Trish Miller and her husband, John Kirk, are bringing Adirondack folk music to the other side of the world.
Last year, the couple submitted their latest musical project, Mountain Quickstep, to be a part of The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. Since 2005, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the U.S. Department of State have been staging 10 tours a year to areas around the world, in the hopes of reaching out diplomatically through music and dance.
Mountain Quickstep became one of the 10 quartets selected for this year’s group of touring musicians. The band, featuring Kirk, Miller, fiddler Sara Milonovich and guitarist Greg Anderson, will be in Eastern Europe all this month, touring throughout Kosovo, Bulgaria, Moldova and Turkey. Miller spoke to the Gazette about the upcoming tour.
Q: How did you get involved with The Rhythm Road tour?
A: There was an advertisement from a web group that we know of called ReverbNation. They send out notices to artists of festivals or opportunities to be part of contests — there’s song contests, original songwriting, and various sorts of business tips that they give to musicians. Through the listings, we found this contest, where you could apply to be one of the bands bringing American music abroad. Jazz at Lincoln Center administers it through the U.S. State Department, and they were accepting applications last year until Nov. 1. And they said they would give notice of who was chosen by Dec. 17, and we found out about Dec. 15 or so.
Q: So this has been a long process then?
A: It really has been. But they chose the bands for the entire year, and what they did was, they then worked out with the group who would be going where and when. It was all quartets — they were asking for quartets, so we also had to make sure that all four of us would be available for a four- or five-week block, all at the same time.
Q: How did you find out where you would be traveling, and what did you do to prepare?
A: Actually, originally they thought we might go someplace else. It was fairly recently that we got the exact itinerary of where we’re going, so that was interesting to us too. And then I had to go to the library and get a map, so that I knew where all these places were. Some of them were more recently formed with the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the former Yugoslavia and the USSR, so I had to redo my geography a bit.
Q: How much of a choice did you have in where they send you?
A: Well, the only thing they said to us in terms of choice of location, was that we would not be going to Western Europe. One of the goals of the program is to establish American cultural connections in places where they don’t know so much about American music, or music and dance. So it’s a form of diplomacy — that is, an outreach.
Q: Did the band need to adjust its set list and performance for this tour, and how so?
A: Well, definitely, because what we need to do is to clarify and simplify our ideas in terms of making the connection with the music, so that there’s — the translation, for example. It would have to be easily stated. . . . We’d want to keep it fun, be humble and make an inspiring connection, rather than go out there and necessarily be outrageous. What we want to do is actually make connections. . . . One of the nice things I like — there was a Sunday morning interview on PBS, a Sunday morning TV show, and if you go to the Rhythm Road site there’s a media link. It’s an interview with Hillary Clinton, and she really does say that we have people of diverse cultures here in America, and we can learn so much from the sharing of music traditions together. Some of these groups show that that happens here in America, and if others can see that there’s an opening to our immigrant roots, and a respect for where our music comes from, they might really see that we do have an interest in peace and a respect for heritage.
Q: For the particular places you’ll be going to, have you been able to find that connection between cultures?
A: Well, definitely. One of the most — both John and I are dance callers for square dancing, and one of the places where we’ve been invited to make that happen is at international dance group gatherings. And one of the most popular kinds of dance is Balkan dancing . . . which is the area where Kosovo is now. So I’ve seen some of that kind of dancing before, and it’s fascinating, and I know it’s really popular, especially in the urban areas in America, with the fiddle and dance traditions. In terms of a direct connection to what it is we do, I wouldn’t say we’re influenced by Balkan music.
Q: You are known for playing music specifically from the Adirondacks and the North Country. How do you think that regionality will come into focus on this tour?
A: I think it’s a popular thing. I think it might have been one of the features that helped them to choose us. People have heard more about music from — especially country music from the South. If we’re playing a more folk or country style and singing about things up here in the North Country, the connection between the U.S. and Canada — certainly with the fiddle music but all the styles that we do are connected — that is a new — well, not new, but I should say maybe a lesser looked-at feature which our band offers.
Q: You have a group called Quickstep. What’s the story behind Mountain Quickstep?
A: We have a band called Quickstep, which is us and Ed Lowman, Sara Milonovich and Cedar Stanistreet. We’ve played since Sarah and Cedar were very young, and now Sarah has her own band — she still performs with us, but also on her own.
They were looking for a quartet that was touring together, and we really thought this four would make a good ensemble for that — for playing music and traveling together. Greg Anderson is a good guitar and bass player; he has played with Irish music groups as well as a group that played original music too called Whirligig. He and Sarah play a lot together, and more recently they’ve been playing together a lot — that was another reason for the connection of this particular quartet.
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or [email protected]
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Categories: Life and Arts