From California to Tiny Desk Entry with Folk Musician, Moira Smiley

Strawberry blond woman in a yellow shirt facing the camera

Moira Smiley’s mystical, soulful music will tug at your heartstrings. Her roots as a folk musician with training in classical music (her first instrument was the piano) have been broadened by her world travels and she is as much a composer and an arranger as she is a performer. Her work transcends the definition of folk musician by also incorporating her original and arranged choral and instrumental works, Americana, and Eastern European sounds.

She continually innovates the ways music creates connection with audiences–most notably in how she includes body percussion to accompany some of her songs. She is frequently involved in musical collaborations with other singers and instrumentalists, and lends her presence and technical talents to leading lights in several musical genres, including avant-garde indie bands such as Tune-Yards.

With her move from California back to Vermont, where she was raised, Moira may appear to be in pursuit of the stereotypical “life of a folk musician,” but she continues to break boundaries with her work. Her works of sound and collaboration bring people together in community.

Picture of woman holding a banjo with musical notes in the background around her head and the agile vocalist logo in white.

To listen to this episode as a podcast, search for Agile Vocalist anywhere you get your podcasts.

Strawberry blond woman facing camera holding a banjo in front of trees.

Moira’s Bio:

Singer and composer Moira Smiley has toured and made records with a renowned variety of artists, including indie-pop stars Tune-Yards; Irish-American legends, Solas; early music pioneers, Theater Of Voices; choral composer, Eric Whitacre; Americana archivists, Jayme Stone’s Lomax + Folklife Projects; multi-Grammy winning pianist Billy Childs, Rising Appalachia, and more–in addition to her own ensembles VOCO and VIDA.

Moira is regularly commissioned to write large-scale choral & chamber music works, with millions singing her choral music around the world. Moira has been featured in TED conferences, on BBC Radio and TV, NPR, and live at countless venues from Lincoln Center and to Royal Festival Hall. Smiley is known for enchanting audiences whether on stage, atop glaciers, inside ships or in cozy kitchens from Norway to Tasmania.

Her 2018 solo album ‘Unzip The Horizon’ premiered at the Savannah Music Festival in 2018, and she published its companion choral Songbook in 2019. Moira recently appeared with Tune-Yards on  Jimmy Kimmel Live, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

orange graphic that reads Liner Notes

Tune-Yards and Merrill Garbus
Traditional folk polyphony
Moira’s albums, Blink and Laughter Out of Tears
Kate Wolf Festival
Moira submitted her song Bellow to NPR’s Tiny Desk concert
Harmony Sweepstakes and Moira’s win with Voco in 2007 as the national a cappella champions
Body percussion
Evie Ladin and Keith Terry
Lead Belly
Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Bring Me Little Water, Silvie
Malcolm Dalglish
Moira’s arrangement of the song, Bring Me Little Water, Silvy is also mentioned in the Betsy Blakeslee episode.

In this episode, you’ll hear Moira sing:

  • I Live in California
  • Bellow
  • Wiseman, with the Dallas Women’s Chorus
  • How Can I Cry
  • Sing About It, remixed by Naytronix
  • Our Time

Did you enjoy this? Please share it with your arts and sound-loving friends. Don’t forget to subscribe to Sound Cocktails, the Agile Vocalist newsletter.


[Intro music: Moira Smily singing part of her song, I Live in California.]

Moira: As what I call an orthodox musician, I mean I’m a very overly serious musician so I feel like my travels in it contain the spiritual. They have to, because I spend so much time inside the practice of being musical so to me it has to express the spirit.


Narrator: Welcome! Listen to this next Agile Vocalist podcast.

Rachel’s introduction: Singer and composer Moira Smiley has toured and made records with a renowned variety of artists including indie pop stars, tune yards, Irish-American legends Solas, early music pioneers Theater of Voices, choral composer Eric Whitaker, Americana archivist Jamie Stone’s Lomax and Folklife projects, multi-Grammy winning pianist Billy Childs, Rising Appalachia and more in addition to her own ensembles VOCO and VIDA. Moira is regularly commissioned to write large-scale choral and chamber music works with millions singing her music around the world. She’s been featured in TED conferences on BBC Radio and TV, NPR and live at countless venues from Lincoln Center to Royal Festival Hall. She’s known for enchanting audiences whether on stage atop glaciers inside ships or in cozy kitchens from Norway to Tasmania. In 2018 her solo album Unzip the Horizon premiered at that year’s Savannah Music Festival and she published a companion choral songbook for it in 2019. Moira appeared recently with tune yards on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We are in what I call the bellow shed and the bellow shed is in Vermont, in Bristol, Vermont at my house and I’m Moira Smiley and it’s so wonderful to have you Rachel here and to be doing this episode. Thank you.


Rachel: Thank you for having me into the Bellow. Yeah, this is the place where hopefully a lot of bellowing will happen. Lots of different types of singing. Great. So I guess I’ll start with there’s a song of yours, “Bellow” that you did as your NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert and they take submissions. And many artists I know have done a submission and your song was submitted for that. When was it?

Moira: I think that was actually 2020. 2020, okay. Interesting year.

Moira: Yeah, interesting year. There’s a line in that where you talk about sitting at your grandmother’s knee and how singing she taught, I guess it was you but you can, she taught that singing was a way to connect to the other world in this lyric and I wanted to kind of hear your background. How did you get to that? Because I think it’s autobiographical. Maybe I’m wrong.

Moira: I think you’re right. So the lyric in “Bellow” that you’re talking about is that the babas in Ukraine where I had the great honor of going and studying song with Kitka, Oakland superstars, those grandmothers thought of certain songs that we were learning that they were teaching us as powerful enough when sung at a certain time of year, in this case, midsummer, to yeah, speak to the ancestors that they had that ability to cut through, to lift the veil, is how we would say it. And there was a matter-of-factness about that, about well, A, the presence of ancestors in the lives of the living and the power of song to be one of the connecting languages.


The song “Bellow” brought together that learning, which was in 2005 and 2006 with the touring that I did 10 years later with Toon Yards, another Oakland artist. And the way that it felt to sing with Merrill Garbus connected me back to that moment with the grandmothers. Because Merrill sings with this sense of the possibility of the voice, this huge, deep well of power in a singing voice and it’s used to protest, to snarl, to coo, to soothe. To sing with her is really a wonderful gift because you get to kind of feel how the voice has all these different places that it belongs.

So, yeah, so singing with 10 years later when I was touring with Toon Yards, yeah, those 10 years after being in Ukraine and learning that from the grandmothers, I was singing with a singer who was so powerful and using her voice so wildly and so widely. Using the voice to protest, to seduce, to soften, to soothe, to snarl, to express anger, to be confronting. So all these things that actually make the voice feel like a tool, like a ritual tool. The way that Merrill was doing that with Toon Yards was such a pleasure to be around and to me connected back to the power of traditional singing, to traditional folk polyphony, even though she was doing it all with her own music.

And that really inspired me and brought out a voice in me, a composing voice in me that I always felt was there. “Bellow” is one of the, I think, the successful songs that came out of trying to use the voice in that way to lift the veil and to talk about how the voice can exist in all these different contexts in our lives, not just in a concert, on a mic, et cetera. Right, right.

Rachel: Beautiful. Do you want to talk a little bit about spirit and song? Just because it’s a connective tissue of what you’re saying. Yeah, the process of accepting the bigger role for a voice has been a coming home for me. And I think of my voice as almost a protective skin for me, for my spirit. The voice has been a very constant companion and a way for me to connect into a world that I don’t always feel I understand or is welcoming. And so, I think this cosmology that the Ukrainian babas were talking about, that song is important in giving you a sense of your place in the world and place in the cycles of time, that really made sense to me.

And I grew up not in any religious tradition at all. I sang a lot of sacred music. So that was part of my language very early on, but never at home was there a practice of religion or spiritual belief. And so as what I call an orthodox musician, I mean, I’m a very overly serious musician, so I feel like my travels in it contain the spiritual. They have to because I spend so much time inside the practice of being musical. So to me, it has to express the spirit. And I do want to say also that I think singing is unique in that we all have, we walk around with this instrument in our bodies. And so it’s very connecting. It’s very real that we have this ability to connect with other people through this instrument that we have that we carry. That in itself feels spiritual because it gives me and the people I sing with a kind of sense of belonging with one another.

[Moira singing with choir accompanying] [VOCALIZING] [MUSIC PLAYING] [MUSIC ENDS]


Rachel: In a lot of stories I’ve heard, personal stories of how did you get into music, it’s either the family that nurtures that or it’s the community. It’s rarely, I just started doing this on my own. Yeah. It’s rarely. Because it’s a group upbringing in sound that makes the singer.

Moira: Yeah, it’s so true. And if you don’t have that, it doesn’t mean you can’t sing, for one.

Rachel: Right.

Moira: It just means you didn’t have that aspect of community connected to sound. Yeah, that’s so beautifully put. Yeah. And I think when I am out there in the world and teaching, I really want to bring this idea to less confident singers or maybe singers that are coming to it later in their lives to remind us all of the many, many contexts where singing belongs and where it has belonged in the past. Singing has imitated non-human things.

Singing has been part of meditation and trance. Singing is a way of expressing mystery, a way of learning language and even the norms in our culture, a way of grieving and to express melancholy, but also to praise and pay homage and to pray. It’s used to accompany dance. It’s used in the outdoors. The voice is used in the outdoors differently than when indoors. Often bonds people together or literally calls someone from a far distance. Telling stories, of course. Healing and rituals. Character, embodying characters. Expressing the monstrous parts of being human. Confrontation, protest, anger. Also, of course, conversation.


Singing has historically been a huge part of conversations between parties that don’t agree. Of course, it’s a seduction too or talking about love. I just love to remind myself and others about all these places where singing belongs.

Rachel: Yeah. That’s quite a list. It brings up a lot.

Moira: Also, that you don’t just sing in those contexts that each one of them will make you sing a different way. That’s when we talk about the timbres of voice and how you’re going to sing when you’re singing in protest. It’s going to be completely, of course, completely different than when you’re singing a love song or seduction song.

Rachel: That’s a pretty obvious example, but would you give us a demo? Give us a little. What’s timbre? Give us a timbre demo.

Moira: We could sing something like, “Down in the valley.” We can make it soft and inviting like that. “Down in the valley.” Or if we had this sense of being out on a mountain and singing out into the open, we might be more like, “Down in the valley.” Something big. We would use a different aspect. There’d be more high partials in that sound. If you’re expressing anger, “Down in the valley.” You would pull, maybe do different things if you’re expressing anger. This becomes, I guess, in some ways you can think of this as theatrical. But think about if you are at the bedside of somebody who is dying, you’re going to sing really differently than if you’re out on a mountain or if you’re on the street protesting something.

If you’re saying, “We’re not going to die on this hill, we’re not going to die on right here.” Or something like that, we could sing in defiance, but at the bedside of a small child, we would, “Not going to die right here.” These contexts call upon us to use our voices in all different ways. I think it’s so good to remember that.

Rachel: I have been a little bit of a Moira Smiley junkie since the mid-2000s. I think there are certain albums that I’ve listened to a lot and that I can sing. For me, the themes of traveling and home and belonging and arrival and that tied into freedom and some of the humanitarian songs and things that you did with “Refugee.” Of course, current trends are the themes that stand out the most for me. But do they stand out for you? How do you perceive that? Do you perceive those as themes that you work with a lot?

Moira: Yeah, I do. I very much do. Okay. I think the idea of the voice as the companion is a part of that too. I have a show called The Voice as a Traveler and that is really about that idea that when we are forced to travel or when we’re in exile, sometimes all we have with us is our voice. The voice can be a literal thing like this thing that we speak with or this thing that we make sound with and sing with. But it’s also that voice, your story, your set of memories, the way that you create things, I also call your voice. I think exactly those themes of longing and belonging, exile and belonging, I have a lot of this nomadic spirit in myself. And I’m aware of maybe as a touring musician, as a person who decided not to have children, as a person that is empathic, maybe to a fault, who came up in a family where I was scared a lot, I think I really relate to those that feel like they’re on the outside.

So, I think a lot of my songs try to speak to those people and create a sense of empathy and a sense of inclusion. So, that I think is in those albums like Blink, Laughter Out of Tears. And there’s also this real melancholy part of my personality that’s coupled with a real need to connect. And I found over the pandemic, for instance, that I feel I got dumber because I didn’t interact with people. And I feel like my intelligence is actually quite connected to interacting like we are right now in a room together. I lost language. I feel like I lost a lot of words. So, I think it’s good for me to stay connected with other human beings in a physical context. I think that’s just generally good for people. Yeah.

And then the other thing about Voice as a Traveler, the model of the show as I understood it, is you travel to a location and then you work with local musicians there, which to me is not a band touring kind of model. It is really, it’s almost like localizing the performance. Yeah, it’s true. Because you’re undoubtedly doing some sort of additional improv. Yes, adapting. Adapting from that musician as they join the show for that location.

Rachel: Do you want to say a little bit about that? Oh, that’s really, I’m glad you brought that up. Because that is exactly what’s happening. And I was speaking with my partner Seamus about that, loving that I do that, but also wondering, is there something that I could learn from not adapting? Because I’ve constantly been adapting. But I guess to answer your question, yes, I come in because I write music for groups of people. And I also more lately have been writing music for myself to sort of lead and sing, well, lead with my voice.

Yeah, I’m often coming in just myself and working with a group of musicians in that community, often singer musicians, but including instrumentalists. And I’m often working in an academic context. So, there’s been a day or two where we’ve been working together in that educational way. And yeah, and I’m born to collaborate. And I think, again, that idea of feeling like more myself when I do get a regular chance to interact and maybe adapt to other human beings. Yeah, that’s something that almost an unconscious goal that I set for myself and carried out through the voice as a traveler.

Here we live in a world that’s very married to the virtual, right? And inextricably tied, our physical bodies are tied now to this virtual existence as well to greater or lesser degrees. And I am fascinated by that and have written lots of stuff with phones kind of mixed into a concert experience.

But I think I’m wanting to create art that gets us thinking critically about who we are and how we relate to the virtual world, partially because I see really scary things happening in our political landscape and social landscape because of isolation. And so, I feel like music and the act of singing, going back to one of your first ways of putting this, part of the job is to bring people together and give them that sense of belonging together. And I know that sounds really kumbaya, but I don’t think it’s kumbaya. It probably includes some really uncomfortable interactions as well.

But I want my art to be there to bring groups of folks together. And that’s also stepping into a void where over time, society I think too is backing away from religious means of having us be together. Yeah, and so we haven’t necessarily replaced it. That’s so true. It’s so perfectly said. And I wrote a liturgy this last year for a group of singers. I actually spent the better part of eight months on it. And it was trying to find a new way of seeing what we can agree is sacred. What can we agree is sacred and that we can sing together. It’s a pursuit filled with pitfalls and cliches, I have to say. But I still think it’s worth doing, finding our new ways of gathering.

And humor is going to be a big part of it too, right? Humor, which is not particularly great for me. I’m pretty earnest, but I’m trying. I actually want to have the next thing that I write include that, the snarl and the giggle of humor. So, I’m singing this old original song that I wrote as a love song to California. Just for you, Rachel. And for Dave.


[Moira sings I Live in California] I live in California from the green mountains I came. I travel ‘cross this stolen land, with nothing but my name. These hills are soft and green now, dry season they will turn to gold. It’s on the shoulders of these hills, I rest my head when I am old.

Rachel: I first heard you and Voco in the 2007 Harmony Sweepstakes. You were the national champions in 2007. I found a photo of you and you had this cute short hair. Yeah, a little pixie cut. Yeah. That’s where my husband and I first met your work. I remember meeting you, I think, after the show there in Marin County. I think you came. Or maybe it was a later… It was at the Kate Wolf Festival. Oh, maybe it was at Kate Wolf. Yeah, which was maybe the next year or something like that. Yeah, it could have been that same summer.

Moira: Yeah, it could have been. Wow, yeah, 2007.

Rachel: So that’s a long time, that’s 16 years. It’s sort of where I started to get to know your work. Do you look back on those years? Are there sort of anchor points that stand out for you? Yeah. You know, when you start to follow an artist, I think it stands out for me, right? Yeah. That artist comes into your collection and maybe you don’t listen every day, but it’s on the playlists or it’s on the CD rack or however.

Moira: Yeah, that’s so fascinating to me as the artist to know that that happens and to know that there are moments where that music is meaningful to somebody in their story. Yeah. That time was a good time and there was a momentum in starting to become more physical with singing and adding in body percussion, much thanks to Evie Laden, who was in contact with her husband, Keith Terry. I think that was right around when they got married and started working together and Evie was doing these really innovative sequences of body percussion with these vocal camps that I was running and she was running as well.

And so that was getting carried into my band who was called VOCO and was based out of LA. And so, yeah, there was a feeling of getting more comfortable with my own body as a singer, which I had always wanted to have happen. But I came up through sacred music and early music and like some pretty disembodied stuff, pretty brainy. So, I think 2007 was great for that sense of a new world opening up where you could do percussive movement without being a dancer, which I’m not, and singing at the same time and getting other folks to do that. So definitely a good sort of seed planting time.

Yeah. And body percussion is, it can be so inclusive because people watch that and they either are like, wow, I could never do that or they’re turned on and they want to learn how. Exactly.

Rachel: So you’ve worked with different groups. Lots of different groups. To teach. Yeah. You want to say a little bit about that?

Moira: Yeah, absolutely. And I believe that at that time, that was one of the first, I think probably in 2005 was where I started putting together the great Lead Belly and Sweet Honey and the Rock song. Well, Sweet Honey and the Rock and Lead Belly made this song, “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvi,” famous.” It was covered by lots of different artists, but the version that I grew up with was Sweet Honey and the Rock. And I experimented with putting body percussion with that song because I was learning body percussion from Evie Laden, another Oakland, all these great Oakland people. Or Berkeley, one of the two. Yeah. She’s in Oakland. Yeah.

All these important to me people in Oakland actually. Thank you, Oakland. And so, yeah, there was, and Sylvi then became a phenomenon around the world, partially because at that time, VOCO was traveling a lot and we were just teaching it wherever we went. So, we would do a concert and we would do a workshop and it started spreading that way. And then I think my friend Malcolm Dalglish, who was a composer and sold his own music, hipped me to the idea that I could actually publish this arrangement and not have to be there to teach it so people could get it through sheet music, which really changed everything.

And that became an important part of how I survive as a musician, is selling this sheet music, both arrangements and compositions. And How Can I Cry was an early example of that too, of body percussion. And that’s a song I wrote when I was 20, I think, and found myself performing it with the groups that I had, first VIDA and then VOCO, and made a sheet music arrangement of it and found that people wanted to do it because it had a simple body percussion with it that kind of gave it a sense of groove and accessibility. So, Yeah, “How Can I Cry” was one of those first places where the idea of moving in an accessible way came together with the harmony, you know, that a capella thing.

[How Can I Cry plays: I’m walking slowly, taking on a cloudy day, a river of people who pass with me, and cause a way of feeling weary, of feeling like I’m wasting time. The troubles in my life just ain’t worth the time. Our sisters and brothers, forgive me for the things I say. I’m losing the meaning, yeah, I’m losing sense of night and day. The sun that I’m seeing, it is the same around the earth. So why is our freedom ruled by our birth? And how can I cry about freedom when I live a whole life of liberty? And how can I think about suffering and pain? I sing for all the souls who do not complain. Tomorrow and justice, they seem so high and far away. While people are hungry, mistreated each and every day. Whatever hope can I do? I’m standing here on solid ground. I sing for the silent people, Lord, hear our sound.

[End Music]

Moira: As an artist, I’m going to go down this road. As an artist, there’s a splintering of, there’s not just one newspaper anymore, there’s not five radio stations, there’s not, it’s thousands of ways to find an audience and any kind of artist. Where do you find, you know, where do you put your creative energy, expression, yeah, anything, where do you, you know, where do you connect with people where you know it will build more of reaching the right person who’s ready to be enlightened and brought into community through sound, through what, you know, it’s like that’s a tug of war. It really is. For every artist, I think now.

Well, and you’re right that the active, or I should say the marketplace of artistry, it actually encourages tribalism, you know, and that you only connect with the people that say that they like you and algorithmically connect and return to you, right? So there’s a great deal of temptation to just play it safe, to be an echo chamber, to be part of an echo chamber. Yeah, it’s a big, it was part of a reckoning that I had in 2020 about the echo chamber that I was in as a white person, as a person with my particular privileges. And it was realizing that my life and the way that I was living and having my, unfolding a career was not often reaching out of an echo chamber. So, I was flummoxed by that.

I love that word. I was flummoxed about how do you actually reach out and across to people that don’t see you, agree with you, you know, that there’s not the automatic tribal, “Uh-huh, yep, I’m with you.” So that’s been part of what I’m grappling with in the last couple of years, successfully and unsuccessfully.

So I love that you bring that up because it is the need to make a living and that wonderful feeling of belonging actually is at loggerheads with also what art should do, which is confront and make uncomfortable and connect with people that you wouldn’t normally connect with. So it needs to be uncomfortable, I guess. And that a good amount of the time for you as the artist and even for your audience. And I think that, yeah, that’s not always possible. I don’t feel like that’s always what I’m needing to do, but it needs to be part of what I do. And collaboration can really bring me to do that because if I choose to do a collaboration with Naytronix, he’s going to bring elements in that I never would have thought of. And then my audience gets confronted with his choices. And I think that’s important for me and for my audience.

So, I want to try to bring in collaboration that augments and magnifies the beautiful and accessible, but also I want to collaborate with people who confront me and my audience.

Rachel: And so in my curiosity about Naytronix, when I sent you the notes on this, I think the song “He” remixed “Sing About It” and he did it with kind of a hip hop rap kind of feel. Did you find him or he found you?

Moira: Yeah, we are.

Rachel: How did you, who made the first move?

Moira: Yeah, it’s a great question. We ended up touring together because he’s the bass player for Toon Yards and they are life partners and musical partners.

[music] [music] [music] [music] [music]

When they released a new record, they called me out to California to do some work with them. And in that time, I really got to hang with Nate a lot. His name is Nate Brenner. And yeah, we decided at that time to do that. And really the way the collaboration went was that he did something with that track. And I asked him if he would do that. And so that was less of us being in a room together, making the music. But we were in the room together just having fun with each other. And I could feel and I think he could feel like, “Yeah, whatever you do, I’m gonna dig it. And I trust you.” Which is a big part of what collaboration is.

Rachel: You refer to yourself and it’s very apparent to me that you’re very serious about your art. So, what does it look like and what does it feel like when you’re hanging around with the Toon Yards, getting to know each other, having fun? What does that look like? Are you watching movies? I mean, I always think a lot about…

Moira: It’s a great question.

Rachel: Do musicians put away the instrument or their voice or their body and go tune out on them? What do they do to recreate? Because we come to them to recreate. And where do you go when you think to recreate?

Moira: Such a great question. What do you do? It’s really a great question because having traveled in a few different genres of music, you realize that different musicians who are called to certain types of music often are also called to certain types of fun. Right. And for some musicians, it’s like going out for a drink. Right. Yeah, there’s some obvious things that come up in them. Right. Or taking drugs or partying or cooking together. That’s a big one. Definitely taking… Being outdoors and taking walks together, that’s a big part of being a traveler and discovering your world around you that you’re arriving into every day. A new city.

In that very interesting time of hanging with Merrill and Nate in their house, we were in that strange time of trying to be very careful and masked around each other. And so, there was a certain sort of funniness about it and a real care and a tenderness. Like I’m looking at each other through masks and saying, “I’m really here. I am. I promise.” Right. But yeah, it’s just sitting on the couch and talking and Nate has a really funny sense of humor and talking about astrology or the things that surprise you and just being, “Oh, you’re into that? I would never have thought.” Right. Or going and getting your haircut outside. We got our hair cut in somebody’s lawn because it was that time of COVID. Right. So yeah, it was just sort of funny things that you bond about.

I would say a lot of musicians spend a lot of time just sitting places and talking and it’s not necessarily that deep either. Unfortunately. Yeah.

Rachel: What is the life of the arranger? You just imagine this incredibly busy mind and this very physically lonely existence. And I don’t know that that’s correct, but I… It is correct. Yeah. Unfortunately. It’s so tragic. No, but… And folded on that is commissioned works. Yeah. If you’re being commissioned to do an arranged work. Yeah. What is that life like? I found it much easier to do arranging when I was in the act of also performing and being around other people because I’m fine to arrange in a room by myself. I can make decent music that way, but soon after I need to have more contact with people.

So, this is funny for me too. I would not have said this before the pandemic, but I would say that my best arrangements come from me being with other people and sort of hearing them and seeing how they move and then maybe taking it away because I’m in groups. I tend to be sort of quite affected by other people. So, it’s nice for me to come to a place like the bellow shed and then process the information from other bodies and voices. Process little things you heard or remember or things you… Yeah. Things that I might in the moment when trying to be communicative and accessible to another human being. I might make something a certain way, but if I’m by myself and I get to stew, then I might make something a little more interesting or a little bit more challenging.

So, I think those moments of aloneness are really key. But I would say that also my challenge is to keep my relationship to my body in the act of arranging. So, rolling around on the floor and being, you know, improvising with my voice and that kind of more playful way of arranging is kind of better than sitting at my computer, which I often do, and fiddling with the notes on Sibelius, which is a composing program. So, yeah, and I do a lot of that too. And I’d say what’s happening now is that I’m running a choir here, my first ever choir of my own.

Rachel: Oh, okay.

Moira: And since I was in my early 20s, I mean, and certainly it’s the biggest choir I’ve ever run. So it’s 90 people all told. That’s huge. It’s kind of huge. And I’ve asked guest artists to come and bring their songs, right, which I arrange for 90 people, many people, and four parts or Yeah, three or four parts. And so that process of soaking in that musicians way, and then trying to honor it with something that then can be conveyed to any level of singer is really it’s a challenge and a good challenge. So, I feel like I’m reaching back to that time when I was first getting my legs, you know, with arranging and saying, Yeah, this is it. This is the arrangement. And then, you know, because I think for such a long time, and I still think this way. I think let’s do it differently next time.

I’m sort of annoyingly never going to do something the same way twice. So making it fixed is actually kind of hard for me.

[MUSIC] But not today. ♪ For we must rise ♪ ♪ For we must rise ♪ ♪ Our time is near ♪ ♪ But not to die ♪ ♪ And not to give up ♪ ♪ When we have no strength to try ♪ ♪ Though we are low ♪ ♪ Thrown to the ground ♪

Narrator [outro]: That was inspiring. – “Agile Vocalist” is created and produced by Rachel Medanic. Editing by Ben Krueger, Branding and Design by Sasha Brandt. (upbeat jazz music)

Keep Listening

Join the Agile Vocalist mailing list

* indicates required
Email Format

Pick your next post

The Language That Connects Us with Poet Ali

The Language That Connects Us with Poet Ali

Poet Ali is a poet, compelling performer, lyricist, performance artist and inspirational speaker. His presentations, talks and performances focus on human connection --how we connect with ourselves and with our environments. As a soulosopher (soul + philosopher) and...

Continue Reading