December 2, 2010

Celtic Christmas Concert brings spiritual insight

Alison Brown's virtuoso on the banjo and Cormac DeBarra on the harp.

Performers range in age from six-year-olds to accomplished professionals.

The Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert on Dec. 18 and 19, now in its 18th season, features rollicking tunes and dance, showcasing local musical talent and international stars such as Moya Brennan, "the Queen of Celtic Song."

Underneath the festive atmosphere lies a spiritual depth, which is the heart of the Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert: to express the quest for spiritual renewal during the holiday season.

Cultural and spiritual connections

The concert celebrates in music, dance, poetry, song and story the Celtic and Appalachian Christmas traditions, with their influence of Irish culture on Southern folk music in the fiddling and the ballads and a common mystical sensibility.

One example is when concert director Jim Flannery, Winship Professor of Arts and Humanities and director of the W.B. Yeats Foundation at Emory, recites "St. Kevin and the Blackbird" by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. A blackbird lands on St. Kevin's hand; and St. Kevin becomes linked into the network of eternal life. The Southern gospel song "Stand in That River" follows, and as Flannery says, the song's river of love portrays the same connection to the divine as the Irish poem.

The concert's interdisciplinary approach attracted the attention of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and this year the program will be filmed as a Christmas special. Flannery knows the lively dances and songs will translate on television, but hopes the concert's special sense of community will as well.

A concert family

Many of the local musicians have been in the concert since the very first production and play together at professional and impromptu gatherings. John Maschinot, the concert's music director and performer, says the camaraderie continues to grow—"it grows out of, to put it simply, love. There's a chemistry among musicians who work regularly together that comes across on stage."

Grammy award-winning banjo virtuoso Alison Brown has performed in the show for six years and says, "It's become the holiday tradition that I look forward to the most." She continues, "There are other shows that offer music and dance, but I've never seen another program that offers insight into the spiritual side of the season as well."

The audience is part of the concert family. The interaction begins before the show, as the performers mingle with the crowd. During the show, the audience shouts encouragement, whistles and claps along with the music. Flannery believes nearly half of the audience members are repeat attendees.

Celtic Christmas and Atlanta

Maschinot believes the concert is a great way for Atlantans to be turned on to traditional music.  For the Atlanta and Emory community, says Maschinot, the concert is decidedly non-commercial, offering the spirit of Christmas—love—in a genuine way.

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Related Information

  • 18th Annual Atlanta Celtic Christmas Concert
    Presented by W.B. Yeats Foundation
    Saturday, Dec. 18, 8 p.m.
    Sunday, Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

    Tickets: $25; $20 discount category member
    $10 students and children
    Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts

    Ticket information: