Take three Bastrop County, Texas women, add one each: violin, guitar, Celtic harp and piano. Simmer gently for several months, add a heaping dose of humor, dress in outrageous costumes and serve on Halloween to a packed hall at Buescher State Park.
This is the recipe for Tres Lunas. The trio spiraled into the Central Texas music scene in 2003 and has developed an enthusiastic following in Bastrop and surrounding counties.
"Our goal is to play sophisticated music in a manner which puts folks at ease," explains harpist/pianist Billie Woods. "Our shows are NOT stuffy!"
Adds violinist Ann Mesrobian, "We know we have succeeded when we can carry the audience from laughter to tears and back."
"We don't always dress in costume," assures guitarist Debbie Collier, "just for Halloween, and when we feel like it."
Following their spook-tacular 2003 debut, Tres Lunas hosted two concerts in 2004 at the RoseMinn Gallery in Elgin: on Leap Day (wearing their "Sadie Hawkins Best"), and a "Blue Moon Soiree" in July. The Lunas returned to Buescher State Park for Halloween '04, and the cauldron is bubbling to make it an annual tradition.
The trio's largely instrumental repertoire ranges from Celtic to classical, and from contemporary to world folk. Vocal selections lightly sprinkle the mix. Their signature classic-eclectic charm has delighted audiences in restaurants and coffee houses, including the Tree House and Chez Zee in Austin, Javamotion in Lockhart, and Saradora's in Round Rock.
The women of Tres Lunas first played together in May 2003, when Ann invited Billie and Debbie to her house for an informal meeting. While Ann and Debbie had known each other for over a decade, they had only recently begun working together on classical duets. Meanwhile, Ann had met Billie through their work on environmental issues (specifically, Alcoa's plans to expand a devastating lignite strip mine into Bastrop County in order to fuel a heavily polluting, grandfathered aluminum smelter). She recalls: "When I met Billie I didn't even know she was a musician. I found out she was a life-long pianist and had just bought a Celtic harp, and I decided to see what would happen if all three of us got together with our instruments. The chemistry was immediate, and astonishing."
Woods echoes this sentiment: "Debbie and Ann are great to work with," she says. "We all explore new repertoire and our arrangements ripen over time. Each one is original."
And quirky . . . Case in point: the "Westphalia Bear Waltz," which is constructed like a generous serving of cobbler ala mode. The flaky crust: a whimsical version of Waltzing With Bears. Syrupy fruit is the Texas fiddle-styled Westphalia Waltz which quickly yields to the ice cream-lots of it-by melting into a lilting jazz rendition, the harp anchoring the melody while the violin decorates each phrase with playful puffs of whipped cream. This piece, and sixteen others, are included on the trio's first CD, "Moonrise," released in March of 2005.
The CD project posed some unusual challenges. Because she wanted to use her own grand piano for the recording, Woods and her husband Brad Stafford constructed temporary sound-proof panels to transform their house into three studios and a control room. Stafford runs sound for Tres Lunas' live shows, and recorded, mixed and mastered the CD, which evolved from recording session to shrink wrapped disc in less than 6 months. "Living around those panels probably sped up the process a bit," Stafford laughs. "When we first took them down after 3 months our house felt huge."
Recently the Lunas embarked on a new adventure: scoring music for a film produced by the Bastrop County non-profit group Upstart, Inc. Spurred by this effort, all three women have now begun composing. "We all read music, so it's time to write some," notes Woods. "We have three different approaches to composition and we collaborate on arrangements. It's a blast."
In the meantime, the Lunas have shows lined up this fall at the popular Tree House Italian Grill in Austin, and at the Bugle Boy in La Grange, a unique listening hall which was originally built as a World War II army barrack, and has superb acoustics due to its seasoned wood frame architecture. Following a well-received March 2005 performance at the enchanting Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Artisans' Festival, they will return there in October for the Fall Plant Sale and Gardening Festival, and again in December for the Christmas Luminaria Celebration.
As for long term plans, "we're still exploring our menu options," smiles Collier.
Rest assured that no matter what they cook up, every Tres Lunas show will present a tasteful offering of fine music, performed with upbeat and often comical charm.
Born on Long Island, New York, Ann Mesrobian grew up in Honolulu. She played violin and viola as a child and through college, performing in youth orchestras under the baton of her father Peter Mesrobian, who was also her first (and favorite!) violin teacher. Her family comprised a string quartet, and her upbringing was "almost strictly classical," meaning that contemporary show tunes were also part of the mix. She attended the University of Washington (Seattle) after which she took a ten-year break from music to pursue a field archeology career. Following a gypsy lifestyle chasing archeology jobs through 7 western states, she settled in Bastrop County, Texas in 1985, where she became active as an environmental advocate in 1990. Among other issues, she has championed the endangered Houston toad, a species now extinct in its namesake city due to urban development, but which continues to survive in the Lost Pines of Bastrop County. She picked the violin back up in the early '90s to play with the 10-piece Bastrop Left Bank All-Star Jug Band Revue. She then perfomed for 9 years in the strolling gypsy trio Troika. By the time she formed Tres Lunas in spring of 2003, her classical style had mellowed considerably. Mesrobian serves as environmental representative on the two-county Lost Pines Groundwater Conservation District, balancing work which can be disheartening, with music which is always healing.
Raised in Henderson, Texas, pianist and Celtic harpist Billie Woods recalls her earliest performance: when she was three years old, she sang "Chantilly Lace" at her cousin's birthday party. She started exploring piano by ear at age four, and at seven began formal lessons. She earned her music education degree from the University of Texas (Austin) in voice, in 1976. She performed from the late 1980's through the '90's in the Austin-based vocal trio Once in a Blue Moon, and during this time she also performed as back up vocalist for several Austin artists. Following a 20-year day job as computer programmer, she spent 4 years leading a citizens' group to oppose the expansion of an environmentally disastrous lignite mine near her home in Elgin. While still involved in that battle, (and as a therapeutic counterpoint to it), she turned her attention back to music and now teaches piano (Suzuki method) in her Austin studio. As part of her "recovery," she dusted off her skills at harp, which she had also studied at UT, but this time she avoided the hassle of a full-size concert model by acquiring her more manageable 36-string Celtic variety. She alternates between piano and harp to vary the audio palette of Tres Lunas. While Tres Lunas' debut CD "Moonrise" is entirely instrumental, Woods arranges and leads the vocal selections that are included in the trio's live performances.
Austin native Debbie Collier's earliest musical inspiration was her paternal grandmother, who played piano by ear and sang on the radio in the 1940's. At the far end of the spectrum, she was utterly mesmerized by the huge pipe organ at the University Methodist Church. Following childhood piano lessons and a sampling of coronet and French horn in junior high, Collier achieved musical enlightenment in 1977 while working at the Armadillo World Headquarters, a historical landmark of mythic proportion in the "live music capitol of the world." Inspired by artists ranging from Greezy Wheels to Gary Burton, she picked up the guitar as a young adult, studying first with Cindy Horstman (now a jazz harpist in the Dallas metroplex) and then for a decade with classical guitarist and violinist Joseph Castle. Always interested in rhythm, she studied tap with Acia Grey at Tapestry Dance Company. Collier's hybrid jazz/classical background flavors many of Tres Lunas' arrangements and has allowed her to offer a variety of musical styles to her private students since she began teaching at her Red Rock home in 1987. A fervent believer that world peace is both possible and necessary for our survival, Collier is active in the peace movement and an ardent Code Pink supporter. In January 2003 she was one of about twenty who attended the only anti-war demonstration in Bastrop, Texas prior to the US invasion of Iraq. Her son spent summer '04 as resident director of The Crawford Peace House, a non-profit project in the small hamlet of Crawford a few miles from Bush's "Prairie Chapel" ranch.
Check out the artist's website:
1. Summertime/Canyon Moonrise (Gershwin, McGann)
2. Turkish March (Beethoven)
3. Crested Hens (trad. French)
4. Westphalia Bear Waltz (Marxen, trad. Texan)
5. Wounded Hussar (O'Carolan)
6. Forest Flower (trad. Finnish)
7. Funeral March of a Marionette (Gounod)
8. Pizzicato Pearl (trad. Irish)
9. Domino (Reye, Plante & Ferrari)
10. Ashokan Farewell (Ungar)
11. In My Life (Lennon & McCartney)
12. Waltz Op. 39 No. 15 (Brahms)
13. Danse Macabre (Saint-Seans)
14. Violon Confesseur (Favreau)
15. Serenade (Schubert)
16. Tango (Albeniz)
17. Gankino Horo (trad. Bulgarian)