In the Company of Smithies

Becca Damante ’17
Arts Editor

“Encore! Encore! Encore!” a group of twenty-somethings nestled in the back of a booth at the intimate Iron Horse venue in Northampton chanted incessantly. Smith alumnae Hannah Hickock ’11 and Maggie Kraus ’12, better known as Hannah & Maggie, had just played a stellar 90 minute show filled with heartwarming, comical stories and hauntingly beautiful vocal harmonies from their latest album, “In the Company of Strangers.” The musical duo had already unplugged their acoustic and electric guitars, and a few people on the bottom level of the venue had already shuffled out (likely to continue their celebration of Northampton PRIDE) but it was evident that the audience, mainly Smith students, wanted more. The duo shared a smile with each other and finished with “Warm Again,” though it was much more of a collaborative performance with heavy audience participation on the chorus: “And get in my car / And we’ll take the road south / And we’ll keep driving ‘til you / feel warm again.”
The duo first met in the spring of 2009 as members of the Smith College Smiffenpoofs. Both had spent a significant amount of time on their own high school songwriting projects, and felt thankful for the opportunity to continue performing and for the community of singers that would become a core part of their adult lives. But beyond that, Hannah & Maggie may not have met had it not been for the Smiffenpoofs. Kraus revealed, “I can’t help but be so grateful for the fact that we did wind up in the group, because I am almost 100 percent positive that we never would have found each other as musical people.”
When the two returned to Smith in the fall of 2009, Maggie planned to enter a songwriting contest, whose grand prize winner would perform at Lilith Fair. When Hickock heard about Kraus’s plan, she suggested that they do it together as Hannah & Maggie. After an afternoon of hard work and laughter in Sessions house, the musical duo wrote “Things We’ll Never Know,” which ultimately won them the audience vote, though they didn’t win the chance to sing at Lilith Fair. But in this case, the process was much more important than the final product or the outcome. Kraus explained, “After that whole songwriting contest thing was over, I think more than anything what we realized was that we had so fun much doing it together, like the whole process: writing, recording, practicing, going into the studio, like everything about the whole entire process was just endlessly exciting to both of us.”
Hannah & Maggie are a duo in performance, but often write songs individually. Their first album, “Fine Being Here,” was created predominantly from Hickock’s and Kraus’s individual high school catalogues, though “Not The One” was written together. Many of the songs off their second album, “Muscle & Bone,” were also started individually but finished through a “digital exchange,” as Kraus was studying abroad in Ecuador at the time. The finished product is always a collaborative effort, especially on their latest album, “In the Company of Strangers.” Kraus said, “[When] someone has an idea, you kind of nurture it together until we both feel good about it.”
Certainly, Hannah & Maggie’s experience performing in the Smiffenpoofs certainly influenced their music; their a Capella roots are present in almost of their songs through intricate vocal harmonies and arrangements. Aside from the Poofs, though, there is something about being a Smith graduate that unites Hannah & Maggie with Smithies from different class years and even across the United States. On a recent tour from Northampton to San Diego, Smithies were at almost every show, and many even attended performances on the East and West Coast. Even more impressive is the fact that the duo was on tour for two and a half months and only had to stay at a hotel for four nights due to the hospitality and generosity of Smith alums who supported Hannah & Maggie across the country.
In thinking about their experience more broadly as Smithies, Hickock values the critical thinking skills and work ethic she learned from being at Smith, which she often uses in her job teaching music to young kids and in the novel she’s writing about a folk rock trio whose lead singer dies, and one of the band’s YouTube videos goes viral. She also explained that through her experience at Smith, she learned to see world differently “through a questioning lens and not necessarily taking the things the way they’re presented to you and just sort of turning them over and thinking about them from different angles.”
Kraus currently works at Turner Falls in Northampton, which aims to provide affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. Thinking about Smith, she reflects, “The thing that I took away from Smith the most was how important it is for me to have a community of people who are passionate about something.” She remembered having dinner with students from all over the world and the country, who were each so dedicated to their particular majors. This passion has not only let Kraus become more informed on a variety of issues, but also has allowed her to connect with Smithies across generations. She explained, “There’s nothing like meeting someone who had that same experience. I just feel like anytime we’re around Smith people we just have really amazingly and thoughtful, important conversations, and that’s how Smith has kind of shaped me as a person, just making me feel like I’m part of something exciting to have had the opportunity.”
Whether the duo is discussing their passions, playing a hometown show at the Iron Horse, or performing somewhere in the middle of the country, Hannah & Maggie will never lose sight of what they learned at Smith. Like our graduating seniors, they will always be in the company of Smithies.

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