|Celtic Voyage - Liner Notes|
|The people we refer to today as Celts were called “Keltoi” by the Greeks and Romans. Originating in Europe from several tribes of people who were probably Indo-European, the Celts emerged and developed over thousands of years, eventually settling in Brittany, Britain, and Ireland.
It is difficult to track a people who kept no records, but archaeological findings indicate that the Celts were fairly established in Britain by 700 BC. Their arrival in Ireland is more difficult to pinpoint and is somewhat shrouded in myth, but evidence suggests that Ireland was inhabited by some of these Celtic tribes circa 500 BC.
To understand this emergent civilization we could draw a parallel with the modern “European” who could come from a variety of cultures. Likewise, the Celtic people were an amalgam of several tribes and cultures. At some stage there was clearly a splitting into two groupsGaelic and British. This separation was reflected in linguistic differences, which remain to this day in the various Celtic languages spoken in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany.
During their evolutionary journey, the Celts refined many art forms which continue to flourish and evolve to this day, not the least of which is music. In Ireland the music was handed down orally and was defined by the terms geantraí (happy music), goltraí (sad music), and suantraí (sleep or meditation music).
Modern Celtic music bears little resemblance to early Celtic music, largely because of the many outside influences it has incorporated along the way. For example, the harp, whistle, and pipes are mentioned in Medieval accounts of Irish music but more modern instruments such as guitar and keyboards, now accepted as an integral part of contemporary Celtic music, were absorbed into the flow much later.
Celtic music has evolved not only by incorporating new musical instruments, but also by embracing other musical genres, such as classical and world music, which influence the arrangements of the original tunes.
What holds this music together and, in many ways, identifies it, is a strong connection with the human soul. Whether celebrating or mourning, this music reflects the deepest emotions of all people and is capable of elevating us to a higher plane, while at the same time taking a keen-witted look at the human condition. This is, possibly, the key to its survival and popularity and, although the presentation may vary, the essence of that Celtic spiritsometimes poignant, sometimes joyousis preserved in these tunes.
This collection spans several centuries and locations, evoking many different moments of Celtic historysometimes sad, often troubled, always colorful. We invite you to join us on our musical voyage, continuing the journey started by the Celts all those years ago.
We start off in Ireland with William Coulter’s version of Cití na gCumman. In true Celtic oral tradition, Coulter originally learned the song from Déirdre Ní Chaomhánaigh, who had learned it from the singing of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan. This is an instrumental interpretation of a traditional Gaelic song which tells of a spurned lover justifying himself in the face of accusations that he has betrayed his fiancée.
Brittany is famous for its energetic and hypnotic Celtic dance tunes and Danny Carnahan has plucked out two unnamed tunes from that tradition. Called simply, Breton Dances, these works were originally released on the award-winning recording Journeys of the Heart. Danny has changed the line-up on this version to include cello and oboe cleverly disguised as a bombard.
Many generations of Welsh have sung the beautiful traditional bedtime song, “Ar Hyd y Hos” or, as translated into English by Sir Harold Boulton, All through the Night. Kim Robertson soothes us with her moving rendition of the tune on Celtic harp.
In modern times, the guitar has become an intrinsic part of Irish music, driving more traditional instruments such as fiddle and flute. Such a marriage of instruments occurred the first time guitarist William Coulter met fiddler Kevin Burke. The two came together in the studio where they had a fine old time playing together and experimenting with different tunes. The medley Rose in the Heather and Tom Billy’s Jig is one of the results of that session. Kevin’s “Sligo” style of fiddlingsmooth and sweetis beautifully suited to slow jigs like these.
When Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) was blinded by smallpox at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to a harper. At the age of 21, he began his career as an itinerant musician, playing in the homes of gentry throughout Ireland. His music is a legacy that has become synonymous with Irish harp music. Not only did he leave behind many wonderful compositions, O’Carolan created many works that have inspired modern musicians. Such a tune is The Faerie Queene, an ancient Irish air that O’Carolan embellished. That process continues in Shelley Phillips’s version, in which she and Lars Johannesson further elaborate on the theme.
The Outer Hebrides, a group of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, is our next port of call for the exquisite tune Rowing from Isla to Uist. This tune dates back at least to the 18th century, when it appeared in Captain Simon Fraser’s book, The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles. Barry originally learned the tune from the playing of fiddler Alasdair Fraser. Performed with Shelley Phillips, the piece conveys a sense of the space and wildness of the Atlantic Ocean between the islands of the Outer Hebrides.
Changing the mood entirely, we go back to Ireland and then to Wales for three hornpipes from Deby Benton Grosjean’s album, Beyond the Shore. The first two, The Flowing Tide and The Gypsies, are influenced by the style of hornpipe that was step-danced for fun and exercise by hardy sailors aboard large, square-rigged ships. The third piece, The Roaring Hornpipe, comes from Wales and echoes a style that was quite fashionable among country dancers in the early 18th century.
Originally a fiddle tune, Between Deighre and Breo is reinterpreted here by Martin Simpson on guitar. Martin first heard the piece on Nóirín Ní Riain’s album, Stór Amhrán. Martin’s delicate rendition evokes the mystery and magic that often characterizes Celtic music.
Some of the first written records of music from Medieval times in Ireland refer to the high social standing of the harper. Undoubtedly, the harp is one of the most ancient instruments used to interpret Irish musicthe ancient sagas are abundant with tales of harpers and the magical effect they have on their listeners. Kim Robertson weaves her own magic spell with her beautiful rendition of Quiet Land of Erin.
William Coulter is joined by a first-class collection of musicians, among them Martin Hayes and Seamus Egan, for two more tunes from Ireland. Sliabh Russel is a flute tune adapted by Lars Johannesson from a version he heard on a Matt Molloy record. It was Todd Denman’s suggestion to include Come West Along the Road, which he learned from fiddler Dale Russ.
In the Irish tradition a lament without words is called a “cumha.” Such a one is “Cumha Eoghain Rua Ui Neill,” which translates as Lament for Owen Roe O’Neil. Turlough O’Carolan wrote this “cumha” for Owen Roe (red-haired Owen) O’Neil, the nephew of the great Earl of Tyrone. It was O’Neil who led the Irish to victory over General Monroe’s Anglo-Scottish army at Benburb in 1646. His death three years later marked the end of the Irish hope of defeating Cromwell. Neal Hellman learned this version from the group Clannad, and couples it here with the beautiful Irish air, Foggy Dew, which he learned from Kim Robertson.
William Coulter learned the set dance St. Patrick’s Day from Deby Benton Grosjean while playing for a wonderful Irish dancer named Kerry Ann Kimbrell. In his own inimitable style he has taken a few liberties with the setting, so apologies to all the dancers out there! On a visit to the Dingle peninsula in Ireland, William teamed up with Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, a fabulous whistle and flute player from the west of Ireland. It was Muireann’s suggestion to finish this set with the popular reel, Over the Moor to Maggie.
A wonderfully complex arrangement of the Irish slip jig, Orison’s The Butterfly illustrates a synthesis of musical styles characteristic of modern Celtic music. The tune gives life to its titlewinding and weaving flutes on the airy fabric of harp, building to a crescendo on rhythms borrowed from Bulgarian folk music, and, finally, settling gently on a single chord played on the harp and flute.
Another tune attributed to Turlough O’Carolan is the haunting Separation of Body and Soul, apparently written toward the end of his life when he was facing his own mortality. Neal Hellman arranged this piece with Barry and Shelley Phillips on cello and whistle to convey both the sad, lonely character of the piece and its aching beauty.
What better way to finish our voyage than to once more engage with the magic of the Celts? We find the magic this time in Shelley Phillips’s atmospheric Chanter’s Tune, another ancient piece written for pipes. The title refers to the part of the pipes on which the melody is played. Shelley plays the harp in an African style that lends an air of exotic mystery and shows, once again, that the voyage of these tunes is endless.
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