Eliza Going ’18
Assistant Arts Editor
The bluegrass duo 10 String Symphony is performing at the Parlor Room in Northampton on April 17. I spoke with Rachel Baiman, who was on her way to the East Coast for the start of their tour, about the success of their new album and her start in music.
Baiman and Christian Sedelmyer work around typical constraints when they make music. The entire band was built around the idea of two five-string fiddles and two voices recreating the same music an entire band might make. It is so integral to their music that they named the band after it: 10 strings creating the sound of a symphony.
“I think that we’ve pushed it really far in trying to make songs that would not naturally be played on the fiddle,” said Baiman. Sedelmyer’s part on “Even a Dog has Dreams” is supposed to play the role of a piano. Baiman says this is “not a normal thing a fiddle does.”
Their challenge to push the limits of the fiddle is what makes their music so interesting – they end up bending and stretching ideas of how the instrument is supposed to sound. “They do things with fiddles you wouldn’t expect,” said Jewly Hight of NPR’s All Songs Considered.
They were featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered as part of the Newest and Most Promising Voices in Americana even before the release of their album last October, “Weight of the World.”
“It was actually pretty funny because they featured a song that wasn’t even on the list we sent them,” said Baiman, comparing the featured “Even a Dog Has Dreams” to the more serious title track and “Oscar’s Verdict,” which is about a murder trial.
The album was also ranked No. 3 in Billboard’s bluegrass albums a month after its release. “We’re really happy about the success of the album,” said Baiman, adding, “We’re not the most traditional bluegrass band.”
On their songwriting process, Baiman says it’s “really just the very beginning of the song that we shape in a collaborative way.” They wrote “Anna Jane” together, but others they started together and then continued individually, using trial-and-error to figure out what works.
Though they start out with something not typical – trying to manipulate ten strings of fiddle to sound like different instruments – the end result totally works and sounds unbelievably natural.
When they started the band, Baiman was playing traditional fiddle music after studying anthropology and music in college, and Sedelmyer had just quit a consulting job in Washington, D.C., moving to Nashville to make music.
The duo met at a bar known for featuring live old-timey music on Wednesdays. Baiman called their meeting “inevitable,” as it was a small group of bluegrass players and bands who all knew each other in the area.
Baiman and Sedelmyer were both performers, but neither one a front person, before they started the band. But after figuring out how to keep a show running smoothly, with the audience entertained in between songs, they found performance a “really intense way to connect with people.”
“You put in so much work on the back end, and the payoff is worth it – to perform,” Baiman said.