REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021

VOCES8’s Barnaby Smith talks power of music, music foundation, and long-awaited Boston concert debut

Driven by a Capella inspiration such as The King’s Singers and Manhattan Transfer, dynamic, internationally-renowned vocal group, VOCES8 will make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut following Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall at 8 p.m.  Mastering a variety of music genres, this multi-talented British octet has toured around the world and after the tremendous success of their previous album, Winter, they are now working on a new album.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about his extensive music background, VOCES8 charitable foundation, and their first appearance in Boston, which is a destination that has been on their bucket list for a long time.  Click here for more information and for tickets to their upcoming Celebrity Series of Boston debut.

Jeanne Denizard:  You are known for your work in Choral, Baroque, Classical, and film genres.  What first attracted you to music and what led you to pursue a music career?

Barnaby Smith:  I started singing at age 3 because my parents used to run an amateur music group. We did concerts once a month up in the rural North of England. Despite crying from the beginning to end of my debut solo at just age 4, I went on to love making music.  So my parents sent me for an audition to be a Chorister at Westminster Abbey.  I passed, and left home to sing in the Abbey choir at age 8 and never looked back.  The choirboys are aged 8 to 13.  We used to sing 4 hours a day 6 days a week, and by the time you have done this for 5 years, I think singing is in your bones. It was an incredible opportunity at such a young age and instilled a sense of such great enjoyment that I never wanted to stop.

JD:  Were you always interested in those specific genres or was it another music genre that first grabbed your attention? 

BS:  There is something special about experiencing the sound of the human voice live in the room, and that is what has always grabbed me about choral music. When someone sings to you, you get a sense that you connect with them on a very deep level, like they are sharing something very personal with you.  You can really see deep into their soul. If you then consider that choral music uses multiple singers and that these singers work together to create beautiful harmony as well, then I can’t imagine ever enjoying anything else more. I feel so grateful to be able to take part in such an activity as my job.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  VOCES 8 can be heard regularly on the radio and also involved with the charitable music foundation, VOCES Cantabiles Music.  Please tell me about that.

BS:  When we founded the group in 2003, we wanted to sing concerts, but we also felt so fortunate for the upbringing in music that we had been afforded, we wanted to give something back. For this reason we also formed our own charitable trust called the VCM Foundation. We made it our mission to get as many young people singing as possible. If children are encouraged to use their voices, it inspires inner confidence to be heard and communicate. Music is also a wonderful thing for young people to experience and will help them appreciate the world around them.

Since we began our work, we have spent a decade researching and writing The VOCES8 Method, a set of musical games and exercises that are designed to work the brain in a way that will help children to develop their linguistics and numeracy skills.  The method is also designed so it is broadly applicable in a class of 6 or group of 600. We preach this method everywhere we go because everyone has a voice and it is free to use your voice, so all children should be encouraged to get involved, experiencing music, and get creative. The VOCES8 Method book is published by Edition Peters and since its publication, has been experienced by over 500,000 children across three continents.

We are also now fortunate to run a centre of singing excellence in a beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren who also built St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Our centre is called the Gresham Centre and our Foundation is based there. It is in the heart of London and we always encourage any choirs visiting London to get in touch with us in the hope that we can extend them an invite to discover the incurable acoustic of the building and meet and sing with us.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston.