Originally Published: August 23, 2012 9:31 p.m.
A California duo whose music style fits their name, The Littlest Birds, will perform Saturday evening in Folk Sessions' "Music under the Stars" at the Highlands Center for Natural History.
Sharon Martinson, 34, and Dave Huebner, 32, both classically trained musicians, are The Littlest Birds. They met about four years ago in the Eastern Sierra of California when they found themselves in a small world of "people who made music," Martinson said. They had similar friends, string musicians, who got together and jammed. Soon enough, the two starting playing cello and banjo together and loved it, she said.
They paired up a couple of years ago and since they both had an affinity for the song, "The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs," their name was easy to choose.
"It just stuck for the two of us," they said. "It seemed to fit our style - mellow, low key and pretty. It applies to our songs."
Since they formed The Littlest Birds, Martinson and Huebner have toured all over the United States, but plan to stay closer to home this fall, with bookings limited to California.
Huebner's forte is the cello, while Martinson plays clawhammer-style banjo, sometimes called "frailing." She described this technique as "hitting the strings with the back of my fingernails and my thumb" - the only part of her hand that touches the strings. And she doesn't use a pick.
"It's the oldest - and original - style played in the United States," she said, adding "it's extremely different than bluegrass," which, by contrast, is widespread and the newest method of banjo playing. "It's totally different sounds," she said, with qualities that are more mellow and blend better with the cello.
Both write songs. Martinson is more inclined to take old-time traditional tunes and mold them so that "we do them our way," by adding lyrics or verses, she said. Huebner writes originals.
Together, they make "a lovely sound that embraces listeners simultaneously with the familiar and the new," one reviewer said.
The Littlest Birds have released two CDs, "The Littlest Birds," and "Migrations."
The Littlest Birds' many tours might explain the theme of the latter. In the course of their little more than two years together, they have played more than 150 shows together across 16 states.
"For 'Migration,' we tried to make a theme-based album - a good theme to tie all the songs together," Huebner said. The result is a CD that touches on "leaving home, travelers and living in two different homes."
Tom Agostino, director of Folk Sessions, invited The Littlest Birds to sing at a CCJ (Coalition for Compassion and Justice) volunteer holiday party when he learned they were in town last December.
"Within about eight bars of their first song, there was a stunned silence in the room, and the audience remained captivated to their last note," Agostino said. "I don't think I've ever witnessed that before. ... I know of few duos that have a more unique, compelling sound."
The show begins at 7 p.m. with the music of Soul Creek, featuring Meg Bohrman on accordion, opening the performance. Tickets are $12.50 in advance, $15 at the door and are available by calling 928-776-9550 or visiting www.folksessions.com. The Highlands Center is located at 1375 S. Walker Road.