Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Boston in the spotlight this week! Last week or so I received an email from Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian at Boston College, announcing that “The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music” had been made freely available as a downloadable PDF ebook. This is incredible news for the musicians out there and a welcome way to get a jump start on 2021.
I mentioned this collection here some time ago, but to refresh, it was first offered as an online collection of tunes and songs collected by legendary fiddler, longtime Sullivan Artist in Residence in Irish Music at Boston College, Gradam Ceoil “Lifetime Achievement” award winner, and National Heritage Fellow Séamus Connolly. It featured upwards of 330 audio recordings by over 130 musicians, with each entry accompanied by a story and transcription. Guests musicians were a who’s who bunch and the entire project was a success from start to finish.
The downloadable collection mirrors the online offering, minus the recorded sound. The ebook is 441 pages long, and includes the tunes, stories, and transcriptions, as well as Connolly’s foreword, and essays by Earle Hitchner, Sally K. Sommers Smith Wells, Elizabeth Sweeney and Mick Moloney. The PDF articulates with the online content beautifully, with the tunes arranged according to playlist, as they appear on the site. However, having the downloadable piece makes it easier to read ahead (or behind, depending on where in the book you start!) as you listen.
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(For those who have a computer but are tech-phobic: PDF is a file format that presents text and graphics as an electronic image that looks like a printed document. PDF files can be opened and viewed on any computer.)
The “The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music” ebook can be downloaded at connollymusiccollection.bc.edu and I urge every traditional music lover to give it a look – it’s an important, seminal work. (And how often are these things offered for free?)
Séamus Connolly. PHOTO BY BACHRACH STUDIOS
In other Boston news, it was announced that the 18th annual Boston Celtic Music Festival (or BCMFest, for initiates) would indeed be happening this year. It’ll be held virtually, as is current tradition and it will take place Jan. 14-18. Special guests who will perform and lead workshops include Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas, Molly Pinto Madigan (“Finding New Songs in Old Ballads – A Songwriting Workshop”), and Karan Casey (“The Performance of Social Justice”). Others participating will include Joey Abarta; Matt & Shannon Heaton; Will Woodson & Caitlin Finley; the “Behan Bunch” of Laura Feddersen, Nathan Gourley, Cara Frankowicz, & Alan Murray; Niamh McGillicuddy, Seamus Noonan, and Yuriy & Misha Bane; Hanneke Cassel & Yann Falquet; and many others. For precise scheduling and tickets, www.passim.org/bcmfest.
Speaking of Cassel & Falquet, the duo has recently released “Over the Sea to Skye,” a new album of Scottish and Cape Breton music, that I’m sure will be a focus at BCMFest. The music is stylish and potent, and the sort that the fiddle lovers out there will want to check out.
Cassel is a superb musician. Originally from Oregon but now based in Boston, she’s found a place in traditional Scottish music and is internationally recognized as an esteemed performer, composer, and producer. Falquet enjoys wide renown as well, particularly in the world of Québec folk music (his band Genticorum is very well known, www.genticorum.com), but he’s proficient in a number of different regional styles that have influenced his own musical identity and given him an individual voice.
A fully instrumental album, “Over the Sea to Skye” has its roots in a journey Cassel and her mother made in 1993 to the Isle of Skye for a week-long fiddle and dance course with Alasdair Fraser, Buddy MacMaster, and Harvey Beaton. There, she recorded sessions and classes – as she did each of the many years she returned – but that initial trip’s impact was substantial and served as the inspiration for this release. Most of the tunes on this album are traditional (a somewhat novel approach for Cassel, as her recordings feature a lot of her own tunes) and were collected on that initial trip.
The album almost feels like a travelogue of that initial journey. It begins with “The Skye Boat Song,” suggesting the journey over, and ends with “O’er the Muir Among the Heather / …,” a track that features Fraser, one of the course’s teachers, as guest. Both of these tracks are lovely and feel like they bookend that initial trip. There are lots of lovely tracks in between that support the notion that the album reflects the trip, like “Paddy’s Leather Britches / …,” “Drummond Castle / …,” and “Bog an Lochan / …,” each of which showcase Cassel’s hard-driving playing and her love for traditional music. “Earl of Dalhousie’s Happy Return to Scotland / …,” the album’s penultimate track, includes fiddle players Ronan Martin, Jenny Smith, Karen Steven, and Adam Sutherland that add a session-like feel and adds to the album’s overall expression.
The music here is great. The traditional tunes set alongside compositions of folks like James Scott Skinner, Niel Gow, Jerry Holland, Willie Hunter, Brenda Stubbert, Donald MacKinnon, John Campbell, and others give the album a very grounded feel that lifts the terrific execution.
“Over the Sea to Skye” is lovely stuff. I’d recommend checking the album out, but also checking into BCMFest 2021 to get a better sense of how Cassel and Falquet sound “in the moment” – I’m sure it’s sensational. Learn more and purchase through Cassel’s website, www.hannekecassel.com.