Singing in the Abbey
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Singing in the Abbey

Band Classical Singer/Songwriter


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Local chamber pop group Singing in the Abbey successfully pours minimalist classical piano through an alt-pop filter. The result, moody and at times even gothic, is a soundtrack to shadows in an old castle—Annie Higgins’ deep vocals and piano playing are surrounded by a string section and scattered percussion as the melodies dip and weave. The release of the band’s debut record, “Wake Up, Sardis!” is celebrated this Thursday at Subterranean, a room that, especially with its balcony, seems fit for this sort of haunting. “Thom Yorke and Julie Andrews’ bastard child,” the band describes itself, and if that’s not enough to get your interest piqued I don’t know what is.

“My intention was not to form a band, it mainly was to get these songs layered with strings,” Higgins says of the record, which is nearly four years in the making. “From the beginning the vision was, I guess, I started out wanting to layer the paino with the strings, but as I spend time with the girls, it became about what their individual strengths were. Arrangements-wise, it became less of them trying to support the piano and more [towards] the strings having their own individual identity. Musically, you want to work with that—highlight what they’re doing, instead of focusing them as a support of what you’re doing.”

Higgins, who trained in music at the University of Montana, straddles a fine line between classical compositions and pop. “I actually try to not think about it in that context,” she says. “When songwriting or arranging, I’m driven by the song itself. I’m not thinking about genres. I listen to a lot more classical—I’m always striving more towards that sort of musicianship or writing, but I have a pop sensibility that I have naturally, and that’s the channel it comes through.”

The material on “Wake Up, Sardis!” according to Higgins focuses heavily on nostalgia, or, more broadly, the past itself. “A lot of material on ‘Wake Up, Sardis!’ deals with memories from childhood,” she says. “I think…that’s something that comes out naturally. Things from the past are the material—the lyrics—and a story is being told.” - Tom Lynch

"Chicago Tribune"

With a little help from a band, Higgins' voice is magnified

By Andy Downing, Special to the Tribune

February 5, 2010

Annie Higgins, the primary songwriter behind Singing In The Abbey, first conceived the self-released "Wake Up, Sardis!" as a solo project when she began work on it in earnest almost four years ago. Fittingly, many of the album's 10 songs remain intensely personal, touching on the childhood passing of her father and the fond memories of him that remain.

"He passed away when I was (6 years old) and it had a huge impact on me," says Higgins, who recalls sitting with him at the family piano when she was just a toddler. "In a way, I'm striving to do the same thing he did, which was to make music a part of his life. Writing and playing music is my connection to him."

Listeners can hear that connection all over "Sardis," from the poignant "The Wait" ("The morning offers no escape," Higgins sings over a swirling violin coda, "Commanding armies inflict pain of memories, of holidays") to a tender cover of "Something Good" from "The Sound of Music" — a movie Higgins remembers watching while seated on her father's lap as a child. Says Higgins: "We really wanted to capture that nostalgic feeling (with this album)."

Born and raised in Oak Park, Higgins wrote her first songs when she was 9. Using a simple hand-held recorder, she'd sit at the piano and fill tape after tape with whimsical ditties. As a teenager, she taught herself guitar, locking herself in her bedroom until she had mastered Led Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away." While enrolled at the University of Montana, the social work major reconnected with her first love, spending hours stowed away with a piano in the university practice room.

Though Higgins began work on her debut effort with friend and recording engineer Grayson Elliott Taylor at Chicago Recording Company in 2006, it wasn't until she joined up with bandmates Katie Cooper (violin), Diana Knight (upright bass) and Donna Miller (cello) that the fuller sound she heard in her head began to take shape. "It was just an unbelievably natural process when we were all together," says Higgins. "A couple months into (rehearsals) we all decided … to make it more of a band and less of a solo thing."

With the vocals and piano already recorded, the newborn crew set to work fleshing out the musical arrangements, adding depth and shading to the skeletal tunes. Eventually, the group booked a series of sessions at a studio in Ann Arbor, Mich., where it put the final touches on the heartfelt album. "We were starting to get overly picky about a million different things, … so getting out of town kind of forced us to finish recording," says Higgins, taking a slow breath. "It was a relief to finally let go." - Andy Downing

"TimeOut Chicago"

Tonight's a record-release party for all-female chamber quartet Singing in the Abbey, whose passionate new platter Wake Up, Sardis! sways with emotion and brittle dynamics. There's an elegant timelessness to the group that's similarly observed in tonight's support: charming carny-cabaret combo Can.Ky.Ree and eccentric organist Daniel Knox.

Read more:
- Brent DiCrescenzo


our first album, "Wake Up, Sardis!" is available January 14th, 2010!



“Singing in the Abbey” comes to you from the dark recesses of Chicago to bring you a hauntingly beautiful auditory experience. While this unique sound does not fit in an already existing genre, it has been lovingly described as “Thom Yorke and Julie Andrews’ bastard love child.” Annie Higgins (piano/vocals), Diana Knight (upright bass), Donna Miller (cello), and Katie Cooper (violin/background vocals) use strings, piano, and eerily beautiful vocals to lure you into the past. Though this venture may be dark, fear not: for these women aim to hold your hand as they lead you down this familiar road.

The forthcoming album, “Wake Up, Sardis!” is loaded with aural treats, and not for the weak at heart. Come; let these sirens entice you to explore your deeper, inner self.