By Tori Gold
Back in the winter, we attended the DC Bluegrass Union’s indoor festival. It was a top notch festival held in the ballroom of an up-scale hotel and unique in that we stayed on the same floor on which the ballroom stage was located. This convenience provided plenty of opportunity to mingle with the performers between sets.
One particular act that caught my attention was Mountain Fever Record Company recording artists, Gold Heart. Gold Heart, features three talented young sisters (Tori on mandolin; Jocey on guitar; and Shelby on fiddle. They have been touring since 2005 but are just now getting the recognition they so richly deserve. Thus far in their young lives, they have appeared at hundreds of live performances and produced four albums that show case their rich talent.
I admit to being unfamiliar with their performance but was quickly won over by their harmony singing, which I rate as the best to which I’ve listened. After their first set, they presented a workshop to discuss harmony singing in bluegrass music. Now, many workshops at festivals, while enjoyable, usually are just stripped down acoustic performances. Not this one though, these ladies presented a most through and complete lecture and demonstration of how they achieved the tight harmony for which Gold Heart is quickly becoming known. As soon as I could, I met up with Ms. Tori Gold and asked if she would try to document for AR’s readers what she told the workshop gathering. What follows here originated as an email that Tori sent to me during a long an arduous spring tour in an attempt to answer my request to her and her sisters at the DC festival. – Editor
The sounds of harmony can be beautiful, soothing and even somewhat haunting. It is a mysterious sound that can captivate your heart and bring tears to your eyes.
Our mom taught us to sing harmony with each other. We grew up out in the country, and on our long highway drives to and from our home, she would help the time pass faster by singing with us. We would sing cute songs like Jesus Loves Me and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Mom would sing the tenor harmony and she would have us take turns singing along with her while the others stayed on the simple melody. At the time we didn’t realize what she was doing, but she was teaching us to sing and love harmony. Dad would tune in to the bluegrass station on our way to church each Sunday and our family grew to love the heavy harmonies of bluegrass music.
We’ve just released our forth recording on Mountain Fever Records titled, Places I’ve Been. It has 12 original songs that were written by Jocey and Shelby. If you have a chance to listen to this project, you will find very good examples of the harmony singing that we try to project. I am going to mention three of the songs as illustrations of some of the harmony parts that folks sing.
Harmonies are primarily based off of the 1, 3 and 5 intervals. In our song Raleigh, we sing a traditional harmony trio. In this song, Shelby sings lead (1) which is sandwiched in the middle, Tori sings tenor (3) which is placed on the top, and Jocey sings baritone (5) which is beneath it all. Tim O’Brien recently told us this about our harmony, “You illustrate suspended chords in your trio; that’s the kind of thing you can only do if the pitch is rock solid, and it is”.
Another stack in bluegrass harmony singing is called inverted harmony. If you’ve listened to the Osborne Brothers, then you know what we’re talking about. Steam Engine is a song on the album that features this style of harmony. It is a very powerful and edgy stack of harmony singing. The intervals are still 1, 3 and 5, but this time the root (1) is placed on top, with the baritone (5) just below. The low tenor is still a (3) in the stack, but it’s now under the baritone.
There is also some duet singing in bluegrass music. Our song Truth displays duet harmony. We decided to record this song as a duet since singing with this arrangement can be really fun for the harmony singer. This is because it allows for much more freedom with the notes you choose to sing. The fusion of our voices on this song gives us opportunity to create a good vocal tension.
There is nothing quite like singing as sisters. Sometimes we feel as though we can read each other’s minds. We have never really had a difficult time coming up with harmony parts for our songs. It is a God given gift that for the most part just comes naturally. We write the vast majority of our band’s repertoire, so we get to choose the harmony styles that we feel fit the melody and lyrics of each song. Singing with emotion and having great harmony really paints a picture for the listeners. It is a very important aspect of the song. The basis of our sister harmony comes not so much from the technicalities, but from the heart.