Celtic Christmas music for the holiday season

Published Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 2:22 PM

As the Christmas holidays roll around again, it is an especially great time to see and hear some wonderful music in the seasonal and Celtic or acoustic vein.

Even better if you use it as an opportunity to get together with family and friends and enjoy some of the great talent out there and help the arts stimulate the economy and our imagination and souls. Here are some suggestions among the many offerings

Better known around New England, the performance ensemble known as Childsplay is a most unique troupe centered around instrument maker and musician Bob Childs, who is the maker of the 21 violins and violas featured in this tour.

They are making their New York City debut at Symphony Space on Thursday, December 3 at 8 p.m. (www.symphonyspace.org with a $5 discount with promo code RAC102) featuring 21 fiddlers and musicians and special guest vocalist Aoife O’Donovan from Massachusetts in support of their new CD "Waiting for the Dawn."

O’Donovan usually fronts her own popular band called Crooked Still and is working on a CD with Karan Casey for release in 2010. She is also the daughter of Brian O’Donovan of WGBH "Celtic Sojourn" fame.

Slated to appear are Hanneke Cassell, Sam Amidon, Lissa Schneckenberger, Sheila Falls-Keohane, Shannon Heaton (flute and accordion and vocals), harpist Kathleen Guilday, Mark Roberts and Steve Hickman among others, including dancer and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Olwell from Virginia.

This band includes many of the musicians around New England supporting Childs’ collection of instruments, and over the 20 years the cast has changed to suit the circumstances and venues. The warmth you hear from the sound of the collective instruments of the one-time furniture maker turned instrument artisan will be matched by the folksy camaraderie and repertoire on stage.

This production of Childsplay is in support of their new CD with Aoife O’Donovan and will also be in Portland, Maine (Portland High School, December 4); Somerville, Massachusetts (Somerville Theatre, 5th) and Lexington (National Heritage Museum, 6th). Visit www.childsplay.org.

Manhattan’s Irish Arts Center once again presents “An Irish Christmas” for the third year in a row with Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis, Brendan Dolan, Niall O’Leary, Liz Hanley and special guests over two long weekends, December 10-20.

Scheduled to appear also are Shannon and Matt Heaton (10th), harpist Aine Minogue (11th), Billy McComiskey (10-13th), Susan McKeown, Dana Lyn and the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra at select shows, as well as some special surprise guests from the New York area who may perform a party piece or recount tales of Christmas past.

Call the center at 212-757-3318 or order tickets through www.smarttix.com or phone 212-868-4444 (with special discount before December 1 with code IACDEC).

Once again Joanie Madden and Cherish the Ladies are going over the river and through the woods with another ambitious December tour with a brand-new Christmas CD in hand called "A Star in the East" on Big Mammy Records.

As they get ready to celebrate 25 years as a group in 2010, Joanie and the girls will be making the season bright up and down the East Coast and the Midwest and even Canada with 17 gigs in the month.

Among the stops are Wayne, New Jersey on the 6th at the Shea Center at William Patterson University, the Egg in Albany on the 8th, Sag Harbor, Long Island on the 18th and the Towne Crier on the 20th in Pawling, New York. Visit www.cherishtheladies.com.

Another barnstorming group who know how to do Christmas right is the band from Ireland, Teada, led by Oisin Mac Diarmada from Sligo for their annual Irish Christmas tour.

Oisin always loads up with tasty reinforcements for this tour to come along with his mates Damien Stensen, Sean McElwain and Tristan Rosenstock (Paul Finn is not on the tour this trip). Joining them will be Grainne Hambly on harp and Tommy Martin on uilleann pipes as in years past, and special guest artist Seamus Begley will be along for vocals and the box and sean nos dance standout Brian Cunningham from Connemara.

They’ll be in Washington, D.C. at the National Geographic Society on the 4th; Connecticut on the 9th at the East Hartford Community Cultural Center; Lakewood, New Jersey on the 10th at the Strand Theater and at the Annenberg Center at UPenn in Philadelphia on the 12th.

The Boston celebration of the "Christmas Celtic Sojourn" now in its seventh season hosted by Brian O’Donovan (Clonakilty native) has attracted another wonderful entertainment lineup for this hardy perennial.

Guest artists this year include Christy O’Leary from Cork, Karine Polwart, a Scottish singer-songwriter, Liz Carroll and John Doyle under musical director Seamus Egan. They’ll be joined by local Boston dancers from the Harney Academy of Irish Dance and dance director Kieran Jordan.

The annual production expanded its arc to Worcester and Providence last year, and once again shows are scheduled for Friday the 11th in Worcester at the Hanover Theatre (877-571-7469) and a Saturday matinee in Providence at Veterans Memorial Auditorium at 3 p.m. (401-421-2787) before the show moves to its home base in downtown Boston.

The Cutler Majestic Theater near Boston Common in the theater district has seven shows lined up, which gives an idea of the show’s popularity as the 1,200 seat venue usually sells out all the shows thanks to a very loyal WGBH listenership for the weekly radio show that spawned this Christmas spectacular (www.wgbh.org).

The show dates and times at the Cutler are Sunday the 13th and Saturday the 19th at 3 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday (17-19) at 8 p.m.; Sunday the 20th at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets can be ordered at Telecharge 800-233-3123.

West Nyack resident and Woodlawn native Eileen Ivers returns with her An Nollaig tour to Bay Shore, Long Island at the YMCA Boulton Center for the Arts on Friday, December 11. Call 631-969-1101 or visit www.boultoncenter.org for tickets.

The tour brings her as far as Alaska and the Midwest, and more details at www.eileenivers.com.

Ivers will also make a guest appearance as part of the big Andy Cooney extravaganza at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, December 8, at 8 p.m. The popular showman from Long Island has a big night planned, with country star Crystal Gayle as another special guest along with the Christmas Festival Orchestra, Fordham University Choir and the Festival Youth Chorus and young Ryan Cooney following in dad’s footsteps, all produced and directed by Eily Patterson. Visit www.carnegiehall.com.

There seems to be a little less starch and more animation in the threesome calling themselves the Celtic Tenors (Martin Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson), who seem to have more fun in crossing over from the classical repertoire to Irish ditties and folk songs and popular American hits.

Their Celtic Tenors Christmas tour hits three local venues with two being in New Jersey with Englewood’s Bergen Performing Arts Center (December 3 at 8 p.m. 201-227-1030) and Red Bank’s Count Basie Theater on the 4th at 8 p.m. (732-842-9000).

On Sunday, December 6 at 8 p.m. they hit the Great White Way on 42nd Street at B.B. King’s Blues Club. Popular and versatile entertainer Gabriel Donohue heads to Philadelphia with a group that recently formed for a gig at the Wildwood Irish Festival. Gabe joins Caitlin Warbelow, a Fairbanks fiddler living in New York, and singer Marian Makins for show entitled "Once Upon a Winter’s Night" on Sunday, December 6 from 5-9 p.m. at the Commodore Barry Irish Center in Mount Airy. For more info visit www.theirishcenter.org.

NYU Irish language lecturer Pádraig Ó Cearúill hosts his Airneal na Nollaig at Glucksman Ireland House on Thursday, December 3 at 7 p.m. featuring Irish music and song from his students and also the Washington Square Harp & Shamrock Orchestra.

In addition on Saturday the 5th from 1-6 p.m. he will partner with Ashley Davis to lead a Gaelic song and traditional singing techniques workshop to explore repertoire, technique and pronunciation within the context of the Irish song/language. Prior knowledge of the Irish language is not essential. This event is free and open to the public, but advance registration via phone or email is required. RSVP to 212-998-3950 or ireland.house@nyu.edu.

Finally, though it doesn’t have a Christmas connection this Saturday, November 26 out in Rockaway, New Jersey (www.iaanj.com) is the combination workshop/concert/session with visiting guests artists, tunemeister Paddy O’Brien on accordion and his Chulrua partner, Pat Egan, guitarist and vocalist minus the third Pat (Ourceau) who is busying looking after new twins Clement and Emile. Contact irisnevins@verizon.net.

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