Making music with the Indigo Girls

Emily Sulliers (middle) and Amy Ray (right), best known as the Indigo Girls, address students in the UNCG Auditorium during a Q&A session moderated by School of Music Professor Mark Engebretsson (left) increase.

Amy Ray and Emily Sulliers sat casually and modestly in front of the stage at the UNCG Auditorium. Their quiet demeanor contrasted with the powerful music they had played forcefully just minutes earlier at Sound He Check with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra.

“As long as we’re playing the symphony, let’s make it big and bombastic when we need it. Let’s not waste it,” Ray says.

Best known as the Grammy-winning Indigo Girls, the pair have sold over 14 million records and earned Top 40 Billboard 200 titles in the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s and 10’s. The only duo to do so. Known for their folk rock hits, Ray and Saliers took on a new challenge in 2012.

“Somewhere down the road we were invited to be an artist who could play a symphony,” says Sulliers. “We had an agency to put these things together, and it was something we hadn’t done before, so I was super excited.”


The blended sound was a surprise to several students who came to attend the duo’s soundcheck and subsequent Q&A session before playing with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra on January 13th.

“I don’t like acoustic guitars, but I think this sounds great with an orchestra,” says G Cooper-Volkheimer, a first-year master’s student at a music school. “They seem to be doing really well and whoever wrote the score for them did a really good job. It really works.”

The event is part of the University Concert and Lecture Series, the longest-running series of its kind in North Carolina, giving students the opportunity to learn and hear from many experts in the performing arts world. increase.

“Our basic directive was to make it really dramatic,” Ray says. “I don’t want anyone to get bored while we’re playing.”

Sophomore Mycah Johnson reflected on how easy it was for the Indigo Girls to collaborate with the orchestra.

It seems they didn’t practice the symphony before soundcheck. It’s great that they can run a sound check and have a sound like that,” he says Johnson.

Woman playing acoustic guitar and singing
A woman playing an acoustic guitar.
Two women are playing guitar and singing in front of an orchestra on stage. The male orchestra conductor is directing with his hands up.
The Indigo Girls practice with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra before their January 13th performance at UNCG.

find music

While some questions were submitted in advance for the host to ask during the question-and-answer session, School of Music third-year student Q El-Amin gave the Indigo Girls a first-hand look at how they put together their music. could ask.

The man reaches out and talks while the woman looks at him.
Q El-Amin, a third-year School of Music student, asks Indigo Girls about the process of creating music, especially if it’s focused on lyrics and melody.

“When I’m writing a song, I sit down with my instrument and start playing it. When I feel something is something, I look through my lyric journal to see if there’s a match,” says Ray. say. “In the old days, it started with the lyrics, but recently I started by looking for the music first.”

Although they are a pair, they start the songwriting process separately.

“When I find a chord progression that interests me, I start singing gibberish,” says Sulliers. She said, “But now I forget everything, so I use voice memos on my iPhone. For the script of the musical, I wrote the lyrics based on what was happening in the scene, and wrote the music for the lyrics.

Music in Performance – A popular music and technology major, El-Amin admitted he hadn’t heard of Indigo Girl’s work before the event and was pleasantly surprised at soundcheck.

“I was really impressed with how it was put together there. I just wanted to know how it got there,” says El-Amin.

a nerve-wracking process

When asked about starting the process of creating a complete track from a song idea, Ray says it’s “nerve-wracking.” The duo each send their MP3 files containing song ideas to each other and then get together.

“As long as we’re playing the symphony, let’s make it big and bombastic when we need it. Let’s not waste it.”

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls

Two women sitting in front of an audience

“We really just start coming up with ideas one verse at a time and try a million different harmonies and different approaches,” says Ray.

Their collaboration teaches students that music can evolve. Whether it’s the way he puts together one of his folk-rock jams, or the way he works with an orchestra to create something completely new.

“As soon as you start trying something, it opens the door to other things,” says Ray. “When you start trying something and keep saying yes, the door keeps opening and other things come in that you can try.”

Two women play acoustic guitars side by side.

The Story of Avery Craine Powell, University Communications

Photo by Sean Norona, University Communications

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