Poet W.B. Yeats said of his fellow Irish citizens “We have made our art of simple things.” Indeed we have. Unlike the “high culture” of continental Europe, it was the ordinary people, very often rural people, that gave birth to Ireland’s heritage -- the great and priceless treasury of Irish culture. The music, the singing, the dancing, the storytelling – all were created and nurtured in the heart and by the hearth of small farmers, tradesmen, fishermen, laborers, and so-called servant ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ -- very few of whom had any concept at all of themselves as artists. We, their kith and kin, are their blessed beneficiaries: blessed in being able to draw freely from that seemingly infinite treasury they created, to bring A Celtic Christmas to audiences all over the country year after year.
We have made our art of simple things.
Northeastern State University and the Sequoyah Institute will bring “A Celtic Christmas” to the NSU Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The show is sponsored by Barbara Abercrombie and Tery DeShong.
Long, long before “Riverdance,” ordinary men and women, at the end of a day working in field, meadow, bog, or glen, would gather at each others’ cottages and, rhythmically battering the floor with their hob-nailed boots, would raise sparks off the flagstones as they danced jigs, reels, and hornpipes, and would ‘raise the rafters’ with the fiery music of fiddle, whistle, harp and the mesmerizing uilleann pipes. In concert halls from California to Florida, from Texas to Michigan, “Tomáseen Foley’s A Celtic Christmas” recreates just such a night.
And who better to do it? Tomáseen is the second youngest of seven children and was born and reared on a small farm in the remote parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin in the southwest of Ireland – part of the renowned cultural enclave now known as Sliabh Luachra. His show, “A Celtic Christmas,” takes us back to Ireland of the 1950s, to a night before Christmas, to a place where the motor car, the television, and the telephone were little more than unlikely rumors, and to a time when the neighbors would gather at each others’ homes, bringing with them not only their traditional musical instruments, but also their songs, their dances, their laughter, and -- always, ever and always -- their stories.
He brings with him some of the finest exponents of the traditional Celtic arts performing anywhere today – on either side of the Atlantic. New to this year’s show is Marta Cook – winner of the World Championship Irish Harpist title at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 2001, and recipient of the Peter and Margaret Nalty Memorial Trophy. She is considered one of the finest Irish harpists in the world, and is also a champion Irish step dancer.
Back with the show for the fourth successive year is virtuoso Kathleen Keane – on fiddle, whistle, vocals and traditional Irish dance. Kathleen’s music is featured in The Titanic, Backdraft, The Road to Perdition and The Cinderella Man. As well as being considered a child prodigy on the tin whistle, the Chicago Tribune nominated her as one of the world’s finest Celtic Fiddlers. She studied Irish step dancing under Michael Flatley (Riverdance/ Lord of the Dance) and went on to become a champion Irish dancer.
Music Director William Coulter is an internationally acclaimed master of the steel-string guitar. In 2005, he won a Grammy for a track he contributed to Pink Guitar, a solo guitar compilation of Henry Mancini tunes. He has been performing and recording traditional Celtic and American folk music for 25 years. The most recent of his seven CDs on the Gourd Music label is the acclaimed solo album The Road Home.
Returning for the second year is Uilleann Piper Brian Bigley. From the age of eight, Brian studied the traditional, rarely heard, uilleann pipes with Achill Island (Co. Mayo) piper Michael Kilbane -- with whom he also studied flute, whistle and low whistle. He has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and the UK. He is also a world-class Irish step dancer -- he competed in the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002 and in Killarney, Ireland in 2003.
Storyteller Tomáseen Foley was born on a small farm in the remote parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin in the west of Ireland. Rego Irish Records says he is a master of the Irish narrative and a keeper of the flame for a priceless piece of Irish culture. For each of the past twelve years, from Thanksgiving until Christmas, his show “Tomáseen Foley’s A Celtic Christmas” plays to critical acclaim and packed concert halls around the US. His show “A Saint Patrick Celebration” tours from late February through mid-March; two other shows, “Tomáseen Foley’s Irish Times,” and his one-man “Lines from my Grandmother's Forehead” tour throughout the remainder of the year. The Oregon Cabaret developed a hit musical from his story Parcel From America. He has released two CDs: “Parcel From America,” and a live recording, “The Priest and the Acrobat.”
Tickets for “A Celtic Christmas” are $20 for adults, $18 for NSU alumni, $16 for NSU employees, $14 for senior citizens, $10 for students and children, and $5 for NSU students. To purchase tickets, contact the NSU Box Office at (918) 458-2075.
Additional funding for the show is provided by the Oklahoma Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information on the Sequoyah Institute’s 22nd Annual Galaxy of Stars Series, visit www.nsuok.edu/si.