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 talks 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 starts to laugh as she says,” 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 says 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”.
I 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 that.”
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 doors.”
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 ? 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 songwriter.
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.
Copyright © 2006 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.