A Musical Exploration of the Celtic Lands

SOUTHBRIDGE –  Over the centuries they were literally marginalized, driven to the western and northern fringes of Europe. Today, Celtic folk are found in Galicia (northwestern Spain), Brittany (northwestern France), Cornwall (southwestern England), Ireland and Wales and the Isle of Man (west of England), and Scotland (north of England).  Nevertheless, the Celts—though highly diverse—are one tribe, with a distinctively flavored culture.  Descriptions of their literature, music, dances, and art have ranged from “wild” to “yearning” to “magical”; it’s hard to pin down the Celtic flavor.

Local audiences will have a rich opportunity to taste that essence when the Quinebaug Valley Singers present a program of songs and instrumental music titled “Celtic Spring” in May.  Performances will take place on Saturday, May 18th at 7:30 p.m. in St. Joachim Chapel at St. Anne/St. Patrick Parish, Fiskdale (Sturbridge), and on Sunday, May 19 that 3:00 p.m. at the Elm Street Congregational Church in Southbridge.  These concerts are free of charge, though a freewill offering will be collected.  As always, yummy (free) refreshments will be served in the social hour after each concert.  Both venues are handicap-accessible.

An ensemble of 55 singers and six instrumentalists will present songs and instrumental solos coming directly from or inspired by the traditions of almost all the places listed here.  There will be vocal solos, choral numbers both huge and tiny, instrumental solos, an instrumental jam-session at intermission, and live program notes from QVS Director Nym Cooke.  Attendees at the first “Celtic Spring” in 2012 may remember young fiddler Hunter Foote strolling through the audience while playing a dazzling solo; this will likely happen again.  The concerts also feature William Thomas on uilleann pipes, Tim Loftus on guitar and pennywhistle, Kala Farnham on Irish harp, Jon Richt on percussion, and Brooks Milgate on keyboard.

“Wild”?  Wait ‘til you hear the chorus’s women sing the Galician stomping dance-song “Pandeiretada.”  “Yearning”?  Few songs yearn more romantically than “The Wild Mountain Thyme,” which some claim is a Scots tune, and others trace to Ireland.  “Magical”?  The concert’s opening number, “Mont Saint-Michel” (“Tuchenn Mikael” in Breton) is magical from its first fluttering arpeggios in harp, guitar, and piano to the final fading-away of its repeated last line, “There were but sheep upon that hill.”

Then there’s William Thomas’s wild, skirling solo on the pipes in “Tuchenn Mikael,” the yearning of “Galvadenn” (Breton for “Appeal”), which builds steadily throughout its seven minutes, and the magical gloaming time depicted so beautifully in the hushed Scots song “Ca’ the Yowes tae the Knowes” (“Call the Ewes to the Knolls”). Many more examples could be given.

This is music of the outdoors—of forests and rocky crags, of wide waters that can’t be crossed o’er, of the “calling of the seal” from out in the sea; music sent forth by “The swallow from her distant clime, / The honeybee from drowsy cells.”  It’s music of sparkling Spring mornings and long Summer evenings.  It’s music of celebratory unity and proud defiance.  And it’s music of love longed for, and love joyfully found.  Come and share this Celtic journey with the Quinebaug Valley Singers; you’ll long remember it.

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