Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Show and Tell: Danú

The enchanting voice of Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh filled the Fox Cities P.A.C. and wrapped its audience in haunting vocal melodies from the moment Danú stepped on the stage.This is the first time this leading traditional Irish ensemble has performed in Appleton, as well as their final stop of their current tour.

The stage was simply adorned with only the necessary microphones and seating, as well as one festive Christmas tree warming the stage with its glow. The musicians themselves were pure and straightforward in their presentation. The Fox Cities Performing Arts Center was decorated with simple yet stunning garlands strung through the Center and plenty of ushers ready and available to help. All of this preparation set the stage for each attendee to be utterly dazzled by the music of Danú: Christmas in Ireland.

The ensemble hailing from the historic County Waterford shared a wide variety of Irish music: from slow, evocative ballads to lively jigs to traditional Christmas carols. The audience immediately responded to the warmth of the musicians and were especially delighted when two Irish step dancers from the local Trinity Irish Dance Academy joined the group onstage. The pair garnered huge rounds of applause every time they made an appearance during the show.

Each member of the ensemble spoke briefly during the performance, sharing some personal information about themselves, their country, or even sharing a favorite poem. This in and of itself was quite a treat, at least if you're a lover of foreign accents, like myself. One musician even quipped during the course of the night, that the Irish accent had recently been voted the "sexiest accent in the world," beating out others such as French and Italian.

The musicians and audience seemed quite comfortable interacting with each other. The ensemble themselves, while very experienced on stages around the world, were likely set even more at ease by the fact that they would be heading home to Ireland soon. One particular moment that left the crowd roaring with laughter was as Eamon Doorley who plays the Irish Bouzouki was sharing with the audience that Irish people greatly enjoy music and feel free to voice that enthusiasm with a variety of shouts that may even vary based on the region they live in. After voicing an assortment of various Irish whoops and hollers that may accompany a lively concert, he asked, "Do you have any particular way you shout here?" At which one brave audience member quipped loudly, "Go Pack!"

Danú's lead vocalist and flutist, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, captivated audience members with her solos, despite admitting to having a cold. On a few numbers, Ms. Amhlaoibh sang in her native Gaelic, or Irish, as she called it. She seemed especially delighted to be joined by Northeast Wisconsin's own White Heron Chorale on the Christmas carols "Silent Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."

Laughter was in order when Danú's musicians shared unique Christmas traditions of Ireland such as "hunting for the wren" the day after Christmas, called St. Stephen's Day. The ensemble was joined onstage by a "straw boy" or, as Ms. Amhlaoibh described it, a hula skirt taken to the extreme. The costume is sometimes worn on St. Stephen's Day as Irish folk let loose after spending Christmas Day on their best behavior with what could be described as an "Irish Mardi Gras." Guitarist Donald Clancy also shared about his mother's tradition of baking a Christmas Cake and had the audience in stitches with his descriptions. But this couldn't compare to the song he invited the crowd to sing along with him with lyrics like, "the crust, it was nailed on with glue," and insisted they pronounce "ate-ing a slice" just as the Irish do.

Danú's spirited jigs had the audience tapping their toes and clapping along. Sparkling melodies led by flute, accordian, and fiddle danced as well as any sugarplum fairy. It was music that makes one want to hop up and do a jig... If one knew how to do so.

The tradition of placing a lit candle in one's window for Christmas started in Ireland, and it began as means to display that home's openness to the Holy Family with no place to stay, as well as any passerby who may need warmth or food. At night there are times it looks as if stars have been sprinkled over the countryside as families place their candles in windows. It turns out, Danú's warm and magical music was a candle inviting all those who could hear to come inside and enjoy the warmth of a Christmas in Ireland: An Nollaig in Eirinn.

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