Saturday, 28 November 2009

Irish Christmas comes to Lowville

LOWVILLE — Fans of Irish music dreaming of a green Christmas will want to be in this village Dec. 6 regardless of the snow situation.

The touring production "Irish Christmas in America," sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Society, stops that day at the Lowville Academy and Central School auditorium.

The show, in its fifth year, includes some of Ireland's top traditional artists, featuring music, dance and stories of seasonal Irish traditions.

The production was created five years ago by Oisin Mac Diarmada of the award-winning Irish group Téada. Mr. Mac Diarmada plays fiddle for Téada, which is Irish for "strings." The band focuses on the traditional music of Ireland and was named the Best Young Irish Traditional Act at the inaugural 2009 Ireland Music Awards.

Mr. Mac Diarmada, speaking from his home in County Sligo, Ireland, late last week a day before leaving for Mexico, said he saw Irish Christmas in America as a chance to show the diversity of Irish culture.

"Ever since 2001, I've been over and back to the U.S. four or five times a year," he said. "I wanted to bring over some of the other elements from Ireland. In this setting, you have more opportunity to tell people stories, do some dancing and we also have a slide show."

Mr. Mac Diarmada said the show is a way to share traditional and often unknown Irish customs with audiences.

"One of the most heartfelt themes of Irish Christmas is emigration," he said. "Music was a way that people stayed close to home."

Joining Mr. Mac Diarmada for "Irish Christmas in America" will be Seamus Begley on vocals and accordion, Grainne Hambly on Irish harp and concertina, Tommy Martin on uilleann pipes/whistles, Tristan Rosenstock on bodhran and as narrator, Sean Earnest on guitar and bouzouki and dancer Brian Cunningham.

Mr. Begley, hailing from the Irish-speaking region of West County Kerry, is known for his "old-style" singing. He has won numerous awards, including sharing Best Folk/Celtic Duo at the 2009 Ireland Music Awards.

"He's one of those people you love to be around," Mr. Mac Diarmada said. "He turned 60 this year and he has a zest for lively stories and staying up late. I think there will be more off-the-cuff banter at this year's show."

Although it's not holiday related, one of the stories to be told at "Irish Christmas in America" will be about Capt. Francis O'Neill, an emigrant from Cork who became Chicago's chief of police at the turn of the 20th century.

Mr. Mac Diarmada said Capt. O'Neill (1848-1936) had a major effect on Irish music in America by collecting it and organizing musicians to play it.

"He was so key in creating the music we perform," Mr. Mac Diarmada said. "We do a selection of songs he saved for our generation."

Capt. O'Neill, with other Irish musicians, created the Irish Music Club and was responsible for collecting and publishing thousands of pieces of Irish music.

Joining Mr. Mac Diarmada and Mr. Begley for Irish Christmas in America:

■ Dancer Brian Cunningham, 23, is an "old-style" dancer from Ireland, where he has won many of that country's major dance competitions. In 2005, he was invited by the president of Ireland to perform during a state visit to Japan and South Korea.

■ Grainne Hambly from County Mayo is an internationally recognized expert of the Irish harp. Over the past few years, she has toured extensively throughout Europe and the U.S. She also is a qualified teacher of traditional Irish music and is in demand at summer schools and festivals in Ireland and abroad.

■ Tommy Martin is originally from Dublin and now lives in St. Louis, Mo. His first of 13 CDs was released in 2000. His diverse uilleann pipes/whistles credits range from performing with "Riverdance" in New York City to the Chicago Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra.

■ Tristan Rosenstock, from Glenageary, County Dublin, is also a member of Téada. He's prominent in Dublin musical circles and recently completed a master's degree in film and television studies from Dublin City University.

■ Sean Earnest, on guitar and bouzouki, is a native of central Pennsylvania and has toured the East Coast playing gigs and doing session work for other artists.

WHAT: Irish Christmas in America
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m. Dec. 6 at Lowville Academy and Central School auditorium, 7668 State St. It’s a benefit and sponsored by the Lewis County Historical Society. Doors open at 2:30.
COST: Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Society officials noted there is no guarantee seats will be available on the day of the concert for guests to be seated together.
Checks for tickets can be sent to the Lewis County Historical Society, P.O. Box 446, Lowville, NY 13367, along with a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Guests can also call the society at 376-8957 for more information or to arrange for ticket pick-ups. Requests received via the mail after Monday will be held for pick up at the door the afternoon of the concert.


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