On Friday night, Brandi Recital Hall resounded with the twang of electric and acoustic mandolins, violin and upright bass of ensemble. 9 Horses is an improvisational chamber ensemble that boldly mixes genres and styles to create a transformative musical experience.
9 Horses’ performance was personal and intimate. The trio of musicians paused between songs several times to allow opportunities for questions and comments from the audience. The band members also met with Kenyon music students prior to the performance to organize a poetry reading set to the backdrop of their music. Students dispersed throughout the audience stood up consecutively to read lines from a poem written by Maggie Smith while the band members improvised melodies to carry the poetry.
Joe Brent, previously a member of Regina Spektor’s live band, is the primary composer and mandolinist for 9 Horses. Brent also plays violin, which is how he came into contact with Sara Caswell, the violinist for 9 Horses and a Grammy nominee. Originally a duo, Brent and Caswell founded 9 Horses in 2012 before adding Andrew Ryan, the upright bassist, to the band in 2013.
Elegantly fusing classical elements with folk, songs from the band ranged from upbeat, folk-centric tunes with mandolin solos to melancholy, haunting melodies carried by Caswell’s violin. Brent frequently adopted animated facial expressions as he played, while Ryan and Caswell turned to share a smile several times over the course of the performance. It was evident that the band members were not only passionate about their music, but also genuinely enjoy one another’s company.
Throughout the performance, the musicians emphasized the independent experiences that they hoped their music would inspire. Although the individual songs that were performed had unique and often specific titles that alluded to their inspirations—such as “listening to the Elliott Smith discography in reverse order”—Caswell said that she believes the music changes every time it is performed depending not only on the different thoughts and feelings of the musicians but also those of the listeners. In that way, every performance becomes a unique experience.
Currently, 9 Horses travels all across the world, performing and holding workshops. They have released an album called Perfectest Herald (2015) and an EP with four songs titled Blood From A Stone (2019). They hope to release a new EP sometime this year.
The originality and thoughtful audience interaction displayed by 9 Horses on Friday night was candid and inspiring, an engaging and touching way for students to conclude their first week of the Spring 2020 semester at Kenyon.