My Brightest Diamond, aka Shara Worden, deftly bridges the realms of indie rock and classical music. She once aspired to be an opera singer, and her formal training shows in her spectacular vocals. She also studied composition, and that shows in the sophistication of what she writes and plays. She’s one rock performer who really deserves to have an orchestra playing behind her, at least on special occasions, so it was wonderful that she got the chance on Monday, Aug. 8, to play at Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion with fully symphonic accompaniment by the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras.
How beautiful it was to hear the concert begin with the opening notes of “Dragonfly” from My Brightest Diamond’s 2006 debut album, Bring Me the Workhorse — those swooping, sweeping violins. The concert was filled with terrific moments like that as Worden and the young musicians played songs from My Brightest Diamond’s first two records and the new one, All Things Unwind, which comes out Oct. 18 on Asthmatic Kitty. CYSO faculty member Brian Baxter took Worden’s arrangements for six instruments and expanded them into full orchestral scores.
And this was not the sort of staid or restrained performance one might expect in the classical context. Worden, wearing a striking silver-and-black-checked dress, danced with glee and made grandiose gestures as she sang, playing guitar, ukulele, thumb piano and autoharp at various times.
Worden introduced some of her songs with stories, and she even told a children’s story of sorts as she explained how one of her new songs was inspired by the 1871 book At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald.
She said another new song was inspired by seeing Laurie Anderson in concert. The day after the concert, Worden met Anderson, who told her, “Maybe it takes more than a lifetime to learn how to love.” Worden took that line and wrote the song around it.
The weather was lousy for this outdoor concert, with rain pouring down at a few points, but it was dry enough under the pavilion near the stage. During one song, Worden injected some ad-lib lyrics: “Sh-sh-sh-Chicago, we don’t care if it’s raining.”
While watching all of this, I had to wonder whether any of the high school musicians in the orchestra were taking any special inspiration from the experience of working with Worden. She’s a great role model for anyone (but especially girls) who want to find their own musical path.
The concert was part of Millennium Park’s “Dusk Variations” series, which focuses on “music mixing pop and alternative genres with classical music.” Still to come: Rasputina on Aug. 15 and Chicago Counterpoint: A Steve Reich Celebration on Aug. 22.