Celtic Gathering, an Irish music group, will perform on St. Patty’s
When the Friends of Jamestown Library announced its concert schedule, it was no accident that Celtic Gathering was penciled in for March 17. The Irish music group is the perfect choice for St. Patrick’s Day.
Celtic Gathering is led by Kath O’Neill of Jamestown, who got the group together 11 years ago. Other members include Al and Jan Brown of North Kingstown, and Michael Jackson, a member of the Jamestown Community Band who resides in Narragansett. The group performs original arrangements of both traditional and contemporary Irish music on instruments including the flute, guitar, fiddle, button accordion, whistle and percussion.
Each member sings and accompanies the others in a four-part harmony.
The group is the third act in the Friends of Jamestown Library’s local music series. It will perform on Sunday, March 17, at 3 p.m. at the library. The band will play for 90 minutes with one intermission.
Celtic Gathering’s music includes, ballads, dance tunes, jigs, reels and hornpipes. O’Neill has a background in classical music and as a result, the group sometimes blends the classics into its music. As an example, in the Celtic Gathering rendition of the traditional tune “Streets of London,” strains of Pachelbel’s “Canon” can be heard winding through the song.
“It makes it interesting for us and it makes it interesting therefore for the audience too,” O’Neill said.
Celtic Gathering has recorded a CD called “Another Door Opens.” It will be available at the concert on Sunday. The group is currently preparing material for a second CD that it will record soon.
The four members get together and rehearse once a week in Jamestown. They try out their material in Irish pubs around the state, including the Fastnet in Newport. Their performance schedule also includes weddings, private parties, wakes, funerals, festivals and birthday parties.
For Sunday’s performance, Celtic Gathering has prepared a set list of 60 different songs and tunes. The difference between the two is that the songs have lyrics, while the tunes are instrumentals. The material covers a wide range of material.
“We sing about family, famine, friendship, love – either passionate or totally unrequited, which is the subject of much Irish singing,” said O’Neill. “The history of Ireland is related to our presentation.”
O’Neill’s great-grandmother sent her children to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England during the Irish potato famine in the mid 19th century. Her great-great-grandfather came to the United States before the shortage. He was a soldier in the Union Army and also served in the United States Navy.
“We get things from our heritage in there, too,” said O’Neill.
Jackson comes from a mixed background and refers to himself as Gaelic and garlic, in deference to his Irish and Italian heritage. The Browns have a Scottish heritage and the group pays tribute to their background in songs with lyrics by the poet Robert Burns.
However, it’s not all-traditional music for Celtic Gathering. Contemporary songs by the Pogues, Christy Moore and Luka Bloom are included in its repertoire. A Steve Earle song called “Galway Girl” is also featured.
At the St. Patrick’s Day performance, Celtic Gathering will open with a reel. The group will then move to songs that people can sing along with like “I’ll Take You Home Kathleen” and “Molly Malone.”
“When we do jigs and reels, we do them in a set,” O’Neill said. “So as the audience is listening, they’ll hear the music change.”
O’Neill graduated from the University of Indiana’s five-year music program. One of the program’s goals is to make each graduate a music ambassador no matter where they end up in the world.
“It was a very well-rounded education in chorale music, instrumental music, conducting, arranging and composing,” she said.
O’Neill spent many years playing with orchestras and ensembles. Her primary professional instrument was the French horn. She turned to the flute because she jokes that it was easier to carry. She is currently studying and performing on the Celtic harp and the classical pedal harp.
“I picked up the flute because it was light, but then I went to the harp which is heavier to move around. I had to buy a bigger car to transport it and a dolly to wheel it in and out of buildings. I find that the best teacher is someone who is a perpetual student. You keep the mind engaged and each instrument brings something new to the table.”
Jackson is an Air Force veteran and Purple Heart recipient. He is in demand as a bugler at military funerals. He says he has played at about 8,000 funerals. He also organizes an annual musical tribute at the Veteran’s Cemetery on Armed Forces Day. Al Brown has a career in the United States Coast Guard where he coordinates rescue operations. Jan Brown has a career in business.
“I love Irish music,” O’Neill said. “It seems to appropriately express my thoughts and feelings and ideas. It can be anything from a very simple art to an extremely complex art. It’s interesting in that way. It blends the poetry of the lyrics with the sound of the instruments or the voice.”