A "Sojourn" in Musical Tradition
Celtic music has become a cultural cornerstone in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. This music will be showcased in Cambridge at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, held on Saturday in Sanders Theatre. The event, presented by WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, will pull in performers from the Boston area and from the traditional Celtic music community at large. “You’ve got musicians coming from as far as California, and, similarly and equidistant, you have musicians coming from Ireland,” says Eoin McQuinn, a percussionist who will also be performing on the soprano saxophone. McQuinn, an Irish native, has traveled the world sharing his love for traditional Celtic music and says he is excited to see what will be created when such diverse musicians cross paths.
These performers come from different musical backgrounds, each with varying levels of education and experience in traditional Celtic performance. It may seem that bringing together such a diverse group of people would be difficult, but the show encourages spontaneous collaboration. The musicians meet for the first time the day of the show and create the entire program in the hours that precede the performance. “You never know what’s going to happen. In a way it’s sort of like going to a potluck dinner or something like that,” pianist Jacqueline A. Schwab says. “But not your ordinary potluck. Maybe a potluck wedding feast…where somebody’s made their best dish, but you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you get it all together.”
The excitement of collaboratively creating a show based around a mutual love for traditional music appeals to many of the performers. “Brian is amazing at picking some really accomplished musicians, and this kind of gives us an opportunity to play and especially perform together,” says Mariel Vandersteel, who will be playing the hardanger fiddle at this year’s Sojourn.
While the music may be traditional, the musicians appreciate music’s ability to change with each performance. “You can take a song that [has been] in the tradition for 200 years,” McQuinn says. “[But] every individual performance of that piece is different.” The musicians say they are are excited to incorporate traditionally solo instruments into group pieces and very non-Irish instruments into Irish tunes. This year, the St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn will celebrate the novelty to be found in tradition.