Ari & Mia's musical journey is a family affair
HOUSATONIC -- Ariel and Mia Friedman of Newton blend traditional and contemporary music, Southern and Northeastern fiddle, with a sophisticated style that honors the sounds of Appalachia, square-dance and urban concert halls.
An Americana sister act billed as Ari & Mia -- Ariel on cello and Mia on fiddle -- they say they knew at an early age they wanted to perform before audiences or cut an album. They began playing as a duo a decade ago when Ariel, now 28, was a freshman at Northwestern University outside Chicago, and Mia, now 23, was starting high school.
"Every time we got together, we would try things, and our music evolved from there," Ariel said.
By 2005, they had composed their own arrangements, releasing a mostly instrumental CD of their music a year later -- one they say was mainly for practice.
"Our music has drastically changed since then," Mia said, "with more interesting lyrics and subject matter."
They will bring their evolving music on tour to Western Massachusetts on Friday, May 2, with a concert at the Montague Bookmill, just east of Deerfield, and return for a performance at The Brick House Pub in Housatonic on Friday, May 16, with guitarist Amy Waichman.
They will perform songs from their third and latest album, "Land on Shore," a follow-up to 2010's "Unruly Heart," which ranked high on the national folk radio charts.
Their music has roots in their musical family, as their older sister, Shoshana; mother, Joyce, and father, Lev, all play instruments. Joyce Friedman convinced Ariel to take up the cello at age 7.
"She liked the way the cello sounded with the piano, and so I decided to play the cello," Ariel said.
After studying cello performance at Northwestern, Ariel received a master's of music in contemporary improvisation in 2009 from the New England Conservatory. Three years later, Mia wrapped up her undergraduate studies at the conservatory, earning a music degree in 2012.
While the sisters studied under several famous musicians in college -- Ariel with cellist Hans Jorgen Jensen and Mia with jazz artist Anthony Coleman -- the parental impact on their music continues today.
Mia sees her father as a mentor for advice and an occasional song.
Years ago, Lev Friedman wrote "Glad You Came By," about an unexpected romance, and his daughters recorded the song for "Land on Shore".
"It's really the perfect song for us to sing," Ariel said.
"Land on Shore," the title track of Ari & Mia's newest album, is their rendition of an old Shaker song about death and getting to heaven. But they pride themselves on creating original songs, such as "Turn Me Around" and "Marble Moon," collaborations they say play to each other's strengths as musicians and vocalists.
They said they are gradually building a fan base through social media and hitting the road.
"The last three or four years our music has gained momentum," Ariel said. "We've toured all over the country, including out West."
In the fall, they will go international with a trip to Australia, and they hope to perform before bigger audiences.
"We're starting to move in that direction," Mia said. "We've already toured in enough places, so I think we're on our way."
"I wrote a song once that didn't sound right for me, but I had my sister sing it and it sounded great," Ariel said.
They write from experience, another bit of advice from their father, Mia said.
"I started gardening two years ago, and it's become a passion of mine, so I like to write [songs] about the environment," she said.
And they have no sibling rivalry when it comes to the creative process.
"We work really well together, but if we do fight -- as sisters we're allowed to fight -- we get over it quickly," Ariel said.
Being sisters "helps us to be ourselves and more honest with each other," Mia said.
If you go ...
What: Boston Americana
duo Ari & Mia
When: Friday, May 2, 8 p.m.
Where: at Montague Bookmill, 440 Greenfield Road, Montague
Information: (413) 367-9206
When: Friday, May 16
Where: The Brick House Pub,
425 Park St. North, Housatonic
Information: (413) 274-0020
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