Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Show & Tell: Danú: A Christmas In Ireland

If you were not already in the Christmas spirit, spending a few hours taking in the performance tonight by the Irish ensemble Danú was sure to fix that problem. These six amazing musicians took the audience at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on a trip back in time. At one point you felt as though you were being welcomed into a full family home, and then later like you had just walked into a warm Irish pub on a brisk December evening.

They opened with “The Wexford Carol,” a song with origins back to the 12th century. It started slow and soft with only a solo vocal accompanied by the button accordion. Soon the other instruments joined in, piece by piece, until they reached a frenzied, foot stomping, crescendo. In no time at all you realized that this would be an entertaining evening.

While the music was inspiring, the stories and tales of Irish traditions that peppered the set between songs brought with them an instant warmth and humanity. There were poems about Christmas and the traditional hunting of the wren, a celebration that takes place on December 26th, which is also known a St. Stephens Day in Ireland. It is a day full of music and celebration, being described by the band as an “Irish Mardi Gras.” Later in the second set, we found ourselves wrapped up in that spirit as we were encouraged to sing the ingredients of a fruitcake recipe during the chorus of a song. For every tradition that is unique to Ireland, there seemed to be one that we had in common, if only with a slight twist. Throughout the performance the audience was brought into the act with singing, enthusiastic clapping and shouting.

For those without a strong background in Irish instrumentals and songs, there were haunting renditions of the familiar seasonal songs “Silent Night” and “Angels We Have Heard On High.” The entire audience was singing along with “Silent Night” at the end, giving everyone in their seat a true surround sound experience. The music of Danú was enhanced this evening with periodic appearances on the stage by the White Heron Chorale and a pair of Irish step dancers.

To see unique instruments such as the Irish bouzouki and the bodhran in prominent roles was a first for me. The sounds that could be coerced from the bodhran, an Irish drum, seemed limitless. The encore started with a drum solo that had the Center crowd on its feet clapping along until the end of the last song. I left the Center with the sounds of the flute and fiddle bouncing around in my head, a spring in my step and a renewed anticipation of the upcoming holiday visits with family and friends.

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