Sassafrass formed at Bryn Mawr college in fall of 1999, as a group of five friends performing primarily work composed by Ada, one of the group members. The group expanded over the next years as some members left and others joined, and we started dividing up into smaller groups to perform some of the songs. In 2001, Sassafrass recorded the CD entitled Solitary Dancer. After the initial founders graduated, more members joined, some of whom have remained active members ever since.
Some of the initial common ground among the members of Sassafrass was a sense of frustration with music groups whose music generally featured one soloist and possibly one backup singer, with many others singing repetitive parts to replicate background instruments. Anyone who has sung 'Ooh' behind the lyrics of a pop song for six minutes knows the frustration this can cause. Sassafrass's founders felt that, especially for a student group, the singing should be as much about learning and giving each singer a chance to mature and improve as a musician as about the sound. Sassafrass resolved to only perform songs where each singer's part is at some point the musical highlight, and where every part is important throughout to the harmony, melody and lyrics. By ensuring that all parts are equally important to the structure of the music, Sassafrass songs are designed to make the singer a better musician, and to teach techniques for blending, harmonizing and improvising, improving both the individual singer and the sound of the group.
Partly because of the scarcity of such music and partly because of our own interests, we resolved to perform primarily original pieces composed by group members. Sassafrass music includes love songs, usually with a twist; songs about attitudes toward life; improvisations; Renaissance madrigals; filk; and folk fantasy, songs which not only are based on fiction, but try to imagine and imitate the musical styles of fictional cultures. The music is usually folk in style with Renaissance elements. Our current project is a Norse mythological song cycle centering around the death of the sun god Baldur.
Sassafrass today consists of a group of friends, both Bryn Mawr alums and friends we met after graduating, who live in different parts of the country but all enjoy sci-fi, fantasy and anime, especially conventions, which is what pulled us into the Filk community. Because we live far apart it is essentially impossible to get the whole group together, and the actual members present at any given convention performance is highly variable, but since most of the songs work well with three to four singers we can still perform the majority of our repertoire.