They have all the power chords of a rock band yet the elegance of a classical orchestra. It's almost as if Ludwig van Beethoven and Wendy O. Williams had a baby and named it Ginger Ibex.
"We're struggling with finding a neat, snappy genre sound bite," says pianist/composer Sharon Crumrine as she attempts to define the Ginger Ibex niche. "For now we say 'rock meets classical meets Middle Eastern/tango'... either that or 'Keith Jarrett, Rachmaninov and Astor Piazzola go for drinks and then jam at the Sound Museum' (a local band practice complex in Boston)."
This concoction may seem bizarre, but the final product is bold and smooth like the finest double espresso, yet sly and sultry enough to pair with a vodka tonic. This instrumental duo from Boston is comprised of Crumrine on piano and Betty Widerski on 6-string mezzo viola, with Michael Steigman on drums and a handful of specialty musicians who fill in the gaps to create the musical mastery found in their Oct. 2009 self-released, full-length album, "Firefly." The album is available on CD Baby and iTunes. They also have one song - a pre-release version of the song February - on a Boston Dark Music compilation titled, "Sky So Grey," which was released last winter by Decorative Records.
The two women formed Ginger Ibex roughly two and a half years ago after Widerski responded to Crumrine's Craigslist ad looking for a violist.
"I started asking (Widerski) to do some demo recordings of my pieces with me," Crumrine says. "After a few such recordings, we decided to do a professional recording and put a band of our own together."
The name "Ginger Ibex" was originally used to represent a fictitious graphics company that Crumrine's former band used when making show posters. When she and Widerski decided to collaborate, the name seemed to fit the new sound. Crumrine received the blessing of her former band mate to use the moniker, and it's stuck ever since.
Crumrine does the majority of composition, although Widerski hammers out the string arrangements and makes sure they're suitable for the other players. Crumrine claims she gets ideas from hearing tones and tidbits of melodies that catch her ear, or times when she's simply toying around on the piano.
"Once I get an idea, I'll work on it, write down a combo of messy notation and/or words and symbols to start organizing the piece," Crumrine says. "Then I'll usually record bits of improvisation on those bits and further hone my ideas from that, until it's done. Often I'll bring a piece that's maybe 75 percent done to the band and try it out, get some ideas and input, and then finally finish it once I've heard it more fleshed out."
She claims her inspiration comes from both the dark and light sides of her deepest emotions.
"There's a sense that impacts me on an emotional level that drives me to write a piece," she notes (no pun intended). "People often ask me, probably because there are no lyrics in my music, if there is some story behind a particular piece. Actually, rarely is there a story. Perhaps it is just the timelessness and ubiquitousness of songs as stories. And though I, too, am just as fond of stories and lyrics in music I love, my writing is purely on a non-verbal, emotional level."
Crumrine's love for music comes from being part of a musical family, although despite her father being a music teacher, and her mother and grandmother both being musicians, none of her family member pushed her to excel at an instrument.
"So I was pretty much self-taught," she says. "I was drawn to the drama and passion of composers such as Beethoven, Grieg, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, and Debussy, and would be practicing that upstairs while my brothers practiced with their rock bands downstairs. I was very jealous of them, because I also wanted to 'rock out.'"
In later years, when she was earning her degree in Music Performance and Music Education from the University of Massachusetts Boston, Crumrine began composing pieces that added a rock element to the Classical/Romantic sound.
Widerski also comes from a musical background. As a young girl, she studied classical violin and viola, but took a break from music to pursue a degree at Harvard University. The muse was rekindled nearly eight years ago when she decided she wanted to learn to play improvisationally. After studying for a few years with a violinist who also played in a rock band, Widerski found herself being dubbed a "string slut," as she played in recording sessions and joined several Boston-area bands in genres including Irish punk, Gothic R&B and alternative Americana.
Once the two joined forces, the sound waves started taking on a life of their own - a life that has not always been the rosy path to the stage. Being women in the music business has been one of the biggest challenges Widerski and Crumrine have faced.
"Women are usually narrowed to the 'folkie girl guitar' thing or the 'piano girl' categories (citing Tori Amos and Regina Spektor as examples), which irks me and my fellow female musicians," Crumrine states. "Luckily, here in Boston, there is a bigger variety of music becoming more common in the local clubs - music that is outside the typical rock/indie/guitar thing."
"Before Ginger Ibex, I've usually been the only woman in most of my other bands," Widerski adds. "Since I've always been open about being a lesbian, I haven't had problems with any of my male band mates - in fact sometimes the opposite: One guy assumed that meant I enjoyed ogling well-endowed women like he did, so he would kindly point out any I might have missed!"
Today, they plan on taking Ginger Ibex as far as reality will take them, considering they both have day jobs and limited energy for being self-promoting musicians.
"I have dreams of working with bigger ensembles, like orchestras, or in collaboration with other forms of art, such as poetry, film, or dancers," Crumrine says. "I'm always keeping my eye out for ideas."
"Listeners frequently say that much of Sharon's music reminds them of movie soundtracks, so we'd like to tap into that market, too," Widerski adds.
Ginger Ibex can be found throughout the East Coast playing rock clubs, coffee houses and other performance-art venues. The duo has recently teamed up with professional improvisational dancer, Karen Montanaro to do a few shows.
For more information on Ginger Ibex, visit www.myspace.com/gingeribex. The site includes uploaded songs, a calendar of upcoming shows, and contact information.
written by Gwen Johnson