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The 12 Days of CelticAs we look forward to special holidays and the new year, WGBH celebrates this season of joy with hours of great music. Download and enjoy selections from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn.

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This download is a holiday gift to you. Thank you for your support! 

 



Track 1 Winifred Horan A Daisy in December: Winifred Horan

Winifred Horan with the group Solas. Natalie Haas on Cello; 2012, the 10th anniversary edition of the show.

Each year of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, we open the second act with a tune. The tune has to be wistful and thought provoking. Maybe even a little sentimental.  Win Horan first played this for us in 2007. For our decade celebration, we asked for a reprise and were not disappointed.

 

Track 2 Karan Casey This Time Will Pass: Karan Casey

Karan Casey — what a voice! And a few years ago turning her limitless talent to song writing, she brought us this beautiful song. One of those many songs that while not being specifically Christmas, still evokes the spirit of the season. Her husband Niall Valelly on concertina, Chico Huff on bass, and Robbie Overson on nylon strung guitar make for a beautiful accompaniment. From the 2006 edition of the show.  
 

Track 3 Robbie O'Connell Three Kings: Robbie O'Connell

One aspect of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn I particularly enjoy is the creation of new "traditions." Several times over the last decade, we have had Robbie O'Connell join us. One of Robbie's many talents is creating songs that sound like they may have been written a hundred years ago. Such a song has a Christmas theme, and Robbie has taught it to audiences now, all over the country. I've even heard it sung in a church in recent years, appropriately on Epiphany, but the choir director had no ideauntil I told her that it was contemporaily written. Definitely, one for the ages.
 

Track 4 Sean Keane The Kerry Christmas Carol: Sean Keane

Another 'original' brought to us by Sean Keane, one of the finest traditional singers alive today. Written by Kerry poet, Sigerson Clifford, and set to music by Tim Dennehy, this beautiful song tells of the centuries-old belief held by many in rural Ireland; that on Christmas Eve, Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus wandered the roads of Ireland seeking shelter as they had done in Bethlehem in those days of old. A candle was lit in each cottage window to guide the way. From the 2004 edition of the show, our last at The Somerville Theatre.
 

Track 5 Fionnuala O'Donovan In the Bleak Midwinter: Fionnuala O'Donovan

I have been blessed to have my wife Lindsay, and my two daughters, Aoife and Fionnuala, join me on the Christmas Celtic stage over the last nine years. Aoife, who will be featured on another download upcoming, is now a professional musician. Fionnuala has been unable to perform with us for the last few years as she attends college in Montreal. Here was her last performance. A somewhat unusual version of In the Bleak Midwinter. Listen particularly to the arrangement affected by Seamus Egan, our music director for the past five years. One of the highlights of all Christmas Celtic shows for me personally. This was recorded in 2010.
 

Track 6 Overture, 2012 -  Ensemble Overture 2012: Ensemble

Each year since he became music director of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, Seamus Egan has assembled an overture for the start of the show. These overtures — there are now six — are in my opinion, masterpieces. They often start mysteriously, set a tone, add in spoken word, and then gradually develop from a sonic invitation to relax into the gathering, through some sentiments of the season, to a full-blown hooley in the kitchen complete with dancing.

This comes from last year's 10th anniversary show. It has a blend of Scandinavian singing, Robbie O'Connell's 3 Kings, and then an ingenious working of The Carol of the Bells into a newly written reel! Just a lovely — and impactful — way to start the show.

 

Track 7 Dante's Prayer - Aoife O'Donovan Dante's Prayer: Aoife O'Donovan

Another principle of Christmas Celtic over the years that I have particularly enjoyed, is the inclusion of my own family; Lindsay, my wife, and my two daughters, Aoife and Fionnuala (Lindsay always asked me to mention that we also have two sons, Ciaran and Aidan, as those who see us on stage are convinced we only have the girls!). When my oldest daughter Aoife was in her second year at the New England Conservatory in 2004, I asked her to get together some of her fellow students and participate in the second production of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. She got Jed Wilson on piano, Jake Silver on bass, and Lissa Schneckenburger on fiddle. What a quartet they turned out to be. And they brought this amazing arrangement of Loreena McKennitt's emotional Dante's Prayer. A wonderful moment for me at the Somerville Theatre.
 

Track 8 
To be a Child on Christmas Day: Solas To Be a Child on Christmas Day: Solas

Solas, the band that has so often graced our stage at A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, have been immersed in a new and fascinating project for the past few years. Shamrock City tells the story of Butte, Montana, which in the late 1890s, was teeming with Irish immigrants because of a boom in Copper Mining. This song imagines one of those miners missing home and family, and perhaps some of his happiest memories, and dreams of, longs for, being a child again on Christmas Day.
 

Track 9 alyth Mhari Bhan Og (Fair Young Mary)

I had been asking Alyth McCormac to join us for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn for many years, but her schedule never allowed for it, up to 2012. This was the song I always imagined her opening with, and my dream came through when she agreed to do so. The song is a love poem to Fair Young Mary. The arrangement the group came up with, cloths this exquisite melody in an equally exquisite layering of harp and strings. Pay particular attention to the cello which leads the musical interlude.

 

Track 10 Dougie Maclean The Christ Child Lullaby: Dougie MacLean et al

When we invite a singer from Scotland, we ask them to consider singing this quintessentially Scottish Christmas song. It is called “Taladh Chriosda” or “The Christ Child Lullaby,” and features an exquisite melody with lyrics that were originally in Scottish Gaelic, but have since become more common in English. The chorus is familiar and ultimately sung with many vocal harmonic possibilities. In this version from our 2007 performance, Dougie MacLean takes the lead, Aoife O'Donovan follows, and Solas members, Mick McAuley and Eamon McElholm, contribute verses. One of my favorite recordings of the song ever!
 

Track 11 Robbie O'Connell Christmas in the Trenches: Robbie O'Connell

In 1914, the Belgian front of World War I had already become a living hell of barbed wire, mud, trenches, and death. John McCutcheon wrote this song about a real incident that became known as the Christmas Truce. Somewhat spontaneously on Christmas Eve of that year, English, Scottish, and German troops simply downed arms, and created their own temporary peace. It was a brief but powerful respite from the war. Robbie O'Connell brought us this version in 2006. George Keith, Shannon Heaton, Robbie Overson, and Chico Huff joined in. A lovely, but powerful, song indeed.
 

Track 12 Ruth Moody Oh Holy Night: Alyth McCormack

Each year of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, we have asked our main female singer to bring us a version of Oh Holy Night, that absolute chestnut amongst Christmas classics.

We are thrilled to have found that there are so many ways to present this song, and the musical — indeed the emotional — approach has had essentially nine completely different iterations.

Alyth McCormack grew up in a religious home and regularly sang in church on the island of Lewis in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. Her commitment here to the words and the intent of this song, I found particulalry striking, particularly in the second verse — one rarely sung. Wonderful harmonies on the chorus from Navan. As you will hear, the audience loved it too!

Track 13 Christmas Celtic Ensemble A Winter's Night With You, Ruth Moody

Ruth Moody is from Winipeg in Canada, and sang for years with the highly successful trio, The Wailin' Jennys. When she agreed to join us in 2011, I asked her to bring something from Canada that was appropriate for a Christmas/Winter concert like ours. Imagine my delight when she brought a Gordon Lightfoot song with a winter's theme. A great arrangement featuring the terrific hammer dulcimer playing of Simon Chrisman and the reset of the ensemble made this a highlight of the past 10 years.
 

Track 14 Aoife O'Donovan Oh Holy Night: Aoife O'Donovan et al

I am often asked what my absolute favorite moment of the past nine years of A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is. It’s a very fair question, but one that is difficult to answer. Truth is, there are many such moments because the music, the words, the songs, the dances, are all so different, in approach and impact.
 
However, the one piece of music that stands out for me and the one that literally brought me to tears on the stage — and still does, every time I listen (true!) — is this version of “Oh Holy Night.” This one struck a personal, emotional chord with me. Perhaps it was that my daughter Aoife was singing, perhaps it was the understated arrangement music director Seamus Egan insisted on. Maybe it was Eamon McElholm’s underscoring on piano, Natalie Haas on cello for much of the opening verse, starting off in pizzicato and then, bowing with Chico Huff joining in on bass for a stripped-down trio that continued for most of the song.  

And then…listen. The painfully exquisite strings (like angels’ voices) of Alasdair Fraser and Winifred Horan, adding a depth, a soaring depth (is that a contradiction?) to the crescendo and close.

But that is all too many words. Just listen. Close your eyes and listen. The power of this song comes through as never before.  

How blessed are we to be around such artistic endeavor.



 

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