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A cappella trio unites voices and cultures

A cappella trio unites voices and cultures By Kris DiLorenzo To say the Asaran Earth Trio cares about the planet is an understatement. Brazilian Anne Boccato, Hungarian Artemisz Polonyi, and Croatian Astrid Kuljanic, who will sing at Dobbs Ferry's South Presbyterian Church on Nov. 4, released their new recording, "Why Should Your Heart Not Dance?" without using plastic at all. Boccato, who founded the a cappella group, told the Enterprise, "We don't want to fill the world with plastic. We're giving buyers a code to download the music." The recording is accompanied by a booklet containing song lyrics and her drawings, based on the lyrics, printed on 100 percent-recycled paper. The title of the new release, "Why Should Your Heart Not Dance?" is a phrase from the 1956 novel by CS. Lewis, "Till We Have Faces," and the joyful invitation is an indication of what audiences may feel when they experience the trio's harmonies and rhythms. The upcoming performance, sponsored by arts organizations RiverArts and Common Ground Community Concerts, is not their first Rivertowns concert; in 2015, the group performed CONTINUED ON PAGE 36 on the inaugural RiverArts Music Tour. Boccato, Polonyi, and Kuljanic may seem an unlikely ensemble, but jazz is the common element that united them twoand-a-half years ago in Manhattan, "even though our music doesn't sound like jazz," Boccato explained. The trio, whose name combines the initial two letters of each singer's first name, blends music from all over the world, including traditional folk songs, and puts its own spin on it. "We arrange things together, or someone brings in something and we tweak it, or workshop it, change it around, sing different voice parts, and we're flexible about who sings the melody," Boccato clarified. Boccato described their voices. "Astrid sings the low end. Artemisz has a crystal clear soprano and sounds like an angel. I'm the wild card; I sing in the middle." The women also use "shakers," percussion instruments that Boccato's mother, visual artist Noemia Marinho, makes from discarded materials: cans sheathed in crocheted plastic bags, in imitation of an African shekere (a gourd covered in string netting), with labels made from almond milk cartons and rice inside to create the sound. "All for the earth," Boccato noted. The group's purpose is to make people happy, Polonyi feels, yet according to her, "With Hungarian songs, 95 percent of them are sad. Hungarians have a dramatic nature. The songs are mostly in a minor key, and have less rhythm. They're often about longing or sad situations. Also, in Hungary we don't have a tradition of multiple parts in folk singing, but I love choral harmony." Boccato, 28, came from Sao Paolo to the U.S. in 2005 when her jazz percussionist father, Rogerio, was invited to teach at the University of Hartford (Conn.). She later graduated from the Purchase College (SUNY) Conservatory of Music with a degree in jazz piano performance. In addition to singing with the trio ? in Portuguese, Spanish, and English ? she composes, arranges, and has collaborated in performance and on recordings with musicians from Israel, Venezuela, Italy, Mexico ? and musician John Pattitucci of Hastings. She now lives in Yonkers and also teaches piano privately. Budapest native Polonyi, 36, has lived in the U.S. since 2012, when she came ("all by myself; it was scary") on a Fulbright Scholarship to study jazz voice improvisation at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., where she earned a Master of Music degree. She had previously studied at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands. Now based in Brooklyn, Polonyi, who plays "a little bit of piano and guitar," participates in other projects as well as the Asaran Earth Trio, including her own jazz trio and an indie rock band composed of 13 members, playing various types of contemporary music. She also teaches voice in Manhattan at the 92nd Street Y and the Metropolitan Opera Guild. She nearly missed her calling, though. Polonyi, who holds a masters degree in sociology, was working in research and singing as a hobby. "At age 26, I just couldn't take it anymore, so that's when I left for the Netherlands," she said. At the moment, Polonyi and Boccato are adding another string to their bow: studying Arabic drumming. Kuljanic, from the Italian-influenced region of Kvarner at the western edge of Croatia, also composes and arranges. Her influences are far-ranging, including Indian, klezmer, avant-garde, electronic, and Brazilian music. Besides her work with the Asaran Earth Trio and a solo career, Kuljanic is involved in several projects. This week she was preparing for the Astrid Kuljanic Transadantic Exploration Company's appearance at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall. Boccato elaborated on how the three women met. "I'm the mastermind. I knew Artemisz through a mutual friend we each played music with. My father was teaching Brazilian music at the Manhattan School of Music, Astrid was a student of his, and he introduced us. I was thinking our voices would blend together." Polonyi and Boccato both talked about the importance of their vocal warmups. "We just start making sounds, melodies emerge, we relax, and that gets us into the improvisational and blending mindset. That, and our love of mixing styles in general," Boccato said. "Our improvising tunes our ears to each other," Polonyi added. "I think it's a beautiful way for singers to get together with each other. We're warming up not doing scales, first making sounds and pulling each other into the harmonies, which enables us to relax." After the Asaran Earth Trio celebrates the new release at the Nov. 4 concert, the three will head out on a fivestate East Coast tour. It's a short one, compared to this past summer's tour that took them to festivals and clubs in Italy, Croatia, and Hungary. At Kuljanic's Carnegie Hall event, Boccato and Polonyi joined her onstage to sing "Foreign Lander," a tune from their new non-CD. Boccato summed up the event: "It was very eclectic and lots of fun." That is likely to be the audience's review of both the live concert and recording of "Why Should Your Heart Not Dance?" PHOTO BY FRANCESCO MORETTI Astrid Kuljanic, Anne Boccato and Artemisz Polonyi