You’ll be on a dock. The wood creaking beneath your flip-flopped feet. Lake water lapping against the shore. Campfire smoke in your lungs.
A ring of chairs: plastic, metal, Adirondack. Faces peeking out through the darkness. An old face. A young face. A face you see often. A face you haven’t seen for years. You’ll strum the rusty strings of a borrowed guitar.
Each song will awaken a memory. A stubbed toe. A backyard football game. A friend’s treehouse. A bookstore. A car crash.
You’ll pull a fresh beer from the cooler and continue leading the choir. Beatles. Van Morrison. An Irish folk song from centuries ago. Afro-Man. Tupac. Wait, what? It doesn’t matter. It’s all part of the drunken symphony.
Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” Of course! But the spontaneous round singing that will erupt toward the end of the oft-sung song? An unexpected harmonic delight.
Some will belt the chorus, some will call out, “Hey, little sister, don’t shed no tears,” while others will reassure the group with, “Everything is gonna be all right.” It will all blend together seamlessly. A perfectly knitted moment.
Midnight will roll lazily by. The campfire embers will hiss with fatigue. You’ll hand the guitar back to its owner.
“Back in a sec,” you’ll say to the choir.
But then you’ll secretly make your way up to the house, hand-in-hand with a familiar face.
With St. Patrick’s Day fast approaching, playlists will soon be filling up with “diddly-i-o’s,” “mush-a ring dum-a do dum-a da’s,” and “no-nay-never no more’s.” And while it’s easy for even the most musically illiterate person to hear a Dubliners’, Clancy Brothers’, Chieftains’, or Pogues’ song and say definitively, “THAT’s Celtic music!” – getting that person to explain WHY it’s Celtic is a totally different story.
About a year ago, I sought to explain those distinctive aspects of Celtic music that make it so…errrr, “Celtic-sounding.” In addition to using several online resources, I found the textbook Focus: Irish Traditional Music by Sean Williams (available in the Kindle Store) incredibly helpful. My research complete, I presented my findings to my office in one of our weekly “Lunch & Learn” presentations.
Embedded below are the slides from that presentation, which was originally titled “An Interactive Introduction to Celtic Music.” The interactive parts included having my coworkers identify different instruments and having them write a Celtic song using a Mad Lib-style approach. I also gave a live demonstration of some of the instruments that are common to Celtic music (namely, guitar, Irish bouzouki, mandolin, and bodhrán).
There was a time when I thought I’d have a go at making music my full-time profession. And while playing at pubs in Montreal for a few bucks (and more than a few beers) was fun…probably too much fun, it eventually dawned on me that my career path lied elsewhere. So, I hung up the gig bags, coiled up the cables, and moved my butt back home to Boston.
It had been many-a-month since my last performance when I got the call from my sister. A friend of ours had just graduated from the police academy and his girlfriend was throwing him a party at a local bar in Woburn (our hometown). Live entertainment was needed and I just happened to be both alive and mildly entertaining.
Having “retired” from being a part-time pub musician, I’ve realized now that music for me is all about friends and family. My favorite gigs have always been in living rooms and backyards and front porches. Beer cans scattered lazily about. Your friend named T-Mac doing some strange dance, while the less-initiated (aka non-Woburnites) look on in horror. This coming-out-of-retirement gig felt just like one of those casual, drunken singalongs.
And I loved it.
Below are two songs from the gig. The first is a special rendition of “Dirty Old Town,” which I wrote to celebrate my sister’s recent engagement (Woo hoo!). The second is a cover of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Enjoy!