Good Movies: Appalachian Journey (concert)

I ran onto this splendid DVD by accident.  I was browsing Netflix and in the mood for some music.  The word “Appalachian” caught my eye. I grew up in the southern Appalachian mountains.  The fact that this concert DVD is 10 years old and I had never heard of it before tips you off that I am no music critic and this is just a listener’s review.

Appalachian Journey features the string trio of Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor with guest singers Alison Krauss and James Taylor.  The music is varied and only loosely to be identified as Appalachian (although we are certainly happy to take credit for it!)..  But it has the typical Appalachian music blend of melancholy and exuberant, with melancholy being predominant.  Some music is arranged from traditional tunes and other was composed by Meyer or O’Connor.  Alison Krauss sang “Slumber My Darling” and James Taylor joined the group for “Hard Times Come Again No More.”  The balance of the 90 minute program consisted of pure instrumentals featuring the trio and occasionally a duet.

A host of adjectives would apply to this musical experience: beautiful, haunting, rousing, complex, discordant, uplifting, sobering, magical.  It was sometimes hard to decide which was more powerful, the music itself or the musicianship of the artists. I’m sure that the performers would have remembered notes that were a little flat or an entrance made a little slowly, but to the mortal listener it comes across as pure perfection.  You feel you are watching and listening to something that no one else could match.

This craftsmanship also extends to the filming and production.  You never see a camera but they seem to be everywhere and by the dozens.  You watch the hands, the fingers, the faces, the glances, the thrill of the wild applause.  The hands were amazing to watch, and so different.  Yo-Yo Ma’s hands are delicate and womanly.  Edgar Meyer’s look like those of a carpenter or longshoreman.  But each works like magic and so fast the eye can barely follow.

Another remarkable part of this experience is the fullness of the sound this 3-person group achieves.  I wager that if you played this music for 10 people (without a view of the group on the stage) and asked them to guess the number of musicians, everyone would guess many more than three.  Of course the Canadian Brass has only five and the King’s Singers only six, and the same holds true for them.

Musical tastes vary greatly, we know, and this music might not appeal to you.  But I suggest you give it a try, especially if it sounds like something a little out of your usual realm.  I loved it and will watch and listen again.

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