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Kallet And Larsen: Playing With A Full Deck

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Kallet And Larsen: Playing With A Full Deck

Kallet And Larsen: Playing With A Full Deck

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(Soundbite of music)


This is Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Larsen is playing the fiddle; Kallet is playing not the viola but the fiola, with an F. And what exactly is that, Cindy Kallet?

Ms. CINDY KALLET (Fiola Player): Well, the fiola is actually a name that I came up with because I took a violin and strung it up with viola strings. So, it's a lower set of strings - it has a low C. And because I call my violin a fiddle -because I play more non-classical music on it - I just took fiddle and viola and called it fiola.

SEABROOK: Thank you. Thank you for joining us. You're in Maine and Grey Larsen is in Ohio. Welcome to you, too.

Mr. GREY LARSEN (Fiddle Player): Thank you.

SEABROOK: Let me tell our listeners a little bit about you guys. Cindy Kallet and Grey Larsen are renowned American folk musicians. Larsen is well-known for his expertise in traditional Irish music. Kallet is loved for her songwriting and her pure unadorned voice. After decades of producing solo albums, this is their first CD together. It's called "Cross the Water."

And, Grey Larsen, tell me about this piece we're hearing. It's called "Playing with a Full Deck," and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: …you wrote it?

Mr. LARSEN: That's right. I wrote it as a birthday present for Cindy when she turned 52. I thought, you know, just sort of tongue-in-cheek to write her a piece of music that we could play together. So, I just was playing around with the number 52 and thinking what can I do with that and realized, well, of course, you can divide it by four and you get 13. So, I decided to write a tune that had 13 beats in each measure and four measures in each section, and then you'd have 52 beats in each section of the piece.

Ms. KALLET: He was also too cheap to buy me a present.

Mr. LARSEN: Yes, that, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: I read that the piece has - I read in the liner notes that the piece has Scandinavian melody and harmony?

Mr. LARSEN: Yeah. Well, Cindy and I love to play Swedish and Norwegian (unintelligible) traditional fiddler tunes in which the fiddlers play in harmony with each other. It's a beautiful sound and it's so much fun to do. You can get four-part harmonies going with just two people.

(Soundbite of song "Playing with a Full Deck")

SEABROOK: I just want to make sure it's clear here. You two are partners in music alone, yes.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LARSEN: We are also life partners as well. That's right. We don't really, you know, advertise that or make it any kind of point about that when we're…

SEABROOK: But it's…

Mr. LARSEN: …performing.

SEABROOK: …National Public Radio, so why not?

Mr. LARSEN: Why not?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LARSEN: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Cindy Kallet, let's talk about a song on the CD that you wrote. The title track, "Cross the Water," let's listen.

(Soundbite of song "Cross the Water/Little Girl")

Ms. KALLET and Mr. LARSEN: (Singing) If I should cross the water tumbling in storms to shore and swift and rumble and come to rest for a million years or more. If I should cross the water and rock an island be. Oh, if I should cross the water, oh, if I could watch the water, who would I see…

Ms. KALLET: That song actually came about because I used to live my son to school - I live on the coast of Maine - and I used to drive him to school along one of the bays - Clam Cove on Penobscot Bay. And I've always had this stream of being an island; I used to live on an island. And so this turned into - the song really was a series of snapshots that came from those spots.

SEABROOK: Your voices are so beautiful together.

Ms. KALLET: Thank you.

Mr. LARSEN: Thank you.

SEABROOK: I've read that you're both trained in singing counterpoint? Could you just, one of you, just explain exactly what counterpoint is?

Ms. KALLET: Go for it, Grey.

Mr. LARSEN: Okay. Well, it's a way of being aware of how two or more independent melodies are interacting in order to form a whole. And when it's done really well, it's just, like, this most beautiful honeycomb or our puzzle fitting together.

Ms. KALLET: Sometimes I'll be singing, for example, that I'm used to singing by myself forever and ever and Grey will play the flute, which I would never have thought would've worked. But he's doing some kind of countermelody that's absolutely perfect. It's, like, singing with a harmony partner that kind of instinctively knows what you're saying and what you're doing and he has his own mind as well.

(Soundbite of song "Cross the Water")

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: You play here the tin whistle, but also the wooden flute…

Mr. LARSEN: Yeah.

SEABROOK: …the harmonium. They are such old instruments. And the style of singing as well and the forms of singing counterpoint and beyond. How do these forms fit in today?

Ms. KALLET: I don't think it's so much a today versus yesterday; I think it's really how you approach the singing of it, the arranging of it.

Mr. LARSEN: I guess I think of it, sometimes I think of it kind of like a garden that's been tended by people for many generations and lots of people in the past that you'll never have the opportunity to meet. But the garden is still growing and still being nurtured. And then you step in and you take your part in the nurturing and pass it along to the people who are going to come after you.

So, it's a continuum and it bring you right close to the heart of the culture.

SEABROOK: Grey Larsen and Cindy Kallet - their new album is called "Cross the Water." Thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. LARSEN: Thank you.

Ms. KALLET: Thank you so much for having us here.

(Soundbite of music)

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