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Music

Review: Órla Fallon’s “Lore”

Around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, Órla Fallon—a founding member of Celtic Woman—sneaked a new CD in just under the wire.

In some ways, the timing could not have been worse. Artists typically tour after an album release to promote their new recordings. Obviously, that wasn’t in the cards. But from another viewpoint, the timing was fortuitous—for all of us who could use a little cheering up.

Fallon released “Lore,” a collection of 12 tunes, in late July. Many should be recognizable to her fans and to Irish music aficionados generally. She says she chose them because each one meant something to her, and that fondness shines through each and every one.

You’ll hear old standards like “Galway Bay,” “She Moved Through the Fair,” “Wild Mountain Thyme,” “Siúil a Rún” and “Two Sisters”—all of which should take your mind off the time of covid and redirect your thoughts to the timeless hills, valleys, beaches, islands and cliffs of Ireland. Continue Reading

Music

Exploring “Lore” … Interview with Orla Fallon

Best known as a founding member of Celtic Woman, Orla Fallon has long forged her own musical path. An accomplished singer and harpist, Fallon is out with a new collection of familiar tunes—tunes she has chosen both because they have meant something in her life and because they are likely to resonate with her fans.

The new CD, “Lore,” was released in late July. We recently chatted—about as socially distanced as you can possibly be, with the interviewer in Philly and the interviewee across the Atlantic in Ireland. And we discussed the new recording and the thought that went into it.

We also talked about the pandemic, and how “Lore” is likely to ease those Covid-19 anxieties.

Arts, History, Music

Medieval Modern Magical Music: Anakronos’ “The Red Book of Ossory”

Anakronos: Caitríona O’Leary, Deirdre O’Leary, Nick Roth, and Francesco Turrisi (photograph by Tara Slye)

It’s been almost 700 years since Kilkenny’s discordant 14th century Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, held sway over the souls of his parishioners, but 17 of his medieval poems are on track to reach the listening ears of a 21st century audience on the newly released CD, “The Red Book of Ossory.” And thanks to Caitriona O’Leary and the group Anakronos, what an innovative and exalted musical experience it has been transformed into.

But in order to wax properly eloquent on the newly released CD, there first needs to be some background on the origins of the Red Book of Ossory itself.

Richard de Ledrede was a man of massive contradictions. English-born, and a student of the Franciscan order, he was appointed Bishop of Ossory in 1317 by the Papal Court in Avignon. Immediately after his arrival in Kilkenny, he set about doing things his way, and his way meant a strict adherence to the Church laws and beliefs as he saw them. He set a high bar where morality was concerned and that included a moratorium on the singing of “bawdy” secular songs. He composed 60 poems that are included in the Red Book of Ossory (the original manuscript is housed at St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny) with the instructions: “for the vicars of the cathedral of the church, for the priests and for his clerks, to be sung on important holidays and at celebrations in order that their throats and mouths, consecrated to God, may not be polluted by songs which are lewd, secular and associated with revelry and since they are trained singers let them provide themselves with suitable tunes according to what these sets of words require.” Poetry that Caitriona O’ Leary describes as “beautiful, esoteric and richly imagistic.” Continue Reading

Arts, Music

Local Drummer on a Roll With a Pandemic-Inspired Musical Project

When the great covid-19 shutdown began, percussionist Sean J. Kennedy went back to school.

Way back.

A Lower Gwynedd resident and band director at Sandy Run Middle School in the Upper Dublin School District, Kennedy is also an award-winning author of percussion texts whose work has been performed at Carnegie Hall and a working musician who has performed with many orchestras over the years.

One of the first tunes he learned as a kid was “Downfall of Paris,” dating back to the 1700s, said to be one of Ben Franklin’s favorites. It’s taught to young drummers everywhere because it blends many, if not most, of the basic drum rudiments that form the building blocks of percussion. Rudimental drum exercises like the paradiddle—right left right right-left right left left—and rolls. Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Put the Kibosh on his Band’s Jobs, But John Byrne Gains New Fan Appreciation Online

Play it, and they will come, if only online.

For John Byrne, a Dublin-born crooner, fan appreciation is pivotal, especially when grappling with a pandemic.

Since suspending all concert venues of his eponymously-named band in March, follower outpouring for his regular Facebook “quarantunes” concerts has been the ultimate covid antidote.

“I have lost track of the amount of cards and notes of support I’ve gotten. I’m moved beyond belief by them – I don’t know what we did to deserve it,” enthuses Byrne, a Philadelphia resident. “I’ve done multiple shows on Facebook Live and the fans have been wonderful. People have tuned in, shared them, supported them, and used them to connect with fellow admirers all over the country and even the world.” Continue Reading

Music

Pandemic Inspires Jamison Fiddler Alice Marie to Push the Bounds of Creativity

If you see Jamison Celtic Rock fiddler Alice Marie busking outside a Target, don’t surprised.

She’s half-serious about it, but for most Irish musicians who lost a lot of work in March and afterward, she’s doing whatever she can to keep body and soul together.

March is Christmas for Irish musicians in the area. It’s when they earn a significant amount of money. The coronavirus pandemic put an end to that.

It was no different for Alice Marie, who also makes a living as a jazz violinist and singer, and whatever else requires the talents of a gifted string player.

“I was on tour with Jamison in Florida, she recalls. “Then our tour was cut short and we had to come back due to Covid-19. So we came back and we were able to get a gig together at Currans Tacony, and that was our last show. It was a big night, and after that, we were pretty much quarantined. Our last major activity was in March. I had at least 20 shows canceled in March, so that was crazy.” Continue Reading

Music

Pausing to Refresh During the Pandemic, and Baking Up Some Creative Alternatives

Shannon Lambert-Ryan bustles about her home kitchen, her fixings for Finnish ribbon cookies—including a huge bag of Heckers flour—at the ready. The mixing bowl sits upon a table at just the right height for her tow-headed toddler son, Liam—which for some, might seem a recipe for disaster.

Not so. Welcome to Lambert-Ryan’s periodic Facebook show, one of a series called “Baking with Babies.”

Video camera duly focused in on the action, Liam helps out enthusiastically. Guided by Lambert-Ryan’s hand, he scoops a cup of flour into the bowl. “1-2-3,” he says.

He seems inordinately interested in adding vanilla, which the recipe calls for, but not yet. With a wee one’s level of patience, he holds and shakes a bottle kept in his little kitchen, waiting for the opportunity to add it.

At one point, he “cracks” some toy eggs from his kitchen into the mixture. A little later on, he scoops up some dough with his little fingers and helps Lambert-Ryan squish it unceremoniously onto the baking sheet. Continue Reading

Music, People

Seamus Kelleher: Singing a New Song, and the Message is Hope

Hope, optimism and resilience can be rare commodities in the age of coronavirus.

You might not expect any of the above from an Irish musician whose last booking came just three days before St. Patrick’s Day.

Like so many Irish musicians, Seamus Kelleher—a Galway-born virtuoso guitarist-singer-songwriter and alum of the celebrated band Blackthorn—lost work when the pandemic triggered state-mandated shutdowns at all the pubs, taverns and clubs where musicians typically find work during St. Patrick’s month.

“I did the Green Parrot in Newtown, Bucks County, on the 14th of March,” Kelleher recalls. “That was the last. It was an afternoon show. And it was surreal because at that stage there wasn’t a definite decision made to close everything down. It was just drip, drip, drip. But the owner and staff could tell. There was a real sense of impending doom. It was a very strange gig, and we just barely made the best of it, as we always do, but there was the sense that things could be changing, and that was very sobering for me.”

Right up until that day, Kelleher had been extremely busy. In fact, he explains, he was on target to have the best year of his solo career. In January, he embarked on a cross-country tour that included Colorado, Indiana and Kansas City. After that, he finished a 23-day tour of Florida before returning to Philadelphia for March madness. “I had 200 shows on the books, all across the country,” he says. To then only get halfway through March before everything closed down, he says, “was like having the rug pulled out from under me … but I wasn’t alone.”

Other local Irish musicians have regular jobs—assuming they still have them—and music is a sideline. For about 15 years, that was the case with Kelleher, who was employed as a speech writer in the corporate world, penning addresses for the presidents of Lincoln Financial and Drexel University, among others. But for the past five years, Kelleher has been committed to music full-time. But now, as a musician with no conventional day job, losing work had an impact. He continues to perform “porch concerts” live to Facebook, and they’ve been helpful, but Kelleher has been unexpectedly fortunate in another way.

During the past five years, Kelleher has devoted roughly two-thirds of his time purely to the performance of music, a lifelong passion dating back to the days when he was opening for the likes of Thin Lizzy. The remaining third of his career he devotes to motivational speaking. And he has quite the inspirational story to tell.

“I suffer from depression and anxiety and I’m a recovering alcoholic,” Kelleher explains, matter-of-factly. “So my motivational speech really talks about my journey. I incorporate some music into it, but the idea is to give hope for those who struggle with mental health and addiction. I also talk about suicide prevention. That’s a big, big part of what I talk about. I’ve been doing that the past three years, doing more and more of it.”

On March 22, Kelleher received a call out of the blue from Texas A&M College of Medicine. “I had spoken there a few times,” he says. “The last time was two years ago. And they asked me if I would talk to faculty and staff because a lot of their people were just starting to really stress out—as you can imagine. So I did a Zoom meeting for several hundred of their faculty and staff, and some of the students. Then, I did a few more meetings for them. After that, they asked me whether I would consider teaching a two-week class for the med students on mental wellness because the topic that I talked about was mental health in times of crisis.” Continue Reading