Hollywood Hills music magic with Moira Smiley

Unzip-the-Horizon-COVER-500px-OPT.jpgMusic Magic in the Hollywood Hills. Moira Smiley releases "Unzip The Horizon"

LA is the only county in America cut in half by a mountain range, the Santa Monica Mountains, which separate the almost 2  million people in the San Fernando Valley from the 8 million or so people in the LA Basin. Located on the south side of this mountain range are the Hollywood Hills, a set of low rise peaks and valleys that overlook the city of Hollywood and greater La.  They are the home of the Hollywood Sign, the Hollywood Bowl, and homes of Hollywood stars and workhorses – actors, producers, directors, and writers.  This past weekend one of those homes was the site of undoubtedly the best album release party I have ever been to.  It was the celebration of stellar Unzip the Horizon by folk/Americana/world singer and concert mistress Moira Smiley, and it was magic.

The home belonged to Peter Hastings, six-time Emmy-winning television writer, producer, director, and actor.  Hastings, who was involved in series like  Kung Foo Panda: Legend of Awesomeness, The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants, and Animaniacs among others, is also a very accomplished musician, collector of rare musical instruments and supporter of the musical arts.  Part of that support is the “Music Room”,  a music venue built into his home above Hollywood.  The Room, as configured for the release concert, featured a stage area with a baby grand piano, small backline, mics and music stands for  6 people, a sound engineer (David Weber, Moira’s producer), PA,  lights and seating for 70 people in chairs, benches and pews, plus another dozen or so in the balcony. 

Every chair, pew, bench, and corner was full.  Some of those in the audience were professional singers taking a night off from their own recording and performing to support Moira and enjoy what we all knew was going to be a unique and exhilarating evening.  And it was.

MOIRA_AND_CREW_ARMS_UPcompressed.jpgMoira gave us two full sets of songs, stories and love, performing both solo and with guest harmony singers. And,  being a consummate music educator and concert mistress, she led the audience in call-and-response and choruses in many of the songs.  Given the voices in the audience, the effect was amazing. A roomful of beautiful voices led by one of the nation’s most beautiful voices.  The term “raise the roof would have applied if it wasn’t for the fact that the “Music Room” was already two stories high.  Moira sang A Capella and accompanied herself on guitar, accordion, piano and various body parts she slapped for rhythm.  When not singing solo, she was accompanied by Hastings on the standup bass and mandolin, and percussionist Chris Wabish.

Over the two hours that Moira entertained us there were many, many highlights.  Each song was preceded by a story of its background, how or why she created it, and its mirroring of deeper meanings  -- or not – and many laughs.  The evening combined a tale-telling assembly with singing around the campfire, although my campfires never sounded this good.  Moira set the tone from the very beginning by starting not on the stage, but far out in lawn, singing haunting, melodious calls as she strolled in through the garden doors and threaded her way to the stage.

the_music_room_at_Peter_Hastings_home._compressed.jpgThe setlist for the night ranged from the heart-wrenching ballad  “Refugee” to the banjo-led folk song “Wiseman”,  to the tongue-in-cheek joke about technology, “Rotary Phone”. Every song was a moving work of art, framed in a beautiful home and lit by a roomful of powerful voices. When you compare what I saw at Peter Hasting's home with Moira’s YouTube videos from Disney Concert Hall (1 million views and climbing!) there is little difference emotionally.  She went right to your heart with every note.

But by far, the most moving moment of the night for me was the final song when Moira brought up her singers and pulled others out of the audience for an A Capella version of Lead Belly’s “Bring Me Little Water, Silvy”.  I had seen the video of her performing it in 2016 in the Disney Concert Hall with 1000 singers for the Los Angeles Master Chorale's 28th Annual High School Choir Festival so I knew what to expect.  What I didn’t expect was how she created the same level of joy and emotion in the Music Room as she did in a 2000-seat concert hall. The room disappeared and we were transported to a place of pure, loving sound.

Four days later, I am still vibrating from that song and from all of Moira’s music.  I am also vibrating from the people I met in the kitchen sampling wine and beer and chips and salsa, swapping stories of concerts, record production stints, and music festivals. It was a natural music high that we were all on.  But most of all I am vibrating from Moira’s ability to bring people into music – to follow the wish “when we are divided, make art”. Peter Hasting’s generosity in not only turning his house over to art, but to design and build it so it can be a place where music flourishes and heals amplified that.  The Hollywood Hills have been called magic by many for their celebrities. But the magic I found there was not in the celebrities, it was in the music and the music maker.



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