BCMFest Seein’ Ya Soon


The closing set of the BCMFest 2015 Nightcap concert in First Parish Church.

There were plenty of tunes played, on stages or just in a circle on the floor. Sometimes they were played in the “pure drop” style, and sometimes with a very modern, cosmopolitan edge.

There was also dancing, whether for watching or for joining in.

And certainly there was singing — unaccompanied, or with guitars, bouzoukis, various other instruments, and even with a string quartet.

Performers played full-sized instruments and tiny instruments, and sometimes the performers themselves were only a little bigger than their instruments — but they certainly made a giant-sized sound.

So, in short (or tall), that was BCMFest 2015.

If you went, hope you liked it. If you didn’t go, hope we’ll see you next year — that’s January 8-10, 2016. Mark your calendar.

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BCMFest 2015 Preview: Q&A with Scottish Fish

This is the last of a series of features about the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest 2015, which begins this Friday (January 9). Even as it celebrates the Celtic music traditions that have been around for centuries, BCMFest also looks ahead to the future, by supporting and encouraging the coming generations of musicians, singers and dancers that will carry on these traditions. Among their ranks are the members of Scottish Fish, a middle school/high school-age fiddles-and-cello quintet that performed at BCMFest 2014 and has brought their enthusiasm for Scottish and Cape Breton music to sessions, concerts and other events around the Boston area. Ava, Caroline, Guilia, Julia and Maggie recently took time off from their preparations for BCMFest 2015 to talk a little about their life and times as Scottish Fish.

Scottish Fish, shown here performing at the Canadian American Club in Watertown, is hooked on Scottish and Cape Breton music.

Hooked on Celtic music: Scottish Fish, shown here performing at the Canadian American Club in Watertown.

Q: OK, so what’s the story behind your band name?

SF: We were at a fiddle camp in 2011. One of us found Swedish Fish candy under a bed that were hidden there by a roommate and announced that they were “Scottish Fish.” Later that night, we used the name for a band performance.

Q: And have any of you ever actually seen or eaten Scottish fish?

SF: Some of us have had smoked Scottish salmon for Christmas Eve dinner. For the rest of us, the answer would be “maybe?” or a shrug.

Q: When and how did you start playing together? Did you all know each other before then?

SF: Two of us met at Green Mountain Suzuki camp in Vermont, some of us go to church together, and another two of us met in nursery school. We all ended up at camp together at Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School in 2013.

Q: Did you immediately think to yourselves, “Oh wow, we’re a band!” or was that something that just happened over time without you being aware of it?

SF: A few of us played together at various times and at camps between 2009-2012, and by August 2013 we had become the band we are now and started playing gigs that fall.

Q: Who are some of your favorite Celtic musicians?

SF: Hanneke Cassel!!! Katie McNally. Natalie MacMaster.

Adam Sutherland (we named him “Shrub” at Boston Harbor).

Kevin Henderson.

Q: Families these days usually a lot going on, what with school, work, other activities, etc. Are you able to get together pretty regularly to practice and/or jam? What’s that like?

SF: It’s kind of crazy. We get together when we can, and at various times we have had regularly scheduled sessions together (Thanks Katie!). We have also had a few vacations away together in Maine and New Hampshire – lots of fiddling, swimming, “working out” and other fun.

Q: What do you like the most about playing Celtic music?

SF: Everything! Learning by ear, writing your own stuff, playing your own arrangements, and making the music your own, unlike other music where you are supposed to only play it as it was written.

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BCMFest 2015 Preview: Nightcap Concert — Q&A with Katie McNally

Another in a series of  features about the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest 2015, which begins this Friday (January 9). This year’s BCMFest Nightcap concert — the big Saturday evening finale concert taking place in First Parish Church near Harvard Square — is titled “Women in Trad,” and is the brainchild of everyone’s favorite Boston area all-female quartet Long Time Courting (Shannon Heaton, Liz Simmons, Katie McNally and Val Thompson). Here’s Katie McNally herself to tell us a little about it.

Long Time Courting (L-R, Shannon Heaton, Liz Simmons, Katie McNally, Val Thompson), a band for all seasons.

Long Time Courting (L-R, Shannon Heaton, Liz Simmons, Katie McNally, Val Thompson), a band for all seasons.

Q: So, “Women In Trad” – what’s the concept behind this concert? How did Long Time Courting come up with the idea?

Katie: The concept behind this concert came about in the car while we were on tour last spring. I initially proposed the idea, and the rest of LTC jumped in immediately and enthusiastically with ideas about the concept and who we would invite as guest musicians and dancers.

It started as a way to feature female performers in the Boston area, but we realized that it wasn’t necessary to create a special event or space for this — as it is, women are a fundamental and commensurate part of the Boston Celtic music scene. Following the chronology of a woman’s life, “Woman in Trad” is a show that narrates the ways in which women are celebrated in Celtic music: as maidens, mothers, warriors and sailors!

Q: If I’m a guy, will “Women In Trad” appeal to me?

Katie: “Women in Trad” is a show without an agenda that aims to present a fantastic evening of music, dance and poetry through the lens of Celtic female characters, historical and mythological.

Q: I understand there will be quite a few “guest stars” popping up during the concert.

Katie: Yes, that’s one of the most exciting things about it. So far, we have:

-Scottish Fish

-Rory and Josie Coyne

-Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards

-Mariel Vandersteel

-Flynn Cohen

-Jenna Moynihan and Mairi Chaimbeul

-Emerald Rae

-Will Woodson and Eric McDonald

-Bridget Fitzgerald

-Laurel Martin

-Rebecca McGowan

-Mary MacGillivray and Judy MacKenzie

And you know, there’s still a few days left before the concert takes place, so no telling who else we might ask to drop by.

Q: What would be an example of a song or tune that would be appropriate for “Women In Trad,” and what do you think is particularly cool about it?

Katie: One song I’m really looking forward to in the concert is the waulking song that Mairi Chaimbeul and Jenna Moynihan will be presenting. Traditionally, waulking songs were sung by groups of women while waulking cloth, which is part of the process of making tweed. To me, songs in this vein exemplify one important way in which Scottish women traditionally contributed to their communities and also how music was a functional part of life in rural communities.


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BCMFest 2015 Preview: The BCMFest Academy — a Q&A

This year, BCMFest will inaugurate The BCMFest Academy, a selection of Celtic music-oriented classes and workshops that will be held on Sunday, January 11, in the Passim School of Music. We’ve asked Passim Community Outreach & Technology Coordinator Jon Dorn and School of Music & Administrative Coordinator Hannah Rose Baker to offer a quick orientation for The BCMFest Academy.


Q: Hannah, why did BCMFest decide to introduce “The BCMFest Academy”?

Hannah: Part of the BCMFest mission has always been to help build appreciation for traditional Celtic music and dance. We wanted to combine that mission with the Passim School of Music’s community atmosphere to give BCMFest attendees an opportunity to learn about performing the music they love from members of the local Celtic music community.

Q: Jon, tell us about the BCMFest Academy faculty.

Jon: Will Woodson is an innovative and powerful young performer of traditional and contemporary music on Scottish bellows pipes, wooden flute, and tin whistle. He’s an American native but he traveled to Glasgow to earn a degree in Scottish music and is now based in Portland, Me., and is performs and teaches in the thriving music scene of the northeastern United States.

Will is performing at BCMFest with Eric McDonald, one of New England’s premier acoustic performers and instructors, known for his versatility in many styles, especially on DADGAD guitar in Celtic music. He’s from Boston and studied at Berklee College of Music under world-renowned musicians John McGann and Eugene Friesen. While studying he toured with folk acts like The Dave Rowe Trio and Matching Orange, and acted as music director for productions by companies such as Actor’s Shakespeare Project. If you’ve been to BCMFest in the past, you might remember him performing with people like Katie McNally and Matching Orange.

Ellery Klein is a fiddle teacher and violin teacher in the north and central Boston area. She spent over 15 years as a professional Irish fiddler and taught fiddle in private lessons, workshops and master classes when she could. You might have seen her with the band Long Time Courting, of whom she was an original member, or as part of Gaelic Storm. She moved to Israel for three years but in 2013 she returned to Boston. Ellery’s appearing at the festival as part of the trio Fòdhla.

Bridget Fitzgerald has been singing all her life and teaching and performing for more than 30 years; she was born and raised in Connemara, which is a strong Irish-speaking area in Ireland. Bridget was the original lead singer of the band Cherish the Ladies – I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with them. Her song repertoire is extensive and is comprised of not only Irish (Gaelic), but also American traditional songs. She’s has been a National Endowment for the Arts/Folk Arts Master Teacher and has taught sean-nós (old-style) singing at CCE Boston Music School and music camps throughout North America including the Augusta Heritage Center, The Swannanoa Gathering, Pinewoods Camp, and The Irish Arts Week. Bridget, by the way, will be among the guest stars at the BCMFest Nightcap concert on Saturday night.

Q: Obviously, no one can expect to learn Irish fiddle or Celtic guitar in a couple of hours. What do you see as the value of the Academy? 

Hannah: We hope that BCMFest Academy will spark interest in Celtic music performance, and give students some resources to continue learning Celtic music, song, and dance. Like many of our weekend workshops and classes at the Passim School of Music, a small taste of a new performance style is often all a student needs to be inspired to pursue it further. 

Q: How do I sign up?

Jon: To pre-register (and get a free ticket to Dayfest on Saturday), head on over to www.passim.org/bcmfest/classes for a full schedule and online registration. You can also sign up in person at any box office location during BCMFest, or at BCMFest Academy on Sunday.

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BCMFest 2015 Preview: “After the Morning” — Q&A with Shannon Heaton

Another in a series of  features about the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest 2015 (January 9-11, if it’s not on your calendar yet). In this installment, relentlessly creative BCMFest co-founder Shannon Heaton gives us some insight into her latest musical project, the song cycle “After the Morning,” which will premiere at this year’s festival. 

Shannon Heaton: "Traditional songs are filled with wisdom and uplifting metaphor, and it was healing and challenging to watch this set of songs emerge."

Shannon Heaton: “Traditional songs are filled with wisdom and uplifting metaphor, and it was healing and challenging to watch this set of songs emerge.”

Q: OK, what’s “After the Morning” all about?

Shannon: I’ve had a crazy few months – some heartbreak, some challenges – and when times get tough, the tough write…string quartets! I spent my late fall writing this song cycle of hope and creativity, with seasonal and natural themes.

Q: And how did you get the idea for it?

Shannon: I love the traditional ballad “Streets of Derry.” The first line assures us that “after the morning, there comes an evening. And after the evening, another day.” This is such a comfort! I set out to open my string quartet/song cycle with this verse, and from there, it made sense to weave together a narrative of traditional and original ballads moving from spring through winter (literally and metaphorically). Traditional songs are filled with wisdom and uplifting metaphor, and it was healing and challenging to watch this set of songs emerge.

Q: You have solid credentials in traditional Irish music, but you also have written plenty of tunes and songs that might be considered “in the tradition.” Do you see “After the Morning” as following along that same path, or does it represent a departure?

Shannon: This is a big time extension of my skill set. I have always loved the Ravel and Beethoven string quartets, and letting myself imagine that world (in my own limited way!) gave me a new lease on arranging trad songs.

Q: You’ll be accompanied by “The Dance Cards”: Who are they, and how did you wind up working with them?

Shannon: I wanted to write for strings, but mostly I wanted to work with Laura Cortese, Mariel Vandersteel and Valerie Thompson. They totally get lush and “stringy,” and they also know trad and modern and accessible. Through Val, I met the fine violist Abby Swidler to round out the quartet. I am unbelievably lucky that they have agreed to do this with me; their ideas and energy have helped to shape and fuel my arranging and composing.

Q: Over the years – and we can use that phrase with BCMFest – the festival has been a venue for a number of special collaborations you’ve come up with or helped put together; some that come to mind are “Agnes P. Mouse,” 10-Speed Trad, “Celtic Elvis,” and The Deadly Sins (which became the basis for the first-ever BCMFest commemorative calendar). Is there something about BCMFest that gets the creative juices flowing in a particular way? 

Shannon: BCMFest was founded to bring trad musicians together, and that sometimes means people who don’t always get to see/play with each other. It’s cool to imagine something, and then get to bring it to life for your peers and bestest Boston fans! I’m hoping to see a BCMFest Commission grant emerge to officially support the collaborations that can occur at this high-quality-yet-still-local-and-totally-indie fest.

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BCMFest 2015 Preview: Emerging Artists Showcase — Q&A with Elizabeth & Ben Anderson

There are always plenty of seasoned performers at BCMFest, but the festival also strongly believes in giving new, up-and-coming acts the opportunity to introduce themselves and their music to a wider audience. This year’s Emerging Artists Showcase will feature Liz & Dan Faiella Audrey Budington & Clayton Clemetson and – making a return visit to BCMFest – Elizabeth & Ben Anderson. We asked the Andersons (who, like the Faiellas, are a brother-sister duo) to tell us a little about themselves.

Elizabeth and Ben Anderson rocking the fiddle-cello dynamic at last year's BCMFest. (Photo source: http://khmertube.khmerelite.ws)

Elizabeth and Ben Anderson rocking the fiddle-cello dynamic at last year’s BCMFest. (Photo source: http://khmertube.khmerelite.ws)

Q: Individually, when and how did you start playing your respective instruments?

Elizabeth: I started Suzuki violin lessons when I was in second grade, and Ben started playing violin when he was five, two years after I started.  I must have been scratching away at some minuet or other when Ben declared that he wanted to “make beautiful music like Lizzy” – I guess it’s the power of the older sibling!  Ben didn’t actually start the cello until third grade, but the cello’s proven to come in handy. I started playing fiddle music when I went to my first session of Pinewoods dance camp in 2005 and met Hanneke Cassel, and then the following year we both went to Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School for the first time. Right now, I’m studying at Berklee College of Music with Darol Anger and Ben is a junior in high school, taking lessons with Eric Law.

Q: When and how did you begin to perform as a duo? Did one of you say, “Hey, let’s put an act together!” one day, or was it more gradual and organic than that?

Elizabeth: It was very gradual.  I can’t even remember the first time we played together.  But we slowly started playing out more and more.  Back five years ago or so we did a segment in a Broadway-themed variety show where we arranged “Bonnie Jean” from the musical “Brigadoon” and then stuck some strathspeys after it.  It was a really terrible arrangement, and Ben was just playing chords on the fiddle, but it got us thinking, “Hey, we could do this!”  When you live together and both play instruments, it’s hard to prevent it from turning into something.  A lot of our silly jams have turned into real arrangements; that’s just the way it’s worked for us!

Ben: I think our first major performance was when we played for a talent show in which we won second place.  That, at least for me, was the first time I realized that we were good enough that it was worth taking it seriously.

Q: What are some of the important formative musical experiences you’ve had, individually or together, in Greater Boston/New England?

Elizabeth: Boston Harbor must have been the biggest one for both of us.  It’s really an amazing experience to be immersed in music and in the Scottish fiddle community for an entire week.  There’s an incredible staff every year of knowledgeable and passionate musicians, and it’s hard to avoid picking up their style and their passion.  People ask us all the time how we learned fiddle, and I always say, “off of CDs and from fiddle camp!”  We’re also long-time attendees of BCMFest and the New Hampshire Highland Games held at Loon Mountain.  There’s such a vibrant Scottish music scene around Boston and we’re extremely grateful for it.

Q: The fiddle-cello dynamic is certainly a popular one in Celtic music nowadays: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, of course, and Hanneke Cassel with Mike Block/Ariel Friedman/Rushad Eggleston, among others. You’ve probably drawn a lot of inspiration from these folks, but do you feel your own sound and identity is emerging?

Elizabeth: We actually didn’t know about either of these performers when we started playing together.  It was more out of convenience: I played fiddle and he played cello, so we played together.  But we were quickly introduced to Alasdair, Natalie, Hanneke, etc..  We’ve both listened to them a lot and we no doubt have been influenced just from having their sounds in our ears, but I don’t think we’ve ever tried to emulate anything specific that either of these groups has done – except when we’re short material for a gig, and we straight-up lift arrangements.

I think that if there’s something that sets Ben and me apart it’s our arranging.  Working in a two-instrument band really forces you to push the boundaries and come up with novel arrangements to keep it interesting.  You don’t have much choice as far as texture goes and the cello doesn’t have the harmonic capacity of the piano or guitar.  What we do have as our basis for expansion is rhythm and melody, which I think are really at the heart of dance music anyway.  So we use a lot of ostinati, pedal points, and polyrhythms.  We have also drawn inspiration from some innovative string players, like Darol Anger, my teacher at Berklee, and Mark Summer, the cellist in the Turtle Island String Quartet.  There’s some real innovation going on in the string world, and we’re lucky that we have so many talented and inspiring musicians working right now who are constantly giving us new ideas and pushing us to new heights.

Q: There always seems to be an assumption that siblings have a “rivalry” of some kind. Like any brother and sister, you’ve probably had your bad times with one another, but clearly you have a good enough rapport to play music together. What makes it work for you?

Elizabeth: We both just love the music that we play.  We both contribute to everything we do, from arranging to booking, so it’s a real team effort.  It does streamline things, though, that I can still assert authority whenever there’s dissent!  But in all seriousness, we’re both devoted to the music and to each other, and I think our parents are really proud that we’ve learned to share.

Ben: Everyone always asks us about why we get along together so well, and I always wonder why it’s such a surprise.  We certainly have had arguments when first starting up, but we always try to work out all issues we have logically and rationally.  We never have any reason to be in major disagreement over anything, and I think it’s great that we are able to cooperate so well.


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BCMFest 2015 Preview: Roots & Branches Concert – Q&A with Kieran Jordan

Another in a series of  features about the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest 2015 (January 9-11, if it’s not on your calendar yet). In this installment, we visit with Kieran Jordan, part of a trio with Laurel Martin and Mark Roberts that will appear at the opening night “Roots & Branches” concert in Club Passim. [Also performing at the concert will be Jenna Moynihan and the trio of Flynn Cohen, Matt Heaton & Danny Noveck.]

Kieran Jordan in full sean-nos mode with Mark Roberts and Laurel Martin.

Kieran Jordan in full sean-nos mode with Mark Roberts and Laurel Martin.

Q: You’ve done gigs off and on with Laurel and Mark over the years, right? When and how did you come together – and what have you enjoyed about performing with them?

Kieran: Yes, we’ve all known each other for years and have played together in different configurations, but our trio actually started in 2013. Laurel and Mark have been playing for a while as a duo, and they play as a trio with guitar player Dan Compton. Laurel and I have also performed together in recent years — at BCMFest and other concerts and festivals, and for a concert we put together as part of an Mass Cultural Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, with our students.

But I suppose Childsplay is the group that has been common ground for all three of us, off and on over the years. We were all part of the Childsplay tour to Sweden in 2001, and that was a bonding experience for everyone! In 2012, I worked on the Childsplay film project, as stage director, so I was working in the theater house instead of performing on stage. I was very moved by Laurel’s and Mark’s music, and their presence as performers. It was great to be able to take notice of that from a different perspective, and that inspired some ideas about things we might do as a trio.

Q: Give us a sense as to what we’ll be hearing, and seeing, when you three perform.

Kieran: Good stories, good steps, good tunes! That’s what we hope to put across. Mark has such a dry and measured sense of humor that always cracks me up and puts everyone at ease. And Laurel has such depth and feeling in her playing, and in her relationships within music. There’s something very unaffected and personal about all of this, and how they share it with the audience.

We all love traditional Irish music and the sweet, unhurried style of East Clare. And then, we’ll add an old-time banjo tune or a jaunty waltz, so there is pep and humor mixed in with our darker preferences for somber, slower jigs. We all have an interest in collecting older material — in maintaining the stories, nuances, and characters that are part of every step and tune — and then, in discovering our own way to present that, so that it feels authentic and true to the past, and to us, right now.

For me as a dancer, this trio is an opportunity to let the dance steps ring out with clarity and an emphasis on subtle sounds. Laurel plays fiddle and Mark plays flute, so I am the rhythm/percussion section. The footwork is very audible, and that allows it to blend fully with the overall musical sound. Our focus is really on collaboration — listening to and watching each other — both in rehearsal and on stage. We all bring new ideas to the group, and we inspire each other. Laurel and Mark adjust their phrasing to match each other’s style and to lift the dancing, which they certainly do!

Click here to watch a video of Kieran, Laurel and Mark performing

Q: Laurel and Mark have notes to play, but you have to come up with a dance to what they’re doing. Is it something you work out beforehand? Or do you do a lot of improvisation?

Kieran: Yes, I work it out beforehand, just as they do. And yes, I also do a lot of improvisation. In some cases, I am “writing” new steps to go with a tune, especially if it is an unusual tune that I haven’t heard before. Other times, I have existing steps and old favorites that seem to fit just perfectly, so then it’s about creating an arrangement rather than choreographing brand new steps.

Then there are other tunes that I just love to play with my feet. This is where I improvise, and really follow the melody. This is probably my favorite way to work as a percussive dancer, and it’s sean-nós dance that gives me the vocabulary to do it. Sean-nós means “old style” but ironically, it is always fresh and new. When you’re improvising, it’s never the same twice. It’s always live, and full of miraculous connections, potential train wrecks, and happy accidents! I love being able to take those risks, with friends and musical partners who I really trust.


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