Monday, September 13, 2010

Celtic Odyssey

It was 1963.  I was a lad of 13 and trying to assimilate into American culture.  I was at my Dad's cousins , Tom and Bess Beverly's home at an unusual thing they called Thanksgiving.  I already had a passion for records even at that time and i was looking through their record collection, you know those black vinyl things with album covers you could hold in your hand and read as you listened to the music and the print was big enough that you didn't have to use a magnifying glass to read.  Anyway enough of an old man's ramblings, I came across and album by Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers  and I was enthralled.  I can't remember listening to Irish music when I was living in England except for the occasional Scottish music that was played on BBC radio.  I felt the yearning and joy that comes from the universal sounds that people love about Celtic music.  It started a lifelong passion for Celtic music.
Today's selection is a tape called Celtic Odyssey put out by a collection of Narada artists. Now I know all the Celtic Music fans are going that it is inauthentic and that it is elevator music for the Baby Boomers but I like it.

The First Selection is a piece written by Turlough O'Carolan and Irish Harpist who was blind and was renowned for his ability to write wonderful melodies.  many of contemporary Celtic musicians play his music.  Just a beautiful Melody.  Next comes The Butterfly a piece performed by a band called Orison which included the guitar playerWilliam Coulter. According to wikipedia, in 1988, Coulter teamed up with four other San Francisco Bay instrumentalists to form an ensemble called Orison, the name taken from the Middle English word for prayer or invocation.. The group, which included William Coulter, Barry Phillips, Shelley Phillips, Steve Coulter, and Anne Cleveland, came to the project with a collective repertoire that included music from both the folk and classical traditions, as well as original compositions. Their combinations of harp, guitar, cello, oboe, English horn, flute, and percussion produced an ethereal musical signature of "poignant beauty."

The next piece is a wedding song  from Rathlin Island called Dónal Agus Mórag/The New-Rigged Ship and played by a wonderful Irish band altan.  This is a wonderful upbeat piece with the rhythm provided by a bodhran.  I have two of these drums and I just wish I could be better in playing them.  they have such a great sound.
 The next piece is a fiddle piece Calliope House/The Cowboy Jig and played by Alasdair Fraser. A Jig always gets me up and clapping my hands.  The Jig  was originally an English dance but is now known to predominate in Irish Step dancing and Scottish Country dancing.

There is a beautiful romantic song called Chuaigh Mé 'Na Rosann which translated is "I went to visit the roses" and is about a man who fantasizes about having a romance with a young girl he meets on a pub in the Rosses area of County Donegal. 

The instrumental piece Trip to Skye was written by John Whelan a seven time All Ireland button Accordion player after he visited the Isle of Skye.  On my trips back home I have never made to Skye but my favorite Scottish Island is Iona.  We visited there one drizzly day and the church there was so peaceful.  We walked around the cloisters. I was really in touch with the fact that this where some of the earliest Christians in the British Isles were headquartered. 

There is a wonderful legend about one of Iona's resident Monks Oran (St. Otteran) who was buried alive.  According to Wikipedia, the chapel that Saint Columba wanted to build on Iona was destroyed every night. Finally he was told by a voice that it could never be finished until a living man was buried below. So Otteran was buried alive willingly and the chapel could be finished. But one day he pushed his head through the wall and said that there was no hell as was supposed nor heaven that people talk about. Alarmed by this Columba let Otteran's body be variously covered with earth more securely or removed with haste.  Interesting story. 

Anyway I digress. The next tune is a piece written by Donal Lunny about an Irish Republican Marxist activist and writer.  It is called A Tribute to Peadar O'Donnell.  Peadar O'Donnell was a member of the IRA in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. 

Another Romantic song is sung by Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and is entitled Siún Ní Dhuibhir (Susan O'Dwyer).  It is a song about a young woman who is courted by a man who is more interested in her dowry than herself.  Of course she rejects him. 

Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasda is a waulking song  which were used to accompany and set the rhythm for the rotational pulling and beating of the cloth on a table by wool workers usually women living on crofts.  Cloth removed from the loom was waulked or shrunk to make it more pliable for blankets and tweed garments.  the song is from the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides.  It is sung by a very famous group called Capercaillie  For an example of waulking see the youtube video posted.

The next selection is of mouth music.  Mouth music was used in rural Scotland when instruments were not available to accompany dancing. It is called Puirt a Beul and is sung by a Scottish group Sileas

The next piece The York Reel/Dancing Feet is played on a cittern.  It was only in the seventies that fretted instruments such as the mandolin and bouzouki came into Irish folk music, as rhythm instruments. In 1983, Gerald Trimble added cittern to the ranks of melody instruments, with his solo album on the ten-string cittern. This pair of reels, from the Scottish piping tradition, have been effectively recreated on the cittern.

The final piece is called Strathgarry written and performed by Simon Wynberg.  He is a classical guitarist but the piece is very evocative of the Celtic geography and the Scottish environs. 

Well another enjoyable listen.  See ya next time

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