Indigo Girls seek harmony with Tucson Symphony
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Indigo Girls seek harmony with Tucson Symphony

Folk duo expand music with orchestral arrangements

“It’s like something in the cosmos locks in when you sing harmony,” says Emily Saliers, half of Grammy-winning folk duo, the Indigo Girls, with longtime ally Amy Ray. “It’s an incredible mystical gift.”

The pair will join with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for a special evening of Indigo Girls music on Saturday at the Tucson Music Hall.

The Indigo Girls have been singing together since high school. Along the way, they’ve sold more than 12 million records, including 14 studio albums, three live albums and three greatest hits compilations.

“Amy and I are like a hand and glove as far as harmony goes,” Saliers notes. “I just know that all these years later, getting up on stage with Amy and the gift of being able to share music, the way it stirs people’s spirits and makes them think about things and feel things, it’s fabulous. It’s powerful; it’s deep.”

Their exquisite harmonies and intelligent songwriting had earned them a loyal following by the time they graduated college, forcing a choice.

Choosing a path

“Amy was fierce with her music,” says Saliers. “It was just her path. I was going to go to grad school, study English and be a teacher. At one point, she said, ‘Are you going to do that or are you going to do this?’ The next thing you know, we’re looking back at 30 years together. Music is in our blood, it’s our life spirit, so it’s no surprise.”

They made a rule to never be complacent, to continue to find new challenges.

“All we ever did was say, ‘Let’s not be stagnant. Let’s take the next cool gig, let’s play a rock club, instead of a folk club,’” Saliers explains. “There’s always something new that comes along that’s exciting for us. That’s really gratifying. It’s not like we’ve run out of everything we could possibly do.”

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Their symphony tour is the latest gambit. Playing with full orchestras in Dallas, Seattle, and now Tucson, gives them a chance to expand their musical horizons and create a new experience for their audiences.

“We’re both really enjoying it,” says Saliers. “They’re quite intense. You can’t just screw around. It’s fun, but it’s also a challenge and we’ve been enjoying that.”

Favorites and rarities

The set list includes favorites like “Galileo” and “Closer to Fine,” as well as selections from their extensive catalog.

“Amy picked her songs and I picked mine,” Saliers says. “An obvious one that I picked was ‘Ghosts,’ which had a string arrangement on the record. ‘Able to Sing’ off our latest record (Beauty Queen Sister), was kind of a busy, crazy song lyrically with lots of movement and syncopation, and I was really curious what it would sound like orchestrated.

“Then a song like ‘Mystery,’ I knew having a great string arrangement would lift that song to a special place. A song of Amy’s, ‘Compromise,’ which is almost a punk rock song, very short and very driving, turned out great, but it wouldn’t have been an obvious choice. Her songs are as dynamic and rocking as ever with the orchestra behind them.”

The duo played Tucson’s Rialto Theatre in June, backed by a rock band, The Shadowboxers. It was a celebratory affair, with most of the audience standing rapt at the edge of the stage or dancing in the aisles. Although they skirted the then-upcoming presidential election, they gave voice to environmental and gay/lesbian/transgender concerns, as well as immigration issues.

Asked if their symphony audience might be surprised by their plainspoken activism, Saliers replied, “For the most part, people know what the Indigo Girls are and what we stand for, what our politics are, what our issues are. Even if you are totally at odds with us politically, you’re going to have a good time at this concert. Of course there’s fairly serious or heavy content in some of the songs, but they’re beautifully arranged and it’s just a wonderful musical experience. We picked songs that are thrilling to hear with all the orchestration.”

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The Indigo Girls perform with the Seattle Symphony in September.

Youtube Video

If you go

  • What: The Indigo Girls in concert with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra
  • When: 8 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.
  • Tickets: $34 - $65 for reserved seats. Tickets available at the TSO Box Office, 2175 N. 6th Ave., online and by phone at 882-8585