Annie Moses Band
The Annie Moses Band is unlike any ensemble in America today.
This seems like a rather bold assertion. But the more you break it down, the truer it rings.
First, this is a family outfit, whose members include parents Bill (composer/arranger/pianist) and Robin (lyricist/vocalist) Wolaver and their children: Annie, Alex, Benjamin, Gretchen, Camille, and Jeremiah, in ages ranging from twenty-four down to ten.
Second, their background is in classical music. The older siblings trained in the Pre-College Program at the renowned Juilliard School of Music; the youngest are well on their way to similar distinction. All have studied with renowned instructors; most have earned performance awards that testify to the depth of their artistry.
Together, as the Annie Moses Band, they combine all their attributes: love for one another, prodigious talent, as well as a creative curiosity that goes beyond the classics, beyond even music, and into the great questions of life.
Plus ,“ not coincidentally ,“ because each specializes in specific instruments, they fit together neatly as a unit. Just listen to their CD, Eden, whose blend of chamber strings, buoyant vocals, and infectious rhythms moved The Dallas Morning News to laud its “restless eclecticism and stunning virtuosity” and, more
succinctly, The Tennessean to find it “mighty impressive.”
Named for the kids’ great-grandmother, the band is poised to broaden its impact with Christmas with the Annie Moses Band. Scheduled to release for the Christmas season, this collection of holiday favorites offers the Annie Moses mix of traditional, contemporary, and adventurous aesthetics, down to an arrangement of “Sussex Carol” that swirls with an eclectic celtic, campfire fun.
The story behind this music inspires as much as the music itself. Bill and Robin met as music students at Oklahoma City University. He was a classical pianist and jazz lover, she was a voice major raised on traditional music played back home in the Kiamichi Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma. Their tastes joined in popular song, and after their marriage they moved to Waco, Texas where they began their journey in the music industry.
After a few years, the Wolavers moved up to Word’s national office in Nashville, where they began to raise their family. Robin, especially, was convinced that learning to play music was fundamental to the learning experience. “If I ruled the world,” she insists, “all children would start their education with music. If you study it from ages three to twelve, your IQ is higher, you do better at math and science, and you go further. So we didn’t ask their opinion; when each child was three or four years old, the lessons began.”
And that was fine with the kids, each of whom showed a proclivity for a different instrument. Annie took to the violin because, her mother laughs, “it’s high-strung.” Alex, next in line, studied viola to avoid repeating his sister’s footsteps. Benjamin followed on cello, being, as Robin observes, “a laid-back fellow.”
But music proved to be more than an educational jump-start for the three eldest siblings. Each showed exceptional ability and dedication, beginning each morning with two hours of practice in their pajamas and following with lessons that rushed them into advance instruction at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music and, for Annie and Alex, at Cincinnati College’s Conservatory of Music. They progressed quickly, and by 2000, Bill was writing arrangements for the earliest incarnation of the group, featuring the three eldest kids.
“It felt natural to us,” Annie says, “even though at first we were doubtful about even telling people we were a family, because we wanted to be heard as musicians, not as a novelty.”
The Wolavers moved from Nashville to the New York area after Annie, Alex, and Benjamin were admitted simultaneously to the Juilliard School of Music’s Pre-College Program. They played in quartets, with Alex coached directly for a while by Itzhak Perlman. They also performed together at settings that ranged from dinner theaters to churches. Even at that stage they felt challenged to push beyond classical conventions.
“It was great to play for audiences that were filled with young people, middle-aged people, babies, grandmas, and grandpas who might listen to Martina McBride on the radio as they drove home,” Annie explains. “It was about combining our study, the technique and ear training, with people’s daily experiences.”
As Gretchen, Camille, and Jeremiah began their journeys down similar musical paths, a union with their older brother and sisters seemed inevitable. As Gretchen puts it, “Growing up and seeing them play put it in our minds: ,˜When are we going to start?’” Their emergence broadened the already eclectic range established that Annie, Alex, and Benjamin had established, down to Camille’s interest in electronic instruments and Jeremiah’s love for Bach and bluegrass ,” on the banjo. Guided by Bill’s ambitious arrangements, all the parts fit together, improbably but harmoniously and, often, gloriously.
“Our goal is to span not only generations but also genres,” Robin explains. “If you love heavy metal, that doesn’t mean you can’t love Bach or Mozart. The common denominator is, simply, good music.”
They documented this belief on the road, with their first concert tour in the summer of 2002, bolstered by a rhythm section of bass and drums. They issued several recordings, the most recent, Christmas With The Annie Moses Band, a live CD/DVD PBS special. Thus far, this is the definitive Annie Moses Band disc, in its jazz fusion (O Come O Come Emmanuel), impressionistic soundscapes (”What Child Is This”), Appalachian echoes (”Go Tell It On The Mountain”), to avant-garde re-imaginings (”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”).
It is, admittedly, a long journey, with another step soon to come on Pilgrims and Prodigals. But from these albums, as from concert tours that have taken them from the Alice Tully Hall and onto stages before upwards of 100,000 fans each year, one develops different views of what binds the world we inhabit to the one that inhabits us from within.
This family, then, is a metaphor for what matters in art and life. They are worth hearing. And once heard, they will not be forgotten.