the American songs will feature shape-note singing, Appalachian ballads and gospel arrangements.

"It takes out all the walls that say, 'We're really different,' " Park said. "We can be singing about the same thing in three, four or five different languages — heartache, work like herding your sheep or making your living and civil rights. There's so many different harmonies and ways to construct the song, but we're still, in essence, talking about the exact same thing."

Growing up in the Chicago area, Park counts three generations of traditional musicians in her family. She attended a Village Harmony camp when she was 12 years old, and started touring with the semi-professional Northern Harmony ensemble when she was 14. She began teaching vocals at camp sessions when she was 18 and was inducted into the Northern Harmony Quartet last year for its opening tour. She said she specializes in the feisty early-American songs.

Park's husband, Morrison, grew up next door to Village Harmony founder Larry Gordon, and was introduced to the organization at an early age. Morrison also has been part of the quartet since its 2009 season.

"He's got a very very bright voice as well as being textured," Park said.

Besides performing with the quartet, Bode tours extensively with the band, "The Sweetback Sisters," playing honky-tonk for the modern-day cowboy and cowgirl, Park said.

Like Park, Amidon also grew up in a musical family. A drummer, Amidon plays for "The Sweetback Sisters," several contra dance bands as well as jazz bands.

During the concert, Bode and Amidon and Morrison and Park will pair off as duos.

"Not only are you getting a wide range of musical styles, but you also get to hear a couple of different voicings within the four of us," she said.

The local female vocal ensemble, Rusalka, will open for the quartet at the show. The group celebrates the musical traditions of Eastern Europe, Israel and Russia. Rusalka is Laura Rich, Gaelyn Larrick, Megan Danforth and Cyrise Beatty.

Tickets to the Ashland concert are $14, $12 in advance and $8 for students and seniors. Tickets to the workshop offered by Northern Harmony Quartet are $25, $20 in advance and $10 for students. Call 541-482-1429.

Share This Story