Last in a series of semi-regular posts in the coming weeks to acquaint you with the people, events and happenings at BCMFest 2017 (January 13 and 14). For more information, and to purchase tickets, see the BCMFest website.
Well, when the previews are over, it must mean the actual thing is about to start. And so it is — this Friday, BCMFest 2017 will be off and running. But although the festival is almost ready to begin, let’s tell you a little about how it will end: with the BCMFest Nightcap concert on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in First Church, Cambridge.
The BCMFest Nightcap essentially pulls together the various threads of BCMFest, presenting a theme that’s animated all the events and activities of the weekend. This year, BCMFest celebrates the special, mutually nourishing relationship between Celtic music and its host community, and the BCMFest Nightcap co-producers Rachel Reeds and Shannon Heaton have come up with an imaginative, two-part exploration of this special bond.
First, Rachel and a cohort of friends that includes Katie McNally, Maggie MacPhail, Cliff McGann, Harvey Tolman, Gordon Aucoin, Jake Brillhart, Neil Pearlman and Roger Treat will throw a “house party”-style presentation of Cape Breton music and dance. After the break, BCMFest co-founder Shannon will bring her “Irish Music Stories” podcast to the stage, with short pre-recorded clips from the podcast and a series of performances that include duets with her husband Matt, along with appearances by local artists George Keith, Laura Cortese, Susan Gedutis Lindsay, Maggie Holtzberg and Kieran Jordan.
Here are Rachel and Shannon to talk about what’s provided the inspiration for their respective portions of the BCMFest Nightcap:
Q: Rachel, you’re not a native Cape Bretoner — so how did you get so interested in this kind of music?
Rachel: I really lucked out in that my first fiddle teachers played a lot of Cape Breton tunes, so that got me started. Then Hanneke Cassel taught a class, through the Passim School of Music, that I took for several years and it was always the Cape Breton tunes that were my favorite. Emerald Rae hosted a session for a while and she knows so many Cape Breton tunes that I always had someone to play them with, which was really encouraging for learning tunes. And then there’s this great community at the Canadian American Club in Watertown where they host dances and gatherings — at some point, Gordon Aucoin asked if I would join him to play for a square dance here or there and really helped me learn how to do that.
Having had all this great support over the years, last year I decided to make an album of Cape Breton music. I recorded it last November — Hanneke was the producer, and I had contributions from friends like Andrea Beaton, Katie McNally, Yann Falquet and Natalie Haas.
Q: As you’ve learned about the music, have you also had a chance to get some impression of Cape Breton itself — the land, the people, the history? What are the things that stand out to you?
Rachel: I’ve been able to make several trips to Cape Breton, especially recently, and it’s a wonderful place. All the musicians I’ve met there are so willing to share the music. I was astonished by how prevalent the music tradition is, how much it remains tied to the dance, and how much of an appreciation there is for the culture and history.
Q: Like other kinds of Celtic music, Cape Breton has hit the “world stage,” with performers like Natalie MacMaster doing concerts around the globe, and the Celtic Colours festival having a huge following. But the music still has a close-knit, social dynamic, doesn’t it?
Rachel: It absolutely does. Many world-class musicians, when not touring, will still play dances at home, spend an evening playing at the Red Shoe Pub or The Normaway Inn, teach at the Gaelic College or the Buddy MacMaster Fiddle Camp, etc. So when I’ve gone to Cape Breton, I’ve had the chance to hear great fiddlers and pianists in all these informal places. And so much music happens at house parties too! I’ve played so many tunes with like-minded friends around Boston and New England, just sharing tunes and stories in kitchens and living rooms — even barns — whenever there’s an opportunity.
Q: So give us an idea as to what we’ll see and hear at the Nightcap concert?
Rachel: Well, we’re going to throw a little house party of our own! I’ve asked some great musicians that I know through the Canadian American Club to join me and share a few tunes. We’ll “pass the fiddle” to showcase each player’s individual style and then, like any party, we’ll see what happens! We may be inspired to share a song or story or two, start up a square set, show off some step-dancing, or just play tunes until the wee hours.
Q: Shannon, how does this year’s BCMFest theme resound with you?
Shannon: So this year it’s about tradition and renewal — about looking back and moving forward. As I interview musicians and dancers around the country and Ireland, I hear all sorts of ideas on why Irish music is meaningful to people personally, and in the wider collective sense. And we talk about where Irish music and dance have been — and where it all might be going in the highly connected 21st century. Through live performance and short pre-recorded clips from the “Irish Music Stories” podcast, I’ll invite audience members to see and hear a few different angles on the tradition.
Q: Talk about the format for the “Irish Music Stories” portion of the concert — how do you connect it to the “community” theme?
Shannon: Tradition is something that is passed on, that is shared, that is bigger and older than any one player. The “trad” community grows and expands every time we sing, dance and play together, and we aim to show that with this concert. Of course, we’ll perform music and dance. And we’ll also read about the history of Irish music in America. We’ll do a 1950’s “dance hall” number, with music from the period. We’ll play a pre-recorded piece from the podcast on innovation and tradition.
Q: What’s it been like working on “Irish Music Stories”? Do you feel it’s helped to enrich your sense of, and approach to, music?
Shannon: “Irish Music Stories,” like Irish music itself, has proved to be a rabbit hole. There are so many routes to consider. There are so many stories to incorporate, interpret, share. It’s enriching for me to listen more. It’s fun to hear more about the background and the viewpoints of peers and mentors whom I’ve known for years, but never thought to ask more. I’m so lucky to do this. There’s so much work left to do!