New York Voices has thrived for more than 20 years under the self-imposed mandate of finding freedom within the framework of four voices.
The vocal group, which performs this weekend with the Augusta Symphony, incorporates elements of jazz, pop and classical arrangements into a sound that recalls ensembles such as Manhattan Transfer.
"The jazz umbrella is where we get our palette," said Kim Nazarian, one of the quartet's three original members. "With four voices, it's like using four colors. You can feature them. You can blend them. It becomes an element you can apply to the surface area of a song."
Ms. Nazarian said in a phone interview that New York Voices takes seriously its responsibility of interpretation, taking not only lyric and melody into account when approaching a song, but also history and context.
"We do pride ourselves on doing our homework," she said. "We always want to serve the song, and if we can't, then we will probably choose not to do it. It's important to find out who wrote a song, who played it and what the intent was."
That scholarly approach stems from the natural intimacy that occurs when a singer sings, Ms. Nazarian said. Unlike a musician with an instrument, there's nothing, no horn, guitar or piano, between a vocalist and the audience.
"You are communicating very intimately," she said. "As a singer, you are more vulnerable. You have to open yourself up, be that vessel."
A fan of orchestral gigs like this weekend's Augusta Symphony dates, Ms. Nazarian said there's pleasure in incorporating the simple sound of the human voice with an extensive ensemble.
"You get to lie down on this bed of sound," she said with a laugh. "And you are heard on top of this blanket of sound. And hopefully it becomes more than that and we do become integrated into this group of 100 musicians. Great performances are always given by unit."
Although well-rehearsed, Ms. Nazarian said there's still an element of surprise to be found in New York Voices. She said that while the Grammys the group has won and the longevity of the ensemble are nice, it is those moments when one of the quartet explores something at the edge of the envelope that success is truly discovered.
"You just know when you have found that sweet spot," she said. "You revel in it and enjoy it as long as you can. There are moments, with both a large or small audience, when you just know people are holding their breath. That's success."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to listen to New York Voices perform "Smack Dab In The Middle."
WHAT: New York Voices with the Augusta Symphony
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Friday's performance is at Bell Auditorium, 712 Telfair St.; Saturday's performance is at the Etherredge Center, University of South Carolina Aiken; Sunday's performance is at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre, Augusta State University.
COST: Friday: $20-$45; Saturday: $40; Sunday: $6 for children, $12 for adults. For more information, call (706) 826-4705 (Friday and Sunday) or (803) 641-3305.