CD is Evidence of Cleveland's Potential
Ohio – and Cleveland in particular – has long been a great place for Irish music. Before World War II it was the home of fiddler and dancer Tom Scott, and later on, that of flute player Tom Byrne and fiddler Tom McCaffrey. More recently, the likes of Jimmy Noonan (flute) and Francis Quinn (fiddle) set an important standard that the young students of the now defunct Irish Music Academy of Cleveland were able to follow well into the 1990s. These days, there is a handful of people who set a similarly high standard and who are encouraging a younger generation of people to the music. Two such musicians are Brian Holleran and Brian Bigley, and together they have a new album, “Traditional Irish Music on Flute + Pipes.”
Multi-instrumentalist Brian Bigley grew up in a musical family in Cleveland. Although he also plays whistle and flute, he is best known as a uilleann piper, an instrument he took up when he was eight under Michael Kilbane’s tutelage. He is also a uilleann pipe and reed maker and a champion step dancer. Brian Holleran grew up in New Jersey, a student of the East Galway flute legend Mike Rafferty. He earned wide respect on the session scene in New York, and was a featured performer on the seminal 2004 album “Live at Mona’s.” Both were members of Cleveland’s “Burning River Ceili Band.”
The album grew from when Holleran and Bigley first did sessions together in Cleveland. They found a tightness in their playing, which was borne out of their shared love for Matt Molloy and Liam O’Flynn’s duo playing on Planxty’s “After the Break” and Matt Molloy and Paddy Keenan’s playing on the Bothy Band’s “Out of the Wind into the Sun.” Holleran told me that it turned out they were “both inspired by the kind of music that turned on any 15-16-year-old American kid playing Irish music.” With this, their intention was to record a four-track demo to get session work in Cleveland. Instead, they wound up doing the full album.
Holleran and Bigley are both excellent players and the combination of unaccompanied flute and uilleann pipes is both unusual and distinctive. The album’s mix of tunes – some of them better-known and others that sound as if they just had the clay shaken off them (to borrow a phrase from last week’s column) – suggests a shared great good taste. However, what makes this album relevant is its smart performances and pacing. There’s a relaxedness in both Holleran and Bigley’s music that is deceptive, because while they play fairly briskly they never sound rushed. It’s a disciplined, swing-dependent approach that speaks well for the respect the musicians have for the tradition itself.
This is a great album for your collection. Tracks like “Rub the Bag / …” and later, the “Eel in the Sink /…” are both very satisfying, as are “O’Neill’s March / …” and the “Hills of Coore / …” which provide a contrasting sense of pace. Holleran’s playing on “Seoladh na nGanhmna,” a slow air he learned from the magnificent singer Susan McKeown, is full of nuance and grace and is a thoughtful indication of the feel Holleran has for his craft, while Bigley’s playing of “An Buachaillín Bán” (a slow air he learned from Michael Kilbane, his mentor) reveals a musician with a keen ear and a firm understanding of his instrument’s subtleties.
This excellent album (which is available through CDBaby and iTunes) is evidence of Cleveland’s strong trad music community and its potential for great things. To hear more of what’s going on there, trad fans can tune into Roger Weist’s “Beyond the Pale” (WRUW 91.1, Sundays 4-6pm) and Bill Kennedy’s “Sweeney Astray” (WCSB 89.3, Saturdays 2-4pm) radio programs. Those wishing to get out and patronize the music more directly can see trad concerts at Pat Campbell’s pub “PJ McIntyres,” while those interested in the less formal sessions scene should visit Karen O’Malley’s pub “The Harp,” Pete Leneghan & Eileen Sammon’s “Stone Mad,” and Sara Pat’s “Plank Road Tavern.”
A Good Dose of Irish Traditions
Don't look to the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds in Berea if it's a genuine, well-rounded and singular Irish experience you seek this summer. Rather, go to the Baroque Music Barn in Hunting Valley. Go to Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village. Go to Geauga Lyric Theater in Chardon.
Go anywhere, really, this weekend where Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is presenting "Celtic Crossings: Songs and Stories of the Irish-American Journey."
A sampling of Irish traditional music, dancing and storytelling, performed by experts and na- tives, the program, part of the orchestra's "Countryside Concerts," is a substantial and highly effective dose of culture only a leisurely trip around the Emerald Isle, complete with pints of Guinness, could top.
More than just a concert, the preview performance Wednesday night in Hunting Valley amounted to a full-on immersion in actual, living traditions, simulating a gathering of country folk and then following through with examples of Ireland's legacy in America, complete with a sing-along to "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Two performers even engaged in an Irish dance- off.
In between musical presentations by five wondrously talented guest artists, storyteller and Ire- land native Tomáseen Foley regaled the sold-out crowd of "good people of Cleveland, Ohio," with poetry, tales and jokes, evoking a quiet evening spent sitting around the hearth. Funniest was the potentially true story of a small-town funeral wake staged in an absurd effort to impress a foreigner.
But if Foley was the narrative heart of the program, the musicians were its soul. No band at any fairgrounds will equal tenor Ross Hauck singing folk songs by Robert Burns, who was Scottish, or the unique blend of masterful artists on the hammered dulcimer (Tina Bergmann), guitar (William Coulter), flutes (Kathie Stewart) and Irish pipes (Brian Bigley).
From their hands and lips, every round of jigs, reels, waltzes and Shaker tunes sparkled with authenticity. Bergmann's dulcimer supplied vibrancy and textural complexity, while Coulter's guitar served as a luminous foundation. Playing both flute and the recorder-like penny-whistle, Stewart rounded out the mixture with zest.
Continued..© 2012 Thomson Reuters. No Claim to Orig. US Gov. Works.Intimacy was another unforgettable factor. Seated in the loft level of a barn around a small stage, the audience could hear, feel and see every nuance in a detail-rich performance.
Hauck, for instance, sang Josephine McGill's "Duna" and Brendan Graham's "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears" as if from personal experience, addressing listeners almost individually with his light, sweet voice. Likewise, the brilliant dancing of Bigley shook the floor, lending a physical di- mension to his already stunning performances on the Uilleann pipes, a lighter, mellower- sounding version of Scottish bagpipes.
The most affecting aspect of the evening, however, was the emotion contained within the music and the texts. Between Foley's stories and so many pieces overflowing with pride and love of home, everyone no doubt left feeling a little more Irish than before.
If you can't cross the Atlantic, at least make your way to "Celtic Crossings."
To reach Zachary Lewis: email@example.com, 216-999-4632
Copyright 2012 The Plain Dealer. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Apollo's Fire: “Celtic Crossings— Music, Songs & Stories of the
Irish-American Journey” at Bath Church (June 14)
The Countryside Concerts that Apollo’s Fire is presenting this June continue that group’s involvement with crossover as a mode of performance. These end-of-season “pops” concerts have in years past explored early music’s migrations into such genres as early American music (“Spirit of ‘96”), British folk music (“Scarborough Fayre”) and Appalachian dance and gospel music (“Come to the River”). This year Irish music supplies the theme for an evening that evokes the long green summer evenings of western Ireland and the music that captures their beauty and their sadness.
Many of the dance tunes and instrumentation that we encounter in baroque performances became the meat and drink of later Irish and Irish-American music making. The gigues of a Bach suite cross over into (or from?) the rougher jigs of the céilidh; the fine tones of a baroque flute are cousin to the shriller, more piercing (and cheaper) pennywhistle. And even more to the point for the informal atmosphere of these “Celtic Crossings” concerts, the flexible, improvisatory, and often competitive nature of baroque music is inseparable from the scrappy feistiness of Irish folk music.
Part of that crossover inventiveness was the sheer versatility of the performers. The Apollo’s Fire regulars outdid themselves. The sparkling dulcimer playing of Tina Bergmann filled the air with toe-tapping dance tunes that unexpectedly morphed into sophisticated syncopations. How can you go wrong with tunes named “Appleknocker” or “Cowhide Boots”?
The clear, rich tenor voice of Ross Hauck (Tamino in last year’s Magic Flute) moved effortlessly between late-night pub music (“When Irish Eyes are Smiling”), sentimental music-hall lyric (“The Homes of Donegal”) and Irish-American ballad (a moving rendition of “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears”) – with a bit of Burns saucily thrown in for geographical diversity and political radicalism (“A Man’s a Man for A’ That”).
Kathie Stewart, crossing over between baroque flute and pennywhistle, brought a lithe and often dizzying brilliance to the faster dances—the jigs and reels—and a rich, low tenderness to the ballads; when the tunes really started to rock, her articulation was so clear that the flute not only carried the wonderful dance tunes but supplied the rhythm parts as well.
Three guest performers gave the evening an unfamiliar set of tonalities that blended beautifully with the regulars. Guest music director William Coulter kept the beat going and the ensembles together with his sensitive playing on the steel-string guitar; his most moving solo was a beautiful waltz, “Midnight on the Water” by American fiddler Benny Thomasson.
Probably the most versatile performer of the evening was Brian Bigley, a master of the Irish bagpipe (the uilleann pipe is a complicated, quieter cousin of the better-known Highland pipes). Bigley gave a stunning performance of a mystical Irish tune (“Pórt Na bPúcaí”: the tune is said to have been heard in the twilight by fishermen on their way back to harbor, and thought by them to have been either the music of fairies or – in more modern hypothesis – of whalesong). Bigley is also a master dancer, and he came forward for several Irish dances, full of the intricate polyrhythms that heels and toes produce at high speed and high energy. Bigley challenged the audience to top his dancing, and the challenge was gamely accepted by a young woman named Emily, from Broadview Heights, an accomplished dancer who more than held her own.
Both Coulter and Bigley regularly tour with the Irish storyteller Tomáseen Foley, who brought the Irish love of language to the evening. Looking like a more genial version of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, Foley served as a host for the evening, and punctuated the musical sets with a rendition of the traditional Irish poem, “The Mystery of Amergin,” and a story about his youth in the west of Ireland, involving a most unusual wake (no spoilers here!). Foley brought an nice combination of humor and nostalgia to the evening, though the story’s somewhat indulgent length rather outbalanced the rest of the program.
Thursday’s concert was held in the ample and pleasant space of the Bath Church, a large, squarish hall with adequate acoustics. Some aspects—the guitar and the storyteller—were appropriately miked, but even the un-miked instruments had presence despite the very high ceiling, which I feared would swallow them. For an evening that evoked old-time music-making, however, the venue is a bit too formal, and the audience, despite encouragement, never really entered into the spirit of the thing. I expect that the atmosphere at the Music Barn in Hunting Valley would have been more conducive to the communal spirit.
The program is performed four more times – Friday and Saturday at Hunting Valley, and a matinee Sunday at Huntington Playhouse and a Sunday evening performance in Chardon.
Nicholas Jones is Professor of English at Oberlin College and a keen amateur musician.
"Bigley and Linnane brought out a traditional Irish hard shoe step dance with feet flying... a treasured performance ."
"World champion level Irish step dancer, Brian Bigley, expertly played the uilleann pipes, whistle and flute."
"This CD is amazing. It is everything that I hoped it would be. If you like the Uilliann pipes or any pipes you will definitely love this."
"Great CD to listen to. I Highly recommend buying this CD. If you like uilleann piping, flute and a bit of whistle, not too over accompanied, than Buy it!"
"Saw his performance in Green Bay and had to order his CD immediately the following day. Enjoying it every day. Great entertainment. Very relaxing and love the pipes. Such a soothing effect on the senses."