Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
You can hear Calliope on the recording of "This Woman's Work," the last song here. The child is happy, even if outside, the rain is coming down in torrential pours, even if there are no signs of it stopping before her mommy and all of her friends - including choir leader and Dark Dark Dark singer Nona Marie Invie - head north to Maquoketa, Iowa and out onto the muddy country roads, to perform in a barn, on the final night of the fall Barnstormer tour. There is a roof over all the heads, but no one will be able to stay dry or clean, the back of leggings and the bottoms of dresses heavier with brown sludge that will clog the washing machines the next day. For the time being, the baby is happy and you can hear her bursting out some cute sounds as the ladies surrounding her do something that makes them feel like diamonds on the inside. It's all this singing. This gathering that makes your heart just swell. It's what led them to each other. It must have. And even when they're singing something melancholy and downbeat, the words boom out of their collective as if they were birds of peace and handmade sweaters, gifts from on high. You think, when listening to this baby - one of the sweetest and prettiest little babies we've ever seen - and these women from Minneapolis, Minnesota, that if anyone was going to be able to affect change in the weather and bring about good in the world, it would be these women, their harmonies and it would be tonight. These women could change the structure of the day into something that would be the exact opposite of soggy. They've bottled rainbows before, canned them in their spare time, to look at them at their leisure.
You get the feeling, when listening to and watching Nona Marie & The Choir perform that each of these voices start each song as a seedling. Invie plants each one of them, in a little patch of invisible earth on the stage, or in the studio/practice room and she sprinkles the mounds with water. Before we know it, after an introduction to another beautifully chosen or written selection by Invie herself - with voice and her piano - we watch those seeds spring from ground and up, as if viewing some time-lapse photography or video work. The songs and the voices go from thin saplings into thick adolescent trunks with huge plumes of leaves and branches - some of them bearing round and bright fruit at the end of them - and then we watch as they obtain their autumn colors, drop all their covering and turn gray for the winter. It's then that the songs end, having given witness to the full range of happiness and what it means to experience life.
Most of what the choir stands for or more so, what it gets us to feel is found in these lines from the song, "Save Me A Place," where Invie sings, "Save me a place/I'll come running if you love me today/I don't know why I have to go/I don't know why I can't stay/I guess I want to be alone/I guess I need to be amazed." The thing about the amazement needed here is that she's not talking anything spectacular, it doesn't seem. She's likely just referring to things like the rainy day that these songs were recorded on and how it just kept raining and how people were filled with joy nonetheless. And she was especially referring to how pretty, eight or nine-month-old Calliope will forever be heard as cheerful and happy on September third, two-thousand and eleven.
Nona Marie Invie