By Josh Yoder
When The Wailin’ Jennys walked onto the stage of Sauder Concert Hall for the performing arts series concert Tuesday night, and the air of hushed anticipation in the packed room finally lifted, it was only the first magical moment of a concert that took the audience deep into heart-woven harmonies and what one attendee called “really personal music” that demonstrated both the Jennys’ versatility and seamless vocal blending.
The Jennys -soprano Ruth Moody, mezzo Nicky Mehta, and the newest Jenny, alto Heather Massey- claim Winnipeg as their base, and have only recently been back on tour after a one and a half year break in which Mehta brought forth two twin boys, Massey got married, and Moody and Massey both produced albums of their own. Now, touting their latest album, “Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House,” the Jennys continue to create music filled with “the sound of voices three, singing together in harmony.”
After the first two songs, “Bird song” and “Beautiful Dawn,” which showcased Moody’s banjo picking and Nicky Mehta’s swinging harmonica, Mehta called for interpretive dance from the audience in the choral terrace, saying “We’ve always wanted more of a show.” But the Jennys put on a beautiful show of their own in the songs that followed, bringing in styles ranging from Celtic Airs to Gospel and Jazz.
“Arlington” opened with a pure blend of Mehta’s crystal-clear guitar and Moody’s ponderous lead soprano in a back to basics duet, and rose in intensity with the addition of accordion and a fiddle interlude that seemed to pull at the edges of the melody.
“Sweet Mona Louise,” was an original composition by Heather Massey, who said she sang her newborn niece “into the world.” Featuring Massey’s tonally diverse alto, the lullaby was punctuated by a mandolin solo that painted a musical portrait of the fragility and beauty of a baby’s movements.
During the intermission, Goshen students expressed how the music had moved them so far. “I almost cried,” said Henry Stewart, a freshman. “It shows you what you can give in the pursuit of beauty.”
“I listened to their songs all day before this,” said Renae Weaver, who was ushering for the event.
Patrick Ressler, a senior and self-proclaimed “big fan” of the Wailin’ Jennys only made it for the second half of the show. All the same, “I couldn’t stay away,” he said.
The second half of the show opened with a more upbeat version of the gospel song “Motherless Child,” an echo to last week’s PAS concert by the vocal ensemble Conspirare, which also performed the piece. Massey shone brightly in “Cherry Blossom,” an Andrews sisters Jazz number that demonstrated Massey’s vocal range and her rich background in the genre.
The Jenny’s performed their trademark piece “One Voice,” joined in the peace song by the audience with the words “this is the sound of all of us.” After a standing ovation, the three finished by with “The Parting Glass,” an Irish traditional air which they sang together on the front edge of the stage, stripping the sound down to the three voices which make up the core of their music, and filling every corner of the hall with “Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
The concert provided a reinvigorating experience in the midst of a busy week. “I feel like after that concert I just got a half hour back massage and twelve hours of good sleep,” said Kate Friesen, a freshman. No doubt the Wailin’ Jennys have left their music in the hearts of all who have received the gift of their sound.
The next concert in the Music Center’s Performing Arts Series will be Shawn Colvin and Loudon Wainwright III on November 20.