Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Celtic Music and Me

Today is St. Patrick's Day, a day when America, mostly, celebrates all things Irish.

Celtic music (that is to say, traditional music from any of the Celtic nations) is my absolute favorite genre. I'm not Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, Manx, Breton or even Galician, but something about the sound of this stuff stirs my heart and soul. It brings me peace and joy whenever I listen to it. I can never get enough, and I hope I won't ever get enough.

It all started with Riverdance. I remember watching the commercials and being so amazed at all those stomping feet. I bought the video of the show and enjoyed watching it. Oddly enough, the music didn't really catch me, although I did wonder what those strange things were in one of the solo sections (and they turned out to be Uilleann bagpipes).

I didn't go beyond that until I became interested in fiddle music. I started with Nordic, then moved on to Cajun. It was only a matter of time before I discovered Celtic too. Appropriately enough, my proper introduction to the greatness of Celtic music came via The Chieftains.

I had heard of The Chieftains, and knew they played Irish music, but that was all I knew. One summer in college, I was visiting a friend in Arizona. We were at one of those big music stores, looking at all the albums. The Chieftains' Water From The Well was displayed in one of the listening stations. I was curious, so I put on the headphones and gave it a listen. I was stunned. The sheer energy and passion that poured out of those tiny speakers hooked me instantly. I nearly started to dance right there in the store! That was the moment I started to love this music.

Some time after that, I saw the video of Water From The Well on PBS. It reminded me of what I had heard in Arizona, and caught my interest even more. I don't remember the exact year, but it was either 200 or 2001. Whichever year it was, that Christmas I bought Water From The Well at Barnes and Noble, along with a copy of Angela's Ashes. The best of Ireland! Needless to say, the full album was as good as I expected.

After that, I started sampling the full album previews on the Green Linnet Records website. I also listened to Celtic music on internet radio, which is where I discovered my next Celtic love, Natalie MacMaster. I heard the sweet fiddling of this Cape Breton beauty and knew I had found one of the best fiddle players in the world. Sometime in spring of 2001, I had my first Natalie MacMaster album. I also found the Afro Celt Sound System in 2001, and loved them so much that they are now my favorite group. By that winter, I had two ACSS albums plus my first Lunasa CD.

Since those early days, I have discovered many more groups and bought many more albums. Five of them are Natalie MacMaster's, and I am buying a sixth very soon. I have seen Natalie in concert four times now, and I even saw the famous Chieftains in 2005 (if memory serves correctly). We don't get nearly enough Celtic bands here in town, but I always hope for someone I haven't yet seen to make the journey.

When I originally wrote this post, I included a few paragraphs about why I don't like Celtic stage shows such as Celtic Woman or, yes, Riverdance. However, after some thought, I'm taking that part out. Who am I to tell others what is good or bad? I'll just say that I don't care for such stage shows. I prefer the authentic, traditional music performed by musicians who aren't trying to impress anyone or be world famous. If they are famous, they are famous because their music is good. I go for the kind of Celtic music that has some rough edges, that isn't perfectly produced, that is mostly acoustic and done with as much true passion as possible. If others like something a little more sparkly, that's OK. I'll stick with what I like and hope others discover it too.

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