The Wisterians are Karl Meyer and Rob Duncan, a violin-accordion duo from Brooklyn, New York. The duet also features Michael Brownell on acoustic bass.

The band is called “The Wisterians?” Like the vine Wisteria sinensis?

This is a common misconception. Actually the name has nothing to do with the rather cloyingly perfumed, tenacious vine that decorates many a home and gazebo on the eastern seaboard. The band’s name derives from the old English term “Wist.”

Although, upon reflection, there are some metaphorical connections to the plant. Like Wisteria, the Wisterians are an invasive species, perhaps less pernicious–more akin to the so-called British Invasion of the sixties. But more to the point, there is a figurative but palpable vine that connects the Wisterians repertoire back through space and time to the boulevards and cafes of Paris in the thirties, amongst other times and places. And to be sure, the way in which the smell and sight of Wisteria does something a little funny to the hippocampal regions of the brain, evoking haunting reveries and remembrances (much like the author Proust had for his beloved Mint Milanos) is very much like the reported effect of the Wisterians’ music upon the listener. However, all similarities of the band to the plant are coincidental and do not imply the endorsement of any botanical products or copyright infringement, past or future, on the likes of Monsanto.

What is “Wist?”

Wist is a word that comes from Old English meaning “knowledge.” Wisdom, wish, and wit all derive from it, as does the very peculiar and hard to define term wistful. Wistful is an emotion that seems to fall into the cracks between the better-known, more celebrated emotions like Joy and Sadness. Wistful is memory being cheeky with the heart, or perhaps it is the heart playing fast and loose with memory. Wistful is an emotion evoked by familiar smells, long-forgotten melodies, but also by strangely resonating sympathies to the unfamiliar. There are those who are nostalgic for things they’ve never known, places they’ve never been. Some get all weak-kneed about the past, others feel a kind of homesickness for the future. The English language is not particularly adept at capturing these distinctions–the Germans have ‘heimweh,’ ‘fernweh,’ ‘sehnsucht,’ and ‘weltschmerz.’ (If their language had the word ‘selbstschadenfreude’– taking a shameful joy in one’s own misery, that would be an unlikely improvement.) The French have ‘melancolique,’ the Japanese have ‘mono no aware’– ‘an awareness of the impermanence of things’ that adroitly connects the subjunctiveness of the human condition to quantum mechanics (for more information please consult Wistipedia.) But these are foreign words that even foreigners barely understand, although their very foreign-ness makes them strangely familiar. Perhaps it is better that they are lost in translation.

For those who find the arrow of time
a little too pointy, who like the vine
are wise to the clock and yet contrarian
we are Wisterian

Our scandent tendrils, longing for purchase
transcendently melancholic, malcontent searchers
wiry and wary, desirously twining the aerie ruin
we are Wisterian

Our racemes are daydreams
wine-dark, sea-tossed inflorescent triremes
where the ethereal meets the subterranean
we are Wisterian

Although we are leguminous, we can have no peas
restless for the numinous, we can have no release
a travelers’ caroming caravan
we are Wisterian

Full of wist, sehnsucht, fernweh, momento mori
Sweet sorrow, lacrimae rerum, mono no aware
Somewhere between melancolique and ‘Je ne regret rien’
We are Wisterian