by Scott Roos
pics by Deanna Roos
Birch Lake’s Raven She Hollers are a trio of women who specialize in an Appalachian style sound. Formed around a decade ago when Chandra Pederson (ukulele, guitar and vocals) first moved into the community and met Joys Dancer (5-string fretless banjo and vocals) and Nissa Shiell (guitar, fiddle and vocals), the three have been slowly building a strong reputation for the authenticity of their sound and also the warmth and intimacy of their performances.
“Chandra moved into the community ten or eleven years ago and we had a potluck and Chandra said 'bring your instruments' and something just clicked then and there,” recalls Dancer in a recent conversation with NSMZ.
“We realized that this girl's into the same kind of music as we are into,” adds Shiell when reminiscing on that first get together with Pederson.
Dancer is the “elder stateswomen” of the group and it’s clear that her gentle, humble spirit along with her five string, fretless banjo are key ingeriants in the trio’s overall vibe. A former member of Friends of Old Time Music, dancer learned and grew as a musician in that group and was able to share her vast knowledge with Pederson and Shiell.
“Some guys in the Friends of Old Time music went out to the Appalachians and learned the music,” said Dancer.
Bringing the sound of her banjo over to the Raven She Hollers is a conversation piece to be sure, but it's also essential to their sound. It’s a gorgeous instrument made of wood. The wooden makeup of the instrument gives it a more organic sound. It’s softer and less twangy than the banjos that are more common to the bluegrass and Applachian music markets.
“Because of how it's designed I strum it up the neck a bit so it's not over the drum so it has a warmer sound I think. It is a very unique sound,” explains Dancer, “There are drawbacks to it because I can't put a capo on it so it's hard to change keys and I can't play bar chords because there's no frets. So it has its limitations as far as playing certain tunes without tuning every string. But the authenticity of the sound is worth it.”
Meanwhile, Pederson plays mostly ukulele in the group which adds another unique aspect to the group’s sound. But to Pederson, it’s not about the sonics of the instrument as much as it is the ease of use. It gives her something less complex to strum so she can concentrate more on her vocal harmonies which, to her, is the most enjoyable part of being in the Raven She Hollers.
"I've been playing the ukulele for about 20 years. I wanted to sing so I'm just playing my uke so I can sing and then get the harmonies that we do. That's the whole point of the instruments that we're playing. It's all about the harmonies. In high school I did choir. So figuring out the harmonies is like a puzzle of who goes where. I really enjoy it,” said Pederson.
The Raven She Hollers will be performing the weekend of August 19th - 21st as part of the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music festival sharing the stage with The Price Sisters, Five Mile Mountain Road and the Stanley County Cut-Ups to name but a few. In the meantime, Shiell will be attending the music camp, which takes place on the Ness Creek grounds in the week leading up to the festival. Shiell speaks very highly and fondly of the camp and is looking forward to attending this year. It runs from Monday, August 15th to Friday, August 19th. Shiell enjoys the learning environment of the camp and has taken many different classes over the years.
“I think definitely take the harder level in whatever you're doing and then it's a struggle but you really grow,” advises Shiell, “I've done intermediate guitar, advanced guitar. Advanced guitar was the hardest thing I ever did. I took the dobro, I took the beginner and intermediate fiddle. And the harmony singing camp is amazing. You're just singing harmony with twelve people all day.”
“You can learn something from people that play better than you. At the Bluegrass camp they're the hot dogs. They're really sharp shootin’ bluegrass guys from all over Canada and the States and every time I've gone it's been amazing,” raves Shiell of her many fond memories of the camp.
As of Monday, August 8th, registration for the camp has officially been closed but NSMZ will be on site to report on our experiences. Scott will be taking a beginner guitar class with his son Cobain whilst Deanna will be taking the intermediate fiddling class and daughter Aberdeen the beginner fiddle class. If you’re going to the camp we hope to see you there. We want to talk to campers about their experiences at the camp. Music education is an important part of the NSMZ mandate. If you would like to be a part of a piece we’re doing on the camp, please come up and say ‘Hi” if you see us around.