Radio Show – Episode 4 – May 15, 2016 Program Notes: A Spring Ramble

RoadRiseIt’s a lovely day for a springtime wander! Okay, so the sky is that milk-gray, and it’s a bit cool out … but musically the sun is shining, and there’s a timeless Celtic quality to the fields and waters ….

We now set off on our melodic ramble.

Listen to the latest Forest Halls Celtic show on demand

Format: Track Title – artist (CD Title)

“Trip to Ballyshannon” – Steve Baughman (Farewell to Orkney)
Ballyshannon is a town in County Donegal, Ireland. This is a popular session tune. Steve Baughman is a Celtic guitarist based in San Francisco and a good friend of mine. Hi Steve!

“The Geese in the Bog/Jig of Slurs” – Tannahill Weavers (Best of the Tannahill Weavers 1979 – 1989)  The Tannahill Weavers are one of Scotland’s premier traditional bands. They originated from a session in Paisley, Scotland and took their name from the town’s historic weaving industry and local poet laureate Robert Tannahill. They’ve been performing since the 70s, and were the first professional Scottish folk group to successfully incorporate the full-sized highland bagpipes in their on-stage performances.

“Jig of Slurs” is a Scottish tune a bunch of us South Bay Area folk harpers were learning back in the late 80s when we were all taking lessons from harper and piper, the late Chris Caswell. I’m not sure our families ever recovered from us hammering at that tune!

Ci an Fhideall/Cupair thu, Taillear thu – Karen Matheson (Urram)
Karen Matheson is well known for her compelling vocals in the Celtic super-group, Capercaillie. Here she performs a strathspey, followed by a song about a cooper, a tailer and a fisher who cannot get a wife.

From her website:
“Karen’s performing life began as a child in her local village hall in Argyll on the West coast of Scotland, where she was brought up immersed in the deep well of traditional songs. … Her new solo album (October 2015) is a musical love letter to her families’ Hebridean roots, with a collection of timeless Gaelic songs that evoke the character and atmosphere of Island life, through waulking songs, love songs, lullabies, mouth music and evocative poems to the surroundings.”

“Sacred Day” Poem by Beth Atchison / Background:. “Secluded Beach” Seamus Byrne (Just Before Dawn)
In browsing the internet for Celtic blessings for travel, in honor of the theme for today, I came upon this poem by a Pacific Northwest poet. To me it has a Celtic feel.

Sacred Day
by Beth Atchison

Contemplating the shape and form of this life today
may I travel lightly
may I honor the sacred expression of everything
may I be devoted to kindness
may I be enhanced by all that I encounter
may softness take root wherever un-forgiving once was
may I be led through the opening beyond the closing
may I bear witness to your holiness as well as mine
may I remain curious, willing, open, teachable
then fill my dreams tonight with the irrepressible truth
the language of love spills itself out everywhere

We head out into the mists of time and legend ….
“Newgrange” – Clannad (Magical Ring)
From the Newgrange website:
“Newgrange is a Stone Age (Neolithic) monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, it is the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Ancient East. Newgrange was constructed about 5,200 years ago (3,200 B.C.) which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. … The mound is ringed by 97 large kerbstones, some of which are engraved with symbols called megalithic art.

Newgrange was built by a farming community that prospered on the rich lands of the Boyne Valley. It is best known for the illumination of its passage and chamber by the winter solstice sun. At dawn, from December 19th to 23rd, a narrow beam of light penetrates an opening known as the roof-box and reaches the floor of the chamber, gradually extending to the rear of the chamber.

As the sun rises higher, the beam widens within the chamber so that the whole room becomes dramatically illuminated. This event lasts for 17 minutes, beginning around 9am. The intent of the Stone Age farmers who build Newgrange was undoubtedly to mark the beginning of the new year. In addition, it may have served as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.”

Clannad the Irish family group is beloved for such timeless music as ‘Theme From Harry’s Game’, ‘In A Lifetime’, ‘I Will Find You’ and the sound track to the ‘Robin Of Sherwood’ TV series, and for their renderings of traditional Irish music. They made a welcome return to the stage in March 2013 to mark their 40th Anniversary, and that year, released their first album since 1998.

Their album “Magical Ring,” which this tracks is from, was one of the first Celtic albums I ever owned, and one that I very much loved.

“Dinogad’s Smock (Pais Dinogad)” – Ffynnon (Celtic Music From Wales)
From the Welsh group, Ffynnon’s website: “The first four lines of a 6th century nursery rhyme written in the margin of Britain’s earliest heroic poem ‘Y Gododdin’ – it is a forerunner of the English ‘Bye Baby Bunting’. The second set of numbers, yan tan tether, is Cumbrian sheep counting. Cymraeg (Welsh) was spoken in Cumbria until the twelfth century and is still remembered in the way Cumbrian farmers used to count sheep. During the ‘Heroic Age’, much of the treasure of Welsh poetry was written in Cumbria and Strathclyde.”

“Frodo’s Waltz” by Diana Stork – Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble (Innisheer)
Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble (BAYHE) is a group of young harpists playing a wide variety of musical styles on a wide variety of folk and lever harps. This ensemble is directed by Diana Stork, who is also the composer of this piece, “Frodo’s Waltz”.

This summer, the Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble – a group of 12 harpists, ages 10-22 will be on tour from June 29th to July 5th in Northern California’s ancient redwood forests to play harp music among the trees to raise awareness for the preservation and protection of these trees, support local conservation efforts, educate these dedicated young harpists, and bring beautiful, healing music to the community and the forest! They have a Kickstarter campaign underway to help fund this tour. Find out more about their project, and support their efforts here.

“May the blessing of Light be on you” – An Irish blessing / “The Holy Touch Suite” – Therese Schroeder-Sheker (The Geography of the Soul) An Irish Blessing. I couldn’t find out any more about it than that!

May the blessing of Light be on you
Light without and light within,
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
And warm your heart till it glows like
A great peat fire, so that the stranger
May come and warm himself at it,
And also a friend.
And may the light shine out of the two eyes of you,
Like a candle set in two windows of a house,
Bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.

And may the blessing of the Rain be on you
The soft sweet rain. May it fall upon your spirit
So that all the little flowers may spring up,
And shed their sweetness on the air.
And may the blessing of the Great Rains be on
You, may they beat upon your spirit
And wash it fair and clean,
And leave there many a shining pool
Where the blue of heaven shines,
And sometimes a star.

And may the blessing of the Earth be on you
The great round earth; may you ever have
A kindly greeting for them you pass
As you’re going along the roads.
May the earth be soft under you when you rest upon it,
Tired at the end of the day,
And may it rest easy over you when,
At the last, you lay out under it;
May it rest so lightly over you,
That your soul may be out from under it quickly,
And up, and off, and on its way to God.

Therese Schroeder-Sheker is a musician, educator, clinician, and academic dean of the School of Music-Thanatology and the founder Chalice of Repose Project, which teaches and offers a particular type of music to the dying, a legacy from certain medieval monastic practices.

“The Maids of Mitchelstown” – The Bothy Band (The Best of the Bothy Band)
The Bothy Band was an Irish traditional band active during the mid 1970s. It quickly gained a reputation as one of the most influential bands playing Irish traditional music. Their enthusiasm and musical virtuosity had a significant influence on the Irish traditional music movement that continued well after they disbanded in 1979.

The interplay between Matt Molloy on flute and Kevin Burke on fiddle on this slow reel is just plain beautiful.

“Lord Galway’s Lamentation & Síle Ní Chonalláin” –  Siobhán Armstrong (Youtube) Siobhán Armstrong, is player of historical harps with a particular passion for encouraging the rival of the early Irish harp. Among her many historical harp copies, she plays a replica of the medieval Trinity College or Brian Boru harp — the national emblem of Ireland — strung in brass and 18-carat gold. The harp is made by David Kortier, a harpmaker in Minnesota. I think the sound of the harp, as well as Siobhán’s playing, is absolutely glorious! This performance is from the Historical Harp Society of Ireland’s summer concert, in 2014, held in the Chapter House of St Mary’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, Ireland.

Let’s head out to the sea ….
Crossing to Ireland – Abby Newton (Crossing to Scotland)
From her website: “Abby Newton is well known for her groundbreaking work in the revival of the cello in American and Scottish traditional music. As part of the folk music revival of the past many decades there has been a movement to restore the unique richness of the cello to traditional music.

Today the cello is usually considered a classical instrument, but from the late 17th to early 19th centuries it was used in folk ensembles to provide low, driving rhythms for dance tunes and to render haunting Scottish airs. In those days, “folk” and “classical” music were often performed by the same musicians. Instrumentation was shared too, with violin and cello figuring prominently in both contexts. Many indigenous Scottish tunes were given formal arrangements by the great composers of the period. Haydn, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn all composed settings.”

As you may guess, if you’ve listened to my other shows, I’m a great fan of Paul Machlis’ lyrical piano playing. Here again, he offers his distinctive and beautiful accompaniment!

“Swan LK 243” – Catriona McKay (Transatlantic Sessions – Programme 5)

Scottish Harper and Composer. Catriona McKay is widely recognised for her innovative style. Here she introduces – to us, verbally—and musically, a tune she composed on a tall ship, with other members of a Transatlantic Session join in.

From Wikipedia: “Transatlantic Sessions is the collective title for a series of musical productions funded by and produced for BBC Scotland, BBC Four and RTE of Ireland. The productions comprise collaborative live performances by various leading folk and country musicians from both sides of the North Atlantic, playing music from Scotland, Ireland, England and North America, who get together under the musical direction of Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas to record and film a set of half-hour TV episodes. The Television director is Mike Alexander and the producer is Douglas Eadie.”

“Rann Na Mona” – Capercaillie (Delirium)
Capercaillie is a Scottish folk band, founded in the 80s, and continuing strong. Originating from Argyll, a region of western Scotland, the band is named after the Western Capercaillie, sometimes called a wood grouse, a native Scottish bird This audio is from a performance of Capercaillie, filmed at the Capitol Theatre Aberdeen in 1992. When you’re feeling weary of heart, you’ll want to head out to this lovely place by the sea where magic happens and you’ll receive everything you need ….

“My Lagan Love” – Sinéad O’Connor (Youtube)
“My Lagan Love” is a song to a traditional Irish air collected in 1903 in northern Donegal.

The English lyrics have been credited to poet and lyricist Joseph Campbell (1879–1944, AKA Seosamh MacCathmhaoil and Joseph McCahill, among others).

According to Wikipedia:
“The Lagan referred to in the title most likely pertains to the area of good farming land between Donegal and Derry known in Irish as An Lagán. The Lagan is the river that runs through Belfast. However, some argue that the Lagan in the song refers to a stream that empties into Lough Swilly in County Donegal, not far from where Herbert Hughes collected the song.”

“Sinéad O’Connor is an Irish singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra. O’Connor achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a new arrangement of Prince’s song “Nothing Compares 2 U”.

Since then, while maintaining her singing career, she has occasionally encountered controversy, partly due to her statements and gestures—such as her ordination as a priest despite being a woman with a Roman Catholic background—and her strongly expressed views on organised religion, women’s rights, war, and child abuse.”

Listen to the latest Forest Halls Celtic show on demand

Thanks for joining me!

Radio Show 5/1/16 Program Notes: Green Man and Greenwood

Forest Halls Celtic - May 1Welcome to Forest Halls Celtic, a program of mostly Celtic music with forays into folk, World, and historical music, and a pause now and then to enjoy some greenwood magic.

Today is the First of May, also known as the Celtic festival of Beltane. May Day falls pretty much midway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, and was considered in times past to be the start of summer.

Here on the island you can still find festivals where folk and families dance today, weaving ribbons in intricate patterns around a May Pole, often to live music. The May Day festival might include a cake walk, and of course an abundance of food. The First of May a time of abundant flowering and green. And, to those who, peer deeper into the greenwood of this festival, it is a laughing, dancing expression of the mythic figure known as the Green Man

We’ll be celebrating the First of May – but also taking the opportunity to explore the turning of the seasons, the long strands of time, and touching into the mythic nature of the Green Man and the May Queen.

Listen to the latest Forest Halls Celtic program on demand.

First of May Music
“The Iron Rig/The Boxwood Reel” – Skyedance (Labyrinth) 

We’re getting the party rolling with the Celtic fusion super-group Skyedance. This is quite an exciting ensembled made up of virtuosos Scottish fiddle master Alasdair Fraser, piper EricRigler, flutist Chris Norman, pianist Paul Machlis, bassist Mick Linden and percussionist Peter Maund.

Let’s head out into the forest …

Forest and Fairies – harp set
“Virgin Forest” – Anne Roos (A Light in the Forest)
Anne performs in the Lake Tahoe, CA area and Nevada and beyond. Harpers know her for her “The Harper in Business,” a regular column appearing in the Folk Harp Journal. Thank you, Anne, for sharing your insights and expertise with the harp community!

In this piece we enter for the forest wood, and are immersed in its depth and beauty.

“The Faerie Queene” – Shelley Phillips and Friends (Pavane)
Shelley Phillips is a harper and oboist/English horn player (and player of other woodwind instruments) from Santa Cruz CA. Here she plays a tune by Turlough O’Carolan (1670 – 25 March 1738), a blind early Irish harper noted for his many melodic compositions that are played and loved to this day.

“The King of the Fairies” – Alan Stivell
Alan Stivell is famous in the harp world for his wire-strung harp playing and album “Renaissance of the Celtic Harp” which inspired many of us to take up the wire-strung harp. This music is from a video of a performance of Alan Stivell playing in a band, probably from the 70s. His harp is there on stage, but it’s the whistle that he adds to this music. The fiddler looks like he’s having so much fun!

“Annwvyn” – Christina Tourin (Illuminations)
Enter the Welsh Otherworld in its most mystical sense with this beautiful harp piece composed and played by Christina.

“Oak, Broom, And Meadowsweet” – Damh the Bard (Spirit of Albion)
Blodeuwedd or Blodeuedd, (Middle Welsh composite name from blodeu ‘flowers, blossoms’ + gwedd ‘face, aspect, appearance’: “flower face”), is the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes in Welsh mythology, made from the flowers of broom, meadowsweet and the oak by the magicians Math and Gwydion, and is a central figure in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, a group of medieval Welsh tales.

Arianrhod had two sons by unusual means (a story in itself). Although she went lightly on her eldest son, she put three curses on the younger: that he would not receive a name unless it was given by her, he would not receive his armor unless from her, and the last curse was that he would never be allowed to marry a mortal woman. Through cleverness Math and Gwydion aided the younger son to receive a name and armor. They then created a wife for the son, now named Lleu Llaw Gyffes, out of flowers and named Blodeuwedd, meaning ‘Flower Face’.

In her wedding to Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Blodewedd, a creation and expression of the earth is Lady Sovereignty — the land wedded to the king. She is indeed the May Queen.

This song tells this part of the tale.

Damh the Bard is a British pagan folk singer-songwriter, and also a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

“Wildwood Bride” – Molly Pinto Madigan (Wildwood Bride)
A singer/songwriter from Boston, Molly Pinto Madigan’s music is clearly sourced from British folk traditions, in particular the ballad form.

Meet the Green Man
In art and sculpture the Green Man is a composite image — a face formed out of a mask of leaves, or a face disgorging or devouring leaves and vines. He is an ancient figure, linked with the Goddess in various ways — as son, lover, and guardian. Whether as a ‘foliate head’ carved in a European Gothic cathedral, or as a giant who tests the hero, challenging him to impossible tasks, the Green Man is the intelligence within the dark forest, in the Tree of Life.

He represents  irrepressible life, renewal and rebirth, inspiration. He is the guardian and revealer of the mysteries of Nature, and he unites humanity and the natural world. He can be rambunctious, or at times, (to humans “outside the green”) sinister.

“Green Man In the Garden” – Charles Stanley Causley
Background: Seamus Byrne – Irish Nature Sounds – Track 8

Charles Stanley Causley, CBE, FRSL (24 August 1917 – 4 November 2003) was a Cornish poet, schoolmaster and writer. His work is noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native Cornwall.He’s won scads of awards, especially later in his life and is much beloved as a writer of the people. He wrote ballads and short poems that are easily understood but haunting. Ah, perfect segue to today’s poem.

From Wikipedia: “The Green Man is a mythic figure, often called Jack in the Green. He’s associated with growth, the forest, the spring, the wilderness and hence, a wild and natural creature. You’ve probably seen depictions of him, and indeed, those depictions on churches, buildings and the like are called Green Man. Here is a wonderful and thorough explanation of him and you’ll see his lovingness and dark mystery for yourself

Usually referred to in works on architecture as foliate heads or foliate masks, carvings of the Green Man may take many forms, naturalistic or decorative. The simplest depict a man’s face peering out of dense foliage. Some may have leaves for hair, perhaps with a leafy beard. Often leaves or leafy shoots are shown growing from his open mouth and sometimes even from the nose and eyes as well. In the most abstract examples, the carving at first glance appears to be merely stylised foliage, with the facial element only becoming apparent on closer examination. The face is almost always male; green women are rare.”

Green Man in The Garden

Green man in the garden
Staring from the tree,
Why do you look so long and hard
Through the pane at me?

Your eyes are dark as holly,
Of sycamore your horns,
Your bones are made of elder-branch,
Your teeth are made of thorns.

Your hat is made of ivy-leaf,
Of bark your dancing shoes,
And evergreen and green and green
Your jacket and shirt and trews.

“Leave your house and leave your land
And throw away the key,
And never look behind,” he creaked,
“And come and live with me.”

I bolted up the window,
I bolted up the door,
I drew the blind that I should find
The green man never more.

But when I softly turned the stair
As I went up to bed,
I saw the green man standing there.
“Sleep well, my friend,” he said.

— Charles Causley

“Green Man” – Jennifer Cutting’s Ocean Orchestra (Song of the Solstice)
Jennifer Cutting’s passion for folk music was developed through her association with British folk revival leader A.L. Lloyd. In the early 1980s she became Lloyd’s last and youngest protégée, soaking up the same blend of scholarship and joy in performance that he had also imparted to members of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. She has collaborating with international superstars such as Maddy Prior and Peter Knight (Steeleye Span), Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) Tony Cuffe (Ossian) and Troy Donockley (Iona [UK])…

“Masque” – Knodel & Valencia (Forest)
Played entirely on two Celtic harps (drumming is on the harp soundboard) “Masque” is part of Debra Knodel and Jane Valencia’s (yes, that’s me) bardic performance, Forest. Masque is the music of the Green Man dancing! Deb plays the nylon-strung harp, I play the wire-strung harp.

Prose: “What it Means to be a Green Woman, a Green Man” – Jane Valencia Music: “Greenwood” – Paul Machlis (Greenwood)
I’ve been fascinated by the Green Man for years. Below is what I read on the show. Find more writings in the May 2014 edition of my ezine Acorn to Oak.

What it means to be a Green Woman, a Green Man.
Imagine: leaves sprouting from your body, before your eyes. Imagine peering from among those leaves – that layering of hand upon hand of leaves at your periphery, and the clear vision before you – and behind you. The scent is deep and sweet – pollen on the wind – aromatic essence that is nector in your mouth. You are like the butterfly, delighting of each flower with the tendrils of your tongue.

The essence swirls, sweet and deep and fills the garden within you – the veriditas, the green – within your soul. It spreads forth, a green energy that joins you with plants, insects, microorganisms, animals, streams, hills, mountains, sand, ice, stone – in short, all the world. The veriditas flows within and without you, down through the spiraling of leaf and bark and trunk that is your body. Through your legs into your feet. Your toes lengthen, spread, reach into soil, into the good rich loam. Your roots feast on that bounty of earth, reaching outward, interweaving with feet-roots-hands-fingers of others. You and the others share messages, perhaps even lives – for it is easy to connect this way, within the earth.

And above your heart-space, above the crown of yourself where you puzzle, wonder, imagine, think, are your arms stretched forth – your hands as leaves, collecting sunlight. You draw nourishment and energy and strength from the very soul of the universe itself. The sun, our Spirit. Moisture from the heavens waters us and inspires us. The weaving of our leafy selves with our kindred spirits – the Community of All Beings within and without the world – saves our lives.

How can we not be abundant?

How can we not be generous?

That is the message of the Green. To give and to grow, to heal and to nourish. To tease and to leap and to play, for we are abundant. We are the dancing, laughing Green.

— Jane Valencia

“A Reaping” – Honey of the Heart
The melody is a traditional air The Moorlough Shore (also known as “The Maids of Mourne Shore”). The words were composed by Joseph Campbell (July 15, 1879 – June 1944), an Irish poet and lyricist. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs.

Our island’s own, Maren Metke, taught many of us this song back in the days of her Madrona School. She changed the words a little to reflect the beauty and power of a whole family tending into the earth in this way. I’m delighted to play this live version of “A Reaping” performed by Honey of the Heart, which is Justin Ancheta and Maren Metke and their band. There’s word that this duo will be on Vashon this summer. I hope we all get the chance to hear them live!

From their website:
Honey of the Heart (fronted by Justin Ancheta and Maren Metke) is described as “a feast for the senses and a balm for the soul”, leaving you with “chills and an open heart”. This versatile, inspiring duo, sometimes backed by their dynamic and talented band, weaves together soaring, rich vocals and melodies… haunting, epic, three-part harmonies… contagious polyrhythms infused with deep, soulful presence and skill.

Their style is described as Folk, Latin, Gospel, Gypsy, Roots, Americana fusion with rich harmonies, and powerful vocals, suggesting a deep Soul influence. Their combined influences form a strong chemistry and flow, bringing a positive message and intimate breadth of landscape, blending contagious rhythm and melodies to sweeten the hearts of all who listen.

Thank you for joining me in the Greenwood!

Radio Show 4/3/16 Program Notes

Here’s a little more detail about the music and tales we experienced in Forest Halls Celtic – 4/3/16 (you can listen to the show on demand at that link).

Access the 4/3/16 show’s play list here.

A Celebration of Spring.

Opening and Closing music (excerpts): “Lochaber No More” – Spookytree (Masque).
 Two wire-strung harps play this traditional Scottish tune. Though it’s a lament, the tune showcases well the beauty and ring of two wire-strung harps playing together. You can listen to the full piece here.

Welcome to Forest Halls Celtic!

Field, Farmyard, and Cottage:

“The Magic Horse” – Paul Machlis (The Magic Horse)
This track has been a favorite with my family since the mid-90s. Paul Machlis, is a pianist and keyboardist from the Santa Cruz area of California. In 1992 he released The Magic Horse – a CD of original compositions based mostly on Celtic and Balkan themes, and you can hear both those musical streams in the title track.

“The Hen’s March” – Bonnie Rideout (Gi’me Elbow Room: Folk Songs of a Scottish Childhood)
Bonnie Rideout is a Scottish fiddler from America! “The Hen’s March” is actually “The Hen’s March o’er the Middens.” Listen carefully to the tune itself: You can hear the hens cackling and scratching. The second tune/song in this set is “Tail Toddle,” which you hear both as an instrumental and as an example of Scottish mouth music. I included this track in honor of the arrival of a batch of baby chicks to our house.

Gi’me Elbow Room is Bonnie’s album introducing Scottish music to kids.

Thank you to Great Highland pipes and Scottish small pipes player — a new harper — Joyce Newport for i.d.’ing “Tail Toddle” for me! And also to the folks at Bonnie Rideout’s office for doing the same. I welcome corrections/additional info from listeners!

Scottish Set: “Lochnagar / Miss Gordon of Fochabers / Jenny Dang the Weaver / The Fairy Dance” – Natalie MacMaster (Natalie MacMaster: Fiddling in Reel Time, Ted Talk 2003)
Imagine growing up in an area where music is so very much a part of the community life, and there are so many fiddle players around that something like the following is a common occurrence. Your house has a fiddle, just as every house does. A neighbor drops by. You hand over your family’s fiddle, because 10 to 1 that person can play it. You invite your neighbor to play a tune. Soon someone starts dancing, and then other person offers a song, and this kitchen party starts up with tunes and songs going round and folks joining in.

Well, Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, in northeastern Canada is just such a region. The people of Cape Breton originally came from Scotland, and so their music and all the traditions that go with it are from Scotland. Natalie MacMaster is an energetic Cape Breton fiddler who grew up in this kind of musical community life. Her style ranges from traditional to progressive and fusion, but is always rooted in her deep love of her Cape Breton heritage. Here are a set of Scottish tunes that she played in a Ted Talk in 2003. The tunes are: Lochnagar, Miss Gordon of Fochabers, Jenny Dang the Weaver, and The Fairy Dance. Imagine that Natalie’s playing these tunes in your kitchen! Don’t you feel like dancing while you’re chopping your kale or stir-frying your spring nettles? Maybe you feel like adding a tune or song of your own too?

Thank you to Cherry Clark of the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers for identifying the tunes for us!

Sunshine through the Window (Irish, 9th c.)
It’s a beautiful day 1200 years ago. In Ireland and Scotland, monks set to their work of transcribing the Bible or psalms or other sacred work. They transcribe with glorious calligraphy and with intricate knotwork patterns and fanciful animals. From time to time in these incredible works, they scrawl in the margin—a reflection, sometimes a poem or snippet of song.

Here is a marginal note by an unknown Irish scribe in the 9th century. Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts as you’ve bent over your lap top, tablet, or cell phone, pursuing the work of the day.

Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins, because it flickers so.

– Irish; marginal note by an unknown scribe, 9th century.
From A Celtic Miscellany – compiled by Kenneth Jackson

The Breton Tunes:

Brittany is a Celtic region of France.

“Dans Keff Avec” – Steve Baughman with Robin Bullock (Life in Prism)

Robin Bullock, a Celtic+Appalachian+American guitarist multi-instrumentalist teams up with California fingerstylist Steve Baughman in this lovely traditional dance tune from Brittany .  Precise harmonies, relaxed playing, pure magic!

“An Dro in Em / Breton March / Bus Stop”- Cíana (Loneliest Road)
As their website declares, Cíana indeed features of high-octane Irish Trad with a Nevada flair! This set begins with two traditional tunes from Brittany. Presumably, the last tune is from Nevada.

“Home and the Heartland” (Riverdance 1995)
This song was composed by Bill Whelan for Riverdance. It isperformed by Anuna, with soloist Katie McCahan, during its premiere run in 1995. Anuna is an Irish vocal ensemble whoose songs and intricate harmonies and interwoven arrangements evoke universal truths told through the landscape, the philosophy and the mythology of Ireland and beyond.

An Irish Myth: Airmid’s Cloak

“Airmid’s Cloak” told by Jane Valencia
I have been entranced by the Irish legend of “Airmid’s Cloak” since I first encountered it via the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. This tale contains a beautiful scene where a veritable herb garden grows out of brutality and tragedy. Dian Cecht, one of the Tuatha De Danaan, a physician and god of healing, in a fit of rage, murders his son Miach for surpassing him in healing abilities (Do no harm???). Airmid, Miach’s sister and a healer as well, visits Miach’s grave through the winter. Then spring comes, and the flowers emerge. Airmid is confused then awed when she discovers that 365 herbs have grown at the grave in the shape of her brother. Soon she realizes that all of the healing knowledge and wisdom of Airmid’s brother, Miach, is revealed in those plants, and that each herb can heal the area of the body in which it grows.

Laying her cloak on the ground, Airmid sets about placing each herb on it in the place it grew over her brother’s body so that she can catalogue each one and spread the knowledge. But Dian Cecht returns …

I tell a short version of this story with a backdrop of Chris Conway’s appropriate music, “Airmid’s Herbal Cloak.”

In future shows we’ll see about reassembling that herbal cloak as I share with a little Celtic herbal lore and wisdom.

Thank you again to my friend and colleague – harper, vocalist, cellist and amazing linguist, Vicki Parrish of The Standing Stones for pronunciation guidance (any mangling of Irish Gaelic pronunciation is my own!).

“Airmid’s Herbal Cloak” – Chris Conway (Celtic Gold)
Chris Conway is a British multi-instrumentalist who plays in a variety of genres. His Celtic Gold album is Celtic music for relaxation and healing.

“Frogsong” – Kim Angelis (The Messenger)
Kim Angelis composes and performs beautiful, passionate music for virtuoso violin, with a Gypsy flavor, classical style, and occasional zaniness. This particular piece is fun, light and inspired – frogs need their own song too. I love the music of Kim Angelis, and she is a lovely, heartful person as well!

The Harp Music.

Do you enjoy the Celtic harp? The rest of the program includes harps in various ways!

“The Hawk of Ballyshannon” by Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin –  Ann Heymann (Queen of Harps) 
Each show showcases the wire-strung harp, also known as a clarsach or Gaelic harp.

From her website: “A master in the performance and traditions of the Gaelic harp, Ann Heymann continues to spearhead the instrument’s revival. From the start she chose to play in the traditional manner: resting the harp on her left shoulder so the right hand plays the bass and the left hand plays the treble, striking the brass strings with her fingernails, and damping with the fingerpads.”

Ann is an elegant and masterful player, as you will soon hear.

Here Ann performs ancient Irish harp piece, The Hawk of Ballyshannon, from the Bunting collection (which is a story in itself, for another time!). The tune was composed by an Irish harper, Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin — also known as “Blind Rory” (many harpers during that time were blind) — around 1600.

On the subject of wire-strung harps: A shout out to Nan Pardew, who has shepherded a wire-strung harp circle for many years now in the Puget Sound area. One is happening this very afternoon. Thanks, Nan, for your dedication and for being a strong voice for the wire-strung harp!

“Dacw ‘nghariad (There is my love)” – Eve Goodman (Sofar Cardiff house concert)
Eve Goodman is a 20-year-old singer/songwriter from Caernarfon, North Wales who is currently studying at Cardiff University. Here she sings a traditional Welsh song. This recording is from aSofar Cardiff house concert. A Sofar is an intimate, invite-only performance event – the best new music played in unique spaces, to passionate audiences.

The song begins (translated):

There’s my love down in the orchard
Oh, how I wish I was there myself …

Where’s the harp in this song? Check out the final verse, below.

There’s the harp, there the strings
What am I with no one to play it?
There’s the lively, careful maiden
How much closer am I to winning her?

“Canan Nan Gaidheal” by Murdo MacFarlane – Clan Alba (Clan Alba)
A folk supergroup, Clan Alba formed in the UK in the mid-90s with veteran artists Dick Gaughan, Mary Macmaster, Brian MacNeill, Fred Morrison, Patsy Seddon, Davy Steele, Mike Travis and Dave Tulloch. While the instrumental line-up featured guitars, harps, pipes, fiddles and percussion, just as much interest was focused on how well the distinctive singing voices blended as part of Clan Alba’s collective harmonies. .

For you harp afficianados:
Patsy Seddon and Mary Macmaster of the Scottish harp duo Sileas, and the all-female folk group The Poozies offer harps and vocals on this song.

Come with me, come away to the West,
Where we shall hear the language of the great warriors;
Come with me, come away to the West
Where we shall hear the language of the Gaels

“The Butterfly” – Orison (Orison: Celtic and Contemporary Instrumental Music) 

Orison comprises five San Francisco Bay Area instrumentalists: William Coulter on guitars, Steve Coulter on harp and recorder, Shelley Phillips on oboe, English horn and flute, Barry Philips on cello and percussion, and Anne Cleveland on flute.The Butterfly is an Irish slip jig played here in three different time signatures, 9/8, and altered 9/8 (2 + 2 + 2 + 3), and 11/8 (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2). These rhythms are borrowed from Bulgarian folk music.