It’s a muggy Thursday afternoon in Center City. Inside the refrigerated Borders at Broad and Chestnut, some of the patrons are casually picking their way through the stacks and trying to pretend that an angel, crowned with blonde curls and dressed in long flowing robes, has not just stepped inside from the superheated sidewalk.
They go on pretending as she begins to sing. They are a study in “seen-it-all-before” coolness as the singer is joined by yet another striking singer in flowing robes, and then two more, and, finally, by three handsome men in high-collared green vests and bright, white turtlenecks.
Soon, the store echoes with delicate, crystalline harmonies as the singers weave in and out of the aisles and eventually make their way back to audiobooks, where a few chairs have been set up in front of a little stage area.
And soon, I start to wonder which is weirder: The fact that members of the world-class Irish choral group Anúna are singing in a bookstore, or that a few pointedly blasé patrons are still trying to pretend that nothing out of the usual is going on.
On second thought, maybe after a week of Harry Potter-mania and grown men dressing like Dumbledore and Hagrid, it’s easy to be jaded.
Believe it or not, this was Anúna’s Philadelphia debut. The seven singers—a smaller subset of the larger choir that has thrilled audiences worldwide since 1987—were in town to promote their new CD, “Sensations,” and a September special to be aired locally on WHYY. (They’re also going to appear Oct. 12 at Penn’s Annenberg Theatre.)
“This is our seventh (Borders appearance),” said singer Patrick Hughes. “We started out in Boston.” From now through August 21, the troupe will sing in 31 Borders stores across the country.
Although Anúna hasn’t made a career of bookstore appearances, Hughes said it really wasn’t so unusual. “It marries well with our performance style,” he said. “It’s about interacting with the audience. That’s when music can touch people.”
For about 20 minutes, in the frenzied heart of the city on a miserably sticky day, Anúna provided a few precious moments of peace and cool, ethereal beauty. There was time for just a few pieces, unfortunately. There were two standout performances, though: “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls,” by founding member and chorus master Miriam Blennerhassett, and an old Bothy Band hit, the tongue-twisting “Fionnghuala,” by John McGlynn, leader of the touring group, featured soloist and production designer. (John’s brother Michael founded the group.)
If you couldn’t be there … no worries. We have a bit of video from the Center City Borders event. It will have to do until the September special (no firm date as yet) on WHYY.