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The Irish Arts Center celebrates a New York City Christmas with Mick Moloney, Athena Tergis and special guests

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Dr. Mick Moloney and Kathleen Biggins
Down at the Museum of the City of New York on Sunday there was a major seminar and awards ceremony revolving around the contributions of six multicultural radio deejays to the rich and varied life of New York City radio history. 

Among them was Kathleen Biggins, the host of Fordham University’s WFUV’s A Thousand Welcomes for 25 years and before that a student host of Ceol na nGael for three years, both Irish music staples that have made the Big Apple a beacon for Irish music recordings for decades in America. 

The Internet, which along with the iPod didn’t kill off radio -- as those of us who grew up with radio and feared it might be an innocent victim -- has only enhanced WFUV’s worldwide presence and influence.  Now the New York Irish community could not only boast with pride about the amount of Irish music available to us, but we could share it with friends and music fans online anywhere and at any time at www.wfuv.org.  

Radio was and is a very important medium in any community, especially one as large as New York City, and WFUV is a hugely valuable asset in building and sustaining creativity in our area as we heard during the ceremonies where Biggins and others were honored.

The timing seemed serendipitous to me as I was looking forward to another innovative bit of programming by both WFUV and the Irish Arts Center coming up this Sunday, December  9, for a live taping of the popular An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration show produced by the center, now in its sixth year.

A live performance of the show artistically organized for five years now by Dr. Mick Moloney will take place starting at 3 p.m. at the Leonard Theatre at Fordham Preparatory School on the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University. 

The venue can hold up to 1,000 people, and the price of general admission is only $35 for the historic show which will later be broadcast over the following two weekends leading up to Christmas.

 
The first airing will be on Sunday, December 16 from 4-6 p.m. right after the regular broadcast that day of Ceol na nGael. The following Saturday, December 22, during the regular time slot of A Thousand Welcomes will be a repeat airing from 10 a.m. to noon appropriately enough as Biggins will be acting as WFUV’s broadcast host for the production in deference to her outstanding work there at the station known for “keeping the tradition alive.”

This merger of creative possibilities was a couple of years in the making, I was informed by the Irish Arts Center’s executive director Aidan Connolly in a phone interview. 

Conversations between himself and Liz Noonan, producer of Ceol na nGael and WFUV staffer, began about doing some type of live broadcast at the Hell’s Kitchen building where their productions usually take place. 

There was demand on adding shows to the run over the past five years, but demand challenged supply and economics at the charmingly intimate but tight, small black box known as the Donaghy Theatre with only 99 seats. 

The quality and sophistication of the show was growing as was the audience, and while the production last year of a live CD successfully capturing highlights from recent shows provided some outreach, Connolly strove for more impact all in line with a rather consistent plan of making the Irish Arts Center culturally important beyond its walls.

Talks with WFUV general manager Chuck Singleton, Noonan and Connolly continued, and agreement was reached to do a live taping on the uptown Fordham campus in the Bronx within the shadows of the Keating Hall home of the radio station, which has served New York for almost seven decades and its Irish community for at least half that time with music programming.

When Irish Arts Center board member and Fordham alumnus James J. Houlihan found out about the arrangement, he seized the opportunity to add extra festivity and capital fundraising for the Irish Arts Center expansion goals for a new home in Manhattan to the mix by adding on a special VIP aspect to this Sunday’s concert event.

For $250, contributors can have special seating, a private cocktail reception and buffet supper with the performing artists afterwards at McGinley Hall on campus, helping to make the season bright in many ways and reinforcing the strong community ties that the Irish Arts Center and WFUV share among the Irish in the greater Metropolitan area.

By the way, it wouldn’t be the first time that WFUV and the center have collaborated on radio broadcasts, as one of the first significant contributions that Biggins brought to the station was editing and airing live performances from the Snug Harbor Irish traditional music festivals produced in the late 1980s by the center. 

In fact, the last time many of us heard the late, great Irish musician and teacher Martin Mulvihill play music was at the festival and later on air before he passed away in his native Limerick a few weeks later in 1987.  From those early days Biggins prodigiously followed traditional music and became one of its most knowledgeable and ardent presenters and promoters of the genre to be found anywhere on either side of the ocean.

In presenting Biggins with a heavy metal replica of a New York City token of esteem at the Citylore People’s Hall of Fame induction at the museum, Moloney remarked that many places in Ireland were bereft of such musical coverage and that she and WFUV were remarkable partners for musicians everywhere.  

Having keenly observed the work of WFUV over the years in building its own brand and independence in one of the toughest radio environments in the country, it is great to see this new outreach to an equally inspired organization ready to do greater things as their own considerable resources come together in the next four years when it is hoped a new Irish Arts Center will arise.

None of this would be worth talking about if the peerless Moloney, fortified by his musical comrade in arms like Athena Tergis, Billy McComiskey, Liz Hanley,  Donna Long and dancer Niall O’Leary, didn’t put on an entertaining show for their 14 gig stint this year.

The music will be solid and varied and reflective of the Celtic tradition, and also respect others like the Philippine chant tradition of Grace Nono or the complimentary Jewish heritage exhibited by Tamar Korn. 

Ireland’s bardic tradition will be well served through the unscripted interviewing of special guests at each show, with authors like Colum McCann (opening Friday night), Malachy McCourt, Belinda McKeon, Honor Molloy and author and New York Times columnist Dan Barry, who will appear at the Fordham show on Sunday.

There are always extra surprises along the way, plus select appearances of the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Band.

The other shows will be in the Donaghy Theatre from December 7-22 from Thursday to Sundays at 8 p.m. and matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. outside of the Fordham Prep Show on Sunday.  These shows do sell out quickly, so get to www.irishartscenter.org or call 866-811-4111 to order tickets.

As small and quaint as the Donaghy Theatre may be, if it had a roaring fireplace you could imagine yourself in the midst of a Irish Yuletide celebration filled with music, song, poetry or recitations and laughter provided by your friends and neighbors. 

As we all realize now after Hurricane Sandy, we are one big community, whether we share it at a live performance or over comforting airwaves that seek to unite our common bonds.

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