Sibling Harmony

Maggie and Abigail Vogts hail from southeastern Kansas (Erie) where they have been sibling musicians ever since they took piano lessons together as kids; eventually performing together at local churches and other small venues as part of the group Saving Grace from 2000 to 2005. “When we were in Saving Grace, I was terrified of performing for people,” Maggie shared. “I stammered and gulped. It was awful. But the other girls made it fun. Our oldest sister, Sam, was the brave one. She’d sing anything, loudly and with clarity. I never could do that for an audience. Abbey (Abigail) was the youngest in the group, and the hammiest.” Abigail added, “I always felt like the small and annoying cheerleader who knew every song; by heart.”

Maggie (Fiddle and Guitar) and Abigail (Mandolin and Guitar) began touring the Midwest in 2012 as a duet, featuring their striking sibling harmony. “Looking back now, I’m honestly so bewildered that we even went for it. Of course, we were completely new to the world of people gigging places. Now we would rather not imagine what life is like without it,” Abigail recalled.

“We started working on our harmony in 2011,” Maggie added. “We started performing the following year – it was late May at Katy Days in Parsons. We entered a singing competition. We sang “Down Along the Dixie Line.” I think maybe we surprised some people. Lots of folks in our area are unaware of (or indifferent to) folk music. Anyway, we made it to the second round. We sang “Traveling Soldier,” even though we knew it would be too long based on the competition specifications and would probably get disqualified. We figured we wouldn’t win anyway, so we decided to sing a good, long song – just because we wanted to. We didn’t win in the competition, but something even better happened afterward. Russell Head, then department head of the Labette Community College Recording Arts program, approached us about recording a CD.  And that’s how it began.”

From the beginning they’ve earned numerous awards in regional and international songwriting competitions, including a recent nod from the 2019 Indie International Songwriting Competition. They’ve penned over thirty originals for their acoustic Americana-Folk act. They released their fourth CD, Broken Ties, in May 2018, featuring 10 of those original songs.

While many musicians start out pursuing the craft during high school years the girls say not so for them. “I liked to listen to music, of course,” Maggie said. “But I didn’t even look for anything beyond local country stations and popular music until I went to college. Then, holy smokes! A whole world of music was out there, and I had been totally ignorant of it. That’s when I first heard Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris.”

“A lot of the old mountain music is awfully sad,” Maggie added. “A song will tell about a murder, a horrible, brutal murder. But it never really gives the why, the reason behind it. It just happened, and there you go; which kind of leaves you to ponder. There’s a lot of humanity in these songs, a truth about what we are and what we’re capable of – both the good and the bad. It’s what makes it so interesting.”

Maggie says they have a system for writing songs that seems to be working. “I write the lyrics and come up with the melody,” she said. “I sing it for Abbey, and she changes it and makes me mad. Ha – only half-kidding. Abbey is definitely an editor. She has an ear for those little note/chord changes that make a song better. Or a word change – to make a phrase easier to articulate. She’s been writing some songs recently, too though. We have different styles. She’s more complicated melodically. I tend to focus more on the lyrics. Right now we have over 30 originals.”

“Usually I write sad stuff – missing home, unrequited love, hurt. Sometimes, though, I pump out a happy, slightly up-beat song. I really enjoy putting story to song. Stories enchant me,” Maggie said.

Abigail was in the high school choir for four years. “There were plenty of aspects about it that proved beneficial,” she said, “but Maggie and I try not to get too carried away with technique. We focus instead on what the words of a song are saying and how we can best push those words to the forefront of someone’s attention.”

It’s not always easy for siblings to perform together, but there always seems to be an unspoken camaraderie between them. Maggie said performing with a sibling can be both horrible and awesome. “On one hand, we know so much about each other. We know how to irritate, how to push buttons. So we have to have some self-discipline and rein ourselves in. On the other hand, we can read each other pretty well. We can just look at each other, read the message, and adjust – maybe in the middle of a concert, or perhaps when we’re putting a new song together. It’s a quick transaction, and we don’t even know we’re doing it most of the time.”

“Getting along despite our differences in personality and opinion can prove a challenge. We don’t necessarily go about things in the same way, but in the end we both demand to be adults and work those quirks out. We may not always be happy with one another, but we never allow ourselves to walk away,” Abigail said.

While this venture isn’t a full time pursuit, the girls still thoroughly enjoy playing together. “We’re enjoying the music, and we’d like to keep on playing as long as we can,” Maggie said. “But right now it’s something we do to keep ourselves sane. We work and go to school through a normal week, and get to do something we love on the weekend.” Abigail added, “We’re both pretty home-bodied. We both married this past year, and I’m currently finishing my last semester of college and will graduate in December.”