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Monday, December 24, 2012

5 (+1) Carols for the Holidays- Merry Christmas!

The holiday playlist for our family gathering tomorrow is just about ready, and as I play it through once for fine-tuning, here's a few of my favorite carols this year. Last year I heard the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" for the first time, after Keith Harkin mentioned it. I also spent a lot of time listening to Irish holiday radio stations, mostly Radio Snowflake, and fell madly in love with the Junkbox Band's "Wash Our Socks For Christmas". I had also learned the identity of the Irish lullaby in my favorite holiday youtube video, a gorgeous performance of "Cuireadh Oileanach do Mhuire". We sang Personent Hodie and and English translation and arrangement of Quanno Nascette Ninno, and another choir in our concert sang "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day". Those 5 songs wound up as my core soundtrack for last year's holiday season.

This year, most of the songs I've been stuck on are ones I already knew. "Coventry Carol", "A La Nanita Nana" and "Fum, Fum, Fum" have all been part of my holidays before, though I did not know them so well before. I rediscovered the Amy Grant holiday album from my childhood, and reacquainted myself with her song "Little Town". The lads from Celtic Thunder recorded a few holiday acoustic videos this season- Emmet sang "Mary, did You Know", Keith sang "River", and both of these songs have lodged themselves securely in my head for this year's holiday season soundtrack.

Coventry Carol

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

This beautiful song is among the most gruesome of popular holiday music. The carol refers to the "Massacre of the Innocents", in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, in order to eliminate a competitor, the newborn King of the Jews. Written sometime in the 16th Century, perhaps originating even earlier, this song is a part of a play from that time.

A La Nanita Nana

According to wikipedia, the carol originated either from Spain in the 18th century or perhaps the song was written by Segundo Cueva Celi,from the city of Loja, Ecuador. It was featured in The Cheetah Girls 2, and as occasionally happens, the film version of this song is actually very good. I know this song from elementary school, where we sang it as a part of one of our holiday concerts. We were not in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, so sadly we sang the verses in English, but it's a lovely song, bilingual or all-Spanish.

I also found a version on spotify by the group Aliqua, a fantastic 8-part choral ensemble from Vancouver. My readers and internet friends from that area are lucky to live in a place with such a fantastic singing group, and no doubt there will be more from these ladies on my blog in 2013.

Fum, Fum, Fum

This was another song we sang as part of an elementary school Christmas show, though it was my sister's grade that got to sing it. We nearly got to sing it this year- the Men's Choir here at CSU had it in their caroling packet, but ended up skipping it, so while I got to sing some great stuff while joining this choir's caroling, we missed this great lesser-known carol. The wikipedia page for this song has a fantastic side-by-side lyrics section that allows easy comparison between the English, Spanish and Catalan versions of this traditional Catalan carol. It dates from the 16th-17th Century, and "fum, fum, fum" may imitate the noise of a rocking cradle, while the rhythms come from the Sardana, a courtly dance which originated in Catalonia and the Provence.(wikipedia) One version I found amusing this year is a flashmob performance:
On spotify, the version I liked best was one by a Catalan a cappella group Cap Pela, though there are several great versions available of this tune.

Little Town

This is not a traditional carol, though I have know this song since I was a little kid, so I always forget that not everyone knows it. The words are basically "O Little Town Of Bethlehem", but sung to a more up-tempo tune. If I need a song to get me in the mood for holiday family gatherings, this is at the top of my list.

Mary, Did You Know

Cee Lo Green is not usually on my radar, but I absolutely love his version of this song. I had originally looked for versions of this song on spotify after my ukulele playing choir-buddy was working on an arrangement of it for her ukulele. Then Emmet Cahill's video came out on the internet. Since Emmet's version is not on spotify, I had to find a different version for my songlists, thus I ran across Cee Lo's recording. Emmet's version can be found in the videos section of the Celtic Thunder webpage.

Mark Lowry wrote the words to "Mary, Did You Know" in 1984 when his pastor asked him to write the program for the living Christmas tree choir presentation. The music was written by Buddy Greene. Michael English was the first recording artist to record and release 'Mary, Did You Know?" on his debut album titled Michael English which was released on January 1, 1992.(wikipedia) It turned up on country music radio the following year, and has since gained in popularity. So, yes, there are a few great, enduring holiday songs that have been written since I was born.


"River" is a song by Joni Mitchell, from her 1971 album Blue. It was never released as a single by Joni Mitchell, but it has since been recorded by many different artists, as one of the prettiest of the melancholy holiday songs. Most recently, my favorite of these covers is that done by Kieth Harkin for another of Celtic Thunder's 'Live Sessions'. I really hope that Keith records this one more formally, so it can join my playlists next year. In the meantime, check out the Celtic Thunder page for his version.

O Holy Night

And, while it's not on my top 5 list this year, "O Holy Night" is always one of my favorites. It did finally assert itself into my holiday this year, thanks to the lovely Mr. Ryan Kelly. After an unexpectedly long trip home he is finally back in Moy, and took time to record a new Christmas video for us today. He sings more than just the usual first verse, so this video version of this classic song is particularly cool.

"O Holy Night" ("Cantique de Noël") was composed by Adolphe Adam in 1847 to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" (Midnight, Christians) by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877). Cappeau, a wine merchant and poet, had been asked by a parish priest to write a Christmas poem. Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight's Journal of Music, created a singing edition based on Cappeau's French text in 1855(wikipedia). As with "A La Nanita Nana", wikipedia offers a nice side-by-side lyrics comparison, between the original French poem, the French lyrics, and the English versions. The version Ryan sang for us today is the John Sullivan Dwight lyrics, the first 2 verses.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Wrap Up/Highlights: Celtic Thunder

2012 is just about over and this year has been very decidedly eventful for my favorite music group, Celtic Thunder. Of course, as someone who has been a Thunderhead for a few years, my concept of 'Celtic Thunder' includes not just those people who are currently connected with the group, but past members as well, and none of these folks have been coasting or resting on their laurels this year.
Way back in January, Celtic Thunder was embarking on their first Australia/New Zealand tour. Celtic Thunder then included George Donaldson, Keith Harkin, Neil Byrne, Emmet Cahill and Ryan Kelly. Daniel Furlong, who was listed as a guest performer and had toured the US with the group in fall 2011, was left behind in Ireland.
After Australia and New Zealand, the lads had a brief time off before returning to the US for their next publicity tour, visiting PBS stations and TV studios to promote their next album/tour, called Voyage. At the end of this publicity tour, Ryan Kelly and Neil Byrne stayed behind to tour the East Coast for the first leg of their new Acoustic by Candlelight tour.
They returned home to Ireland in late May, and at the very beginning of June Ryan had his accident, which landed him in the hospital for weeks. He was still in the hospital in a coma as the group was preparing to head back to the US to perform 10 nights of shows in Atlantic City, so Colm Keegan was hurriedly added into the group and performed his first night on stage with Celtic Thunder in Atlantic City only a couple weeks after he started learning the material. During this time, too, the fans were worried that Keith Harkin was being replaced by Colm, because Keith's new album, through Verve Music, was set to be released in a few months.
By the end of the summer, though, Keith was still in Celtic Thunder, Ryan was fully recovered and rehearsing with the group again, and Colm was becoming fully integrated into Celtic Thunder. New fans coming into the Celtic Thunder community in future years may be quite puzzled by a lot of things, but one they will wish they had not missed is Willis. As the guys rehearsed their show in August, a new 'member' of the group developed, thanks to Ryan, Neil and Colm. This new member, Willis, was a distinctive green & yellow ball of tape, which apparently still resides in Neil's suitcase. Willis derives his name and identity from an episode of the TV show "Friends", and now has his own fan club page, and even t-shirts and other merchandise. If Neil ever should lose Willis, or worse yet, throw him out, he'll have quite a few fans to answer to.
Keith released his debut album in September, Damian McGinty released a very successful 5-track EP a few weeks ago, and Damian's own record label, Walled City Records, released a fantastic 4-track EP from their first artist, Darrell Coyle.
Unfortunately for Thunderheads in Australia and New Zealand, Colm is not yet so fully integrated into the group as we might wish- apparently he is not going to be heading down that way with the group until the new Mythology tour, which reaches that part of the planet in early 2014. I'm sure there are good reasons for this, but having met Colm, I sympathize with my fellow Thunderheads who won't get to meet this lovely lad for another year. But, he will be an integral part of the group as they move forward with Mythology next year.
Celtic Thunder released 2 albums this year, Voyage and Voyage II, with their accompanying DVDs of course, and this fall they toured using this material in combination with some of their old favorites. They completed their 67 show tour at the beginning of December, after which George headed to the East Coast to play a small solo tour, while Ryan and Neil started their own tour, a second leg of Acoustic by Candlelight, this time focusing on the West Coast.Also this year, somehow, the group found time to learn and record a whole new double-length album which will come out in February.

The Lads: Daniel Furlong
Daniel Furlong is a 14yr old lad from Wexford, which is at the southeastern corner of Ireland. At his age I would imagine his voice will be changing soon- after all, boy sopranos don't remain sopranos without serious and irreversible surgery, and I doubt anyone wants to add Daniel to the ranks of famous Castrati, however lovely his voice would be. In the meantime, his album, Voice of an Angel, is out, and his friend and supporter Michael Londra is doing what he can to support Daniel's music career, right now by helping to promote Daniel's album. Daniel is also working on learning to play electric guitar, and is improving his guitar skills more generally, so by the time he returns to the public eye more fully, he'll be well on his way to stardom, guitar in hand.

Paul Byrom
Paul Byrom, steadily plodding away at his solo career post-Celtic Thunder, has been working on setting up his show for a 'PBS special' to be recorded early next year. He has been hard at work on all the posts and other fan-appreciation 'gifts' he owes his many supporters who pledged money to his kickstarter to make his PBS special possible. And, of course, next year he and Dominique will be getting married, so they will no doubt be turning some attention to wedding-planning in the coming months. Once Paul's special is completed, he'll be doing his own publicity tour to promote his show, hopefully with many concerts sprinkled in with his publicity travels, and with a proper concert tour to follow.

Damian McGinty
Damian McGinty's fame is twofold at this point, and many of his Glee fans are only now discovering that he once sang as part of Celtic Thunder. Yep, he was a scrawny kid with braces when he started out as one of the singers on the Celtic Thunder stage, and just as Daniel was funneled towards cutesy songs that capitalized on his cherubic sweetness and constantly batting eyelashes, Damian was once the cute kid singing songs about "Puppy Love" and charming the moms and grandmothers in his audiences with his twitchy eyebrows. Damian has grown up, and now has his own recording studio and music label with his friend Oran. Damian released a solo EP of his own this month, which was hugely successful right from the start, and his label's first artist, Darrell Coyle, has had considerable success so far with his own EP released earlier this year. Damian and Oran will be launching their next artist, Gem O'Reilly, tomorrow with her debut EP.

George Donaldson
In fall 2011, George Donaldson released his debut album, 'The White Rose'. This year George updated his webpage, and he's started tacking mini-tours to the edges of his Celtic Thunder tour schedule, playing songs from his album and no doubt trying out songs he's working on for his next album, which he is currently working on. It took me until this November to buy George's first album- his style of music is one that for me requires that I have a more personal connection to the singer. But, since meeting him finally this November, I now have his album (and am listening to it again as I write). I hope one of these days he does one of his solo shows in a town where I am so I can see him play his own stuff. George still does shows back home, and just played one at Jinty's this week, so maybe I just need to travel to Glasgow while Celtic Thunder is between tours.

Keith Harkin
Keith Harkin had a very exciting year in 2012. In addition to helping his sister record new music back home (which I hope means she will be releasing and EP or full-length album sometime soon), and touring with Celtic Thunder in Australia, and doing the publicity tour and the recently ended US tour, Keith released his new album and has been squishing his album promotion and solo shows in alongside his Celtic Thunder schedule. Catering to Celtic Thunder's schedule may have lost him some momentum at his album release (which was several weeks earlier in Canada so that Keith could sign albums, and start selling them actively there during Celtic Thunder's Canada tour dates), but by not alienating his Thunderheads to strike out on his own, Keith has maintained a loyal and growing fan base that is all too happy to help him promote his fantastic new album. I still wish his website was updated to reflect the fact that his album is already out, and the whole autoplay music player thing is always annoying, even if it is Keith's single playing. But, webpage grumbles aside, Keith's career seems to be heading in a great direction. He'll be doing more solo touring soon, so hopefully I'll be posting about an upcoming Keith Harkin solo tour that includes Colorado in the near future.

Neil Byrne

Neil Byrne has been teasing his fans all year with Pale Blue Jak stuff, posting odd animal cartoons every so often that we eventually learned were the animated characters in his new music video for his song 'Mr. Ace'. He has been working on new material as well, for the next Pale Blue Jak album, so while he has not release any new music just yet, it's coming. His first Pale Blue Jak album, 'Faces', came out in fall 2011, and he has been performing some of the songs from that album on his tours with Ryan Kelly. I am hoping that enough of us fans are pestering Neil and Ryan about making an Acoustic by Candlelight tour album, because from what we've seen on youtube and on the Acoustic by Candlelight tumblr, these two guys are amazing together. (And they keep saying that they'll make it to the towns they missed so far, on later legs of their Acoustic by Candlelight tour, so maybe next year they'll be here in Colorado.)

Celtic Comet (Colm Keegan and Emmet Cahill)
Colm and Emmet, while not yet ready to launch solo careers, have been developing an amusing identity as the Celtic Comet. Both adorable, soft-spoken, super nice lads, these guys have stolen the hearts of girls of all ages around the world. Just as Willis may or may not last, it remains to be seen what comes of the Celtic Comet, but these two will be performing together on the Celtic thunder cruise next year, so no doubt we will see more of this pairing in the coming months. And, yes, they are at least as charming in person as they seem on screen. I am still in love with Ryan and Neil first, but even so, these younger lads are easily among the nicest, best people I've met.

Ryan Kelly
Last, but not least, Ryan had another crazy year this year. He flew back to Ireland from Australia in January to attend a court date connected with the crud he was dealing with last year, and in February posted one of the most sad, depressing Valentines Day videos I've seen yet. Touring with good friends is a great therapy though for a man rebuilding his life, and by April Ryan was looking happier and healthier than ever, as he was getting ready to take Acoustic by Candlelight on the road with Neil. In June he nearly died, and by August he was recovered, back to running several miles a day and rehearsing for the next Celtic Thunder tour. He and Neil are just now finishing up the last shows of their second Acoustic by Candlelight tour segment, in Kansas City, before they fly back to Ireland for some well-deserved time off before they head south to Australia mid-January. Ryan has been talking about how he is due for a new album soon, since his debut album, 'In Time', came out a whole 2 years ago, so hopefully new music will be forthcoming from this lovely man as well.

It's been a busy year, and hopefully next year will be just as busy, if not moreso, but without the hospital scare, and with lots of new music. Celtic Thunder's new album, Mythology, comes out in February, through Verve Music, a positive sign for the next year. George Donaldson, Paul Byrom, Barry Kerr and Seana are all nominated for Irish Music Association awards, and while Paul Byrom and Keith Harkin didn't make it into the formal Grammy nominations, they were both shortlisted for Grammy awards this year. By this time next year, anything is possible.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Getting Your Reward from Paul Byrom's Kickstarter

[I am reposting Paul Byrom's message here, just in case my blog is reaching some Paul Byrom fans who are not often on facebook. This is copied directly from Paul's post on facebook today. If you have any questions or if you are one of the ones who has yet to hear back about getting your rewards for pledging to Paul's kickstarter, please contact Paul at operationpaulbyrom@yahoo.com ]

We're still needing to get in contact with a few of the kickstarter donors. If your name appears on this list please send a quick hello email to operationpaulbyrom@yahoo.com. No need to send any other info, just a 'hello, my name is on your list' sort of thing. We just need to open a line of communication there so that our attempts to email you won't continue to go into your spam file or be auto deleted. Then we can reply to your email with further information on what needs to be done. If you know anyone on this list, please let them know to contact us as soon as possible! We'd love to start sending out the Kickstarter rewards!
Thanks for your help!!!

Cheri Delguidici
Marcy Schmidt
Patricia Leach
Diane Harrington
Lana Wilcoxson
Donalyn Hiltibrand
Mary Ann Hrejsa
Bonnie R Smith
Therese L Cihak
Svetlana Ivanova
Kathleen Begley
Renee Jolley
Carolyn Ailes
Savannah Damoth
Joanne Eisenhauer
Patricia DeLaat
Eugene Donner
Jerri Stepp
Jula Treece
Sheryl Campbell
Barbara L Haas