Emy Phelps and Darol Anger

Emy Phelps and Darol Anger

foto: Maria Camillo

A collaboration of 2 unique and deeply affecting musicians. Legendary fiddler and multi-string master Darol Anger here focuses his talents in service of the singer-songwriter's art.

Emy Phelps is a standout artist in a large field, a prolific songwriter with a riveting voice which plumbs the deepest emotions. A musician of note in the Pacific Northwest, she has made a 30 year music career while raising 3 sons and a daughter, achieving degrees in Theatre Arts and Special Education, and touring for 7 years with Brian Ransom's Ceramic Ensemble.
In combination, these 2 musicians bring out each other's special ability to convey deep emotional resonance and spark musical fire.

Their recorded collaborations include the CD "Look Up, Look Down", and a new release, Treasures, in Spring 2016.

Darol and Emy's Facebook page

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Darol Anger helped found the David Grisman Quintet in 1975, with David Grisman, Tony Rice, and Todd Phillips. The appeal and challenge of traditional American music also stems from the way it melds other countries' musical styles, which people are still discovering, said Anger, recounting how Grisman listened to music from around the world and wove it into the group's work. Feeling this was the music he was born to play, Anger strove for symphonic, orchestral sounds in his own compositions, writing increasingly complex and difficult music as he integrated jazz and classical elements. Anger went on to found the legendary Turtle Island String Quartet, and sold over two hundred thousand records in the 80's on the Windham Hill label, with his various influential bands. He still tours and is now a professor at the prestigious Berklee College in Boston.

Six years ago, he encountered someone with the opposite approach while at a fiddle camp. The mother of a young cellist sat down with a guitar and sang a simple song, instantly drawing people into her music - including Anger. That woman was Emy Phelps.

"My emphasis is on making music accessible to everyone, to make it inviting and fun, and to have children and adults want to participate," said Phelps, who had no formal training at that time but had been writing songs for a little more than 30 years. "I hope people are humming before the end of the song."
Phelps soon left the West Coast and moved into a small house in Maine with Anger, where each could hear everything the other was playing.

One day Phelps was working on a song about returning to her small hometown with her children to find everything different. With its simple series of major chords and humorous but heartfelt lyrics, the song was her response to the inevitability of change and her effort to hold onto something from the past, she said, but it was missing something.

"A song has to be able to go on its own, like a child. You raise it and give it what it needs, but it's got to be able to fly on its own," Phelps said. "You want someone else to be able to pick it up and sing it."

Coming home, Anger was delighted with the sound of the song, but recognized that the song needed an instrumental hook. A song often needs some kind of tension, Anger explained, with the different chords not fighting, but dancing. Working together, he and Phelps decided to introduce a minor chord, a west coast rock rhythm, and a catchy melody. Their rich musical collaboration continues to blossom, with Anger drawing on what he called Phelps's "gold mine" of songs, and Phelps benefiting from Anger's large musical vocabulary and education.

"We sit and play and talk. We cook a lot together, which is kind of the same thing," Phelps said. "We're not good at following recipes, but we start with an idea and say, 'Wouldn't it be great to add this? Let's try this. Let's toss that away.'"

Their shows feel like family shows, said Anger and Phelps, but Phelps's daughter (playing the cello) is often the only true blood relative. The rest of the 'family' consists of the young Berklee students and longtime musician friends and ex-students who have become their community.

"People wonder where chamber music went. It's right here," Anger said. "It's traditional American music."

updated: 4 years ago