The Annie Moses Band
Over the decades we have
witnessed numerous musically gifted family acts. Long before my time there
were the Carter and King families along with the Lennon Sisters. Country
music introduced us to the Mandrell sisters, Southern Gospel, the Gaithers
and more recently the Crabb Family. Pop music in the sixties and seventies
brought with it a bevy of family acts including the Osmonds, Partridge
Family, Jackson Five and Cowsills. The Annie Moses Band is the newest entry
on the family music scene and they are about to carve their names in the
annals of music history. The band, comprised of Robin and Bill Wolaver,
five of their six children and two friends may be the most gifted group
of musicians that exists on any music scene today regardless of the genre.
The Annie Moses Band is
an eclectic ensemble combining the best aspects of father Bill's (B3) jazz
roots, siblings' Annie (lead vocals / violin), Alex (viola) and Benjamin's
(cello) classical Juilliard training. They create a breathtaking strings
tapestry and weave it with guitar grooves (Peter Bales) and percussion
beats (Javier Santiago). Add for good measure the two youngest Wolaver
girls, Camille who doubles on harp and keys, and Gretchen on mandolin.
Robin, the mother, is an award-winning lyricist who contributes on vocals.
The youngest member of the family Jeremiah seems destined to eventually
join the band.
I first caught up with Annie
a few weeks before Christmas and then visited with other members of the
family following their television appearance on Canada's 100 Huntley Street
in early January. We discussed the ancestral influences that led to the
formation of the band and their album Eden.
Annie talked warmly about
co-writing with her mother the swinging blues track "Keep The Change."
"My mother had an idea for a song called "Keep The Change." I loved the
hook." She started to laugh as she said, "Right about the time we started
writing it we bought Aretha Franklin's best hits of the 1960's. I have
to confess it was the inspiration behind the song because we were listening
to her big hits like "Respect." We loved every minute of it. My voice is
very lick friendly. I wanted to explore that side of it. My dad had all
these cool ideas of what we were going to do with the B3 solos and the
viola solos. We started with that and it kind of grew from there. We love
doing that song ("Keep the Change") and it is so much fun to perform. In
some ways it may seem a little out of place but it is perfect for us."
Annie, who possesses the
charm and pretty girl next door looks that capture young men's hearts,
is bubbly and often acts as the spokesperson for the group. She said about
the track "Smoky Mountain Blue," "That was a chance for me to let loose."
While listening to one of today's top vocalists her voice will make you
swoon, your heart beat faster and your toes curl.
The Annie Moses Band is
not just about bending strings however as they have created some awe inspiring
worship psalms such as beautiful number one and two tracks "Lover of My
Soul" and the title track "Eden".
asked Annie about the musical metaphor "Tough As Nails". She said, "That
song came out of the whole Passion of Christ movement. It was written before
that film but I think once we released Eden it really connected with people
and the vision of that movie. We wanted to express what we talk so much
about in the church God's love for mankind. I don't think people have a
very clear concept of that kind of love because it is often confused or
seen through the lens of our experiences of love on earth. We wanted to
sing a song that depicts the way that Jesus felt and his suffering was
something that we wanted to express. It was a good chance for us to do
Yet for all their well intentioned
excellence Christian radio stations in North America for the most part
have not embraced the band's music. As the downward spiral of commercialism
continues in Christian network broadcasting the Annie Moses Band has turned
to alternative audiences.
Alex talks about the way
radio has received them, "When a station does bite so to speak they either
love it or people say they don't know what to do with it."
Annie jumps in with, "Independent
radio has received us with open arms. It is so much harder with the network
broadcasters. That is a lot harder to break into. It is very label lobbied.
I think it is so unfair within Christian music because it is defined by
content. We find the stations confine themselves to a particular style.
It doesn't really make it (that easy) for groups that are outside of that
stylistic box even though the content of their material may fit beautifully
into the programming. The Christian radio market is so small. It doesn't
really mean a whole lot. I know that. It is a very small market so we don't
really worry about it."
Benjamin says that for the
most part the demand for the band's music "is definitely driven from the
concerts. Our core is our fan base and the people that love our music.
The Annie Moses Band wouldn't exist if people early on hadn't come out
and said this is incredible, this is wonderful. Everywhere we went we got
the same response. (People would say)'This is fresh, this is new.' People
back that up because we sell a lot of product (CDs).
Alex tells me that the band
is in the developmental stage in terms of exploring some more mainstream
markets for their music. "We are trying to open up doors in more pop classical
markets and performing arts venues to give us a broader range of concert
venues to play. We really are in both worlds with our classical studies
and our history and belief in the church. I think that might open up some
Benjamin feels the Annie
Moses Band's success comes from something beyond their music. "We feel
we have hit a nerve that is much bigger than our music. We think people
are longing for individuals who are not only Christians but are incredibly
excellent at what they do. People are looking for family centered things
to focus on. People are looking for ways that they can inspire their children
to play music. We really want to inspire the church to take on the musical
education of their young people. The government is being relied upon to
give what should be the Church's responsibility. The church needs to have
an interest in their children's spiritual lives and in their educational
lives." With his tongue partially planted in his cheek he says, "We are
hoping to be not only a band but a movement." At this point everyone else
breaks into laughter.
The Annie Moses Band is
the legacy of the family grand matriarch Annie Moses who lived in the small
rural community of McKinney north of Dallas Texas. Red haired Annie led
an impoverished life and died at an early age but not before she instilled
in her daughter Jane the love for music. It was Jane, Annie Wolaver's grandmother
who drove her children 1 ½ hrs in each direction down a dirt road
each Saturday morning for piano lessons. Robin was one of those children.
She eventually grew up and enrolled as a performance vocal major at Oklahoma
City University where she met husband Bill. Prior to the Annie Moses Band
Bill worked as a music editor with Word Music and is considered one of
the industry's top arrangers. Robin was nominated for a Dove Award as a
Fast forward a few years
and Robin while attending a concert witnesses a young girl playing a violin.
The experience leaves a firm impression on her heart and she promises if
she ever has a little girl she will enroll her in violin lessons. Annie,
Bill and Robin's first child is born and enrolled in violin lessons at
age four. As the family grows so does the amount of children taking music
lessons. Long story short many years later Annie, Alex and Benjamin with
the assistance of scholarships attend New York's famed Juilliard School.
Annie however makes the
decision to leave school early and is soon followed by Alex and Benjamin.
She discusses her decision with me. "I wanted to sing while I was living
in Nashville and put it on the backburner to concentrate on violin when
I moved to New York. Our initial interest in the Annie Moses Band began
when we put together some songs and arrangements that we decided to perform
at venues (such as) coffee houses, dinner theaters and things of that sort.
So initially the Annie Moses Band was something where we said, 'We are
going to make a great show," she says.
Annie continues and I am
not sure she has taken a breath yet, "A great show meant diversity. We
were going to explore all the different sounds and styles that people loved.
That was the first thread that led to that diversity."
One would think that with
so many gifted members of the family egos would get in the way especially
when you are living and working with the same people. However one senses
very early in the conversation that there is both mutual respect and warm
love flowing in all directions. Whether it is Annie good naturedly teasing
Alex about being a "techie" as a compliment to his skills as a sound engineer
or she quickly gives credit to her father's compositions with the classical
piece "Sole de Gloria" (To God Alone Be Glory).
Bill who gives off that
easy going persona that director Ron Howard is so well known for talks
about his children, "My children are all very outward and they are all
very good speakers. Alex and Ben are very intuitive and have a real hunger
for knowledge. They are very well read historically. They spur me on in
that way. They are starting to go places musically that I am not well versed
in. "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen", the cadenza of that is something that
Alex and Annie did by themselves.
Annie says, "We write songs
that we love and do whatever is necessary to make the songs the very best
that they can be. So many artists will forgo choosing the very best songs
for choosing the songs that fit a little box that they are trying to aim
for. I think that love for a song has been the reason for the diversity
and diversity is what makes people love your music in a show."
The Annie Moses Band is
rooted in family tradition, family values and most importantly Christ.
It reflects in their music and perhaps no more beautifully than in their
song "Dogwood's a'Bloomin'". The lyrics recall the peace and joy Robin
felt as a child during the spring when the Dogwood would bloom. The white
flowers she observed while riding in the school bus in the Kiamichi Mountains
of Oklahoma became a metaphor for Christ's redemptive love.
You can check out the Annie
Moses Band's tour schedule at their site www.anniemosesband.com You may
also want to check out www.baylortv.com The later is the site for Baylor
University. If you go to the chapel schedule you can type in Annie Moses
Band and it will generate a twenty minute concert the group performed in
November of 2004.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.