By Doc Lawrence –
Celtic and Appalachian traditions, high spirits and mystical song share a Christmas legacy this time of year, confirming the importance of cultural heritage. Deep in the Appalachian Mountains the ancient hymns and Christmas songs are brushed off for festivals, celebrations, and religious services. Isolation has its virtues: the gift of original music and dance complete with haunting, often inspirational songs from Celtic lands is now American music.
And you don’t have to go deep into rural America to find the song and dance of the season.
This year marks the 19th annual Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert which takes place on Dec. 18 and 19 in Atlanta at Emory University’s magnificent Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Hosting the concert is a good friend, James Flannery, the Winship Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Emory. An internationally renowned Irish tenor and theater producer, Flannery is a scholar of W.B. Yeats and directs the W.B. Yeats Foundation, which produces the concert. Flannery long ago reintroduced audiences to the Celtic-Appalachian connections where they are most recognizable in music, dance, hospitality and reverence for things sacred. A casual examination of dance forms popular in Southern mountain communities today-buck, clogging or flat-foot-manifests similarities with Irish step-dancing, recalling many scenes from “Riverdance.”
According to Flannery, “the principal appeal of the concert to people of all ages and religious affiliations lies in the way it expresses the quest for spiritual renewal at the heart of the Christmas season.”
Featured performers include renowned Irish folk singer Moya Brennan and her ensemble; American banjoist and Grammy-Award winner Alison Brown; storyteller and fiddler Joe Craven; Irish guitarist and songwriter John Doyle; and the Emory Celtic Chorus, who will sing “Quis Est Deus?” (“Who Is God?”), a choral piece based on a seventh-century Irish poem in which a fairy questions St. Patrick about the nature of the Christian God he
is bringing to Ireland. Other performers include three Grammy winners: “First Lady of Celtic Song” Moya Brennan; Celtic and bluegrass banjo virtuoso Alison Brown; and “Riverdance” composer Bill Whelan with a stunning choral setting of a seventh-century Irish prayer poem.
Also featured are the soulful harmonies of Rising Appalachia, a dynamic duo winning applause with their innovative interpretations of traditional Southern music. Other performers include madcap percussionist Joe Craven, renowned Irish balladeer John Doyle, uillean piper John Maschinot, The Buddy O’Reilly Band, the Rosin Sisters and other top traditional musicians of the Southeast. The vital Southeastern Celtic music scene will be represented in both the Irish tradition and in the Scottish, as well as many forms of Appalachian-style music with its close connections to the Celtic lands.
For nearly two decades, the concert has been a holiday season favorite in the not only Atlanta but throughout the Southeast. Described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as “a rollicking yet reverent time,” the concert celebrates in music, dance, poetry, song and story, the high spirits and mystical beauty of the Celtic and Appalachian Christmas traditions. Even more, it preserves these for future generations.
“People tell us that they return to the Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert year after year because they find a sense of community,” says Flannery. “People feel free to join in with laughter, clapping hands, even shouts of encouragement as fiddlers and dancers take flight. In a real sense, at the Celtic Christmas Concert, the performers onstage and the members of the audience become a family, joined by the wonder and joy of all that we share together.”
Music and dance that recalls ancient traditions, honors the gathering of family and friends to celebrate, encourages the giving presents as symbolic tokens of love are what this wonderful season of the year is about.
(Doc Lawrence is a veteran travel, food, wine and spirits journalist.
Contact him at: editors@ docsnews.com.)