For Harpeth Rising, the art of arranging the trio's blend of neo-classical chamber folk means occasionally stepping on the toes of those who prefer their music in more staid fashion. The three members are often referred to as genre benders, but they've also struggled to throw off the idea that being classically trained — theirs coming via Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music — means being tied down by rules.
“I've got to say, proper classical training actually really avoids rigidity in a sense,” says violinist Jordana Greenberg. “You should be free even within the confines of written music to express yourself. I think people get scared because they want to preserve tradition. And that's certainly worthwhile, absolutely. But I think there's also validity in simply creating a musical expression regardless of boundaries. What I have to say doesn't necessarily fall within a genre that already exists, so I'm going to say it in whatever way I can.”
All three members — Greenberg, Rebecca Reed-Lunn on banjo and Maria Di Meglio on cello — earned performance degrees while at IU, and together they've toured America and the world playing and singing to growing audiences ready to lap up something different. Self-described musical nomads, they've only recently attempted to make Louisville their permanent home, though they've spent plenty of time in Nashville as well. The Tennessean even once named them Best Local Band, quite some praise considering the number of locals vying for such a title in Music City. It is that sort of dedicated musical scene they're seeing pop up in Louisville at the moment.
“I definitely think that we appreciate the culture of every place that we've lived, and there have been quite a few,” Greenberg explains. “We try to soak up those influences that come not only from living in a place but also from all of our travels. We're definitely ready to settle down and call one place home. That place, for us, is Louisville. What's wonderful about Louisville is that right now it is a hotbed of creativity in terms not just musically but in the number of people starting projects and local businesses. The scene there is really growing.”
When we spoke in Indianapolis on the night of America's shellacking of Japan in the Women's World Cup finals, the trio was more excited about the prospects of their current tour, which is so packed with dates they won't make it back to perform until October 24.
“I love that we get to travel a lot,” Di Meglio says. “We've played everywhere from England to Colorado, and anywhere in between that, at least that's where we've been at the moment. And it's very interesting to see the regional audiences; every night the crowd is going to be different! In England they love singing and they will sing louder than any other audience. It's really fascinating and that's just something they do … they'll sing our original songs with us!”
Reed-Lunn chimes in, instantly animated. “That was one of the things that most grabbed me coming from classical music,” she says. “There's definitely a feed off the audience in classical music, but it's much more intangible. You can't hoot and holler if there's a solo that you liked. But there's something so electric and wonderful about the audiences at our concerts. The communication is so that you can't think of anything else, you are one-hundred percent in one place and time. It really feels great!”
As accustomed as they are to the road, the band has also made plenty of time for the studio, releasing four albums in as many years before taking a bit of a break. Their fifth studio album, Shifted, hits stores on August 15. It is abundantly clear on the first listen that they've really worked to hone their sense of song craft.
“We don't write anything out,” says Greenberg. “And because these songs are arranged carefully, there are areas set aside for improvisation and that can be incredibly fun. But for the most part the songs are what you might call pre-composed. We do write the whole song but we just don't write anything down. We like to really use our ears to play off each other during the compositional and arranging process.”
“I think people can be really personal about their songwriting process because it's so idiosyncratic, tied to each individual,” Reed-Lunn adds. “It's also something many people flat-out don't want to talk about because that's not what they want to share with you onstage. They just want to share the song with you! We've definitely worked through that.”
All three agree what keeps them on the road for such long stretches is the role of music as the strongest communication tool.
“It's just nice to know, especially when you're getting into international travel situations where you can't really interact with people in the way that you normally [do], you can still play a song and they understand it,” says Di Meglio. “You connect with them immediately, regardless of status in life or language barriers, political affiliation. You don't have to talk about politics to put on a concert and have a good time.”