You Don't Have to be Irish to Enjoy Celtic Music

By Annie Shreffler   |   Thursday, March 15, 2012
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March 14, 2012
89.7 FM WGBH radio host Brian O'Donovan

BOSTON — It’s a green week here at WGBH, where we’ve enjoyed a visit from The Chieftains and we're gearing up for performances from the likes of Susan McKeown, The Bee Eaters, Jeremy Kittel and more great musicians at this year’s A St. Patrick’s Day Sojourn. (Performances are on March 17 in New Bedford and March 24 in Cambridge. Get tickets and info.)

Despite a very busy schedule, Brian O’Donovan, host of the weekly radio show A Celtic Sojourn, took a minute to talk with us about his work.

Q: You’ve done live Celtic Sojourn events now for almost a decade. Who is your primary audience? Is it Boston's Irish community?
O’Donovan: We’ve been doing A Christmas Celtic Sojourn longer than we’ve done the St. Patrick’s Day events, downtown at the Cutler Majestic Theater, and that show has been called one of the biggest Jewish-Christmas events in town! Seriously, this music connects with all kinds of people. Of course the local Irish community values the Sojourn events highly, but we get notes and emails from all kinds of people telling us how much they love the broadcasts and the live performances. I even received a note once from an African-American living in Tokyo. He thanked me for the Celtic Sojourn podcast and told me, “The music reminds me of home.”
We don’t just deliver the traditional Irish tunes. We make a point of bringing up new, unheard-of artists, and our audience gets that. They trust us when we tell them, “Here’s someone you’ll really love.” You don’t have to have a Celtic heritage to enjoy really good music.
Q: During the Chieftain’s performance this week in WGBH’s Fraser Studio, you told them you were listening to rock-n-roll in the 60s, but when you heard the tune “Trip to Sligo” on their third album, you were convinced you had been introduced to your own music.  How is it different from rock?

Listen to Trip to Sligo
It’s not so different, really. The Chieftains are in part responsible for making traditional Irish music appealing to young people 50 years ago. They took a very structured form of folk music and refreshed it with a young perspective.  For those of us looking to England and America for our music, the new stuff the Chieftains were doing introduced us back to the rich music all around us in Ireland. They do the same thing today, introducing new generations to Irish music by blending their style with collaborators like The Low Anthem and Bon Iver.
Q: You complimented Don Cuddy for a recent article on the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn by saying, “He really gets what we are trying to achieve at WGBH.” What do you mean?
Of course we want our Celtic Sojourn broadcasts and events to entertain, but our audience is smart and educated. They want more from us. As I said before, they trust us to give them more. They want to learn about musicians I’ve discovered, but they’ve never heard of. They want to know the context of the music—like what it means that a tune is Celtic, but not necessarily Irish. They even appreciate it when we explain the language and the meaning behind some of the lyrics. There was a tune the Chieftains played—School Days Over—and when I introduced it with Paddy Moloney, the way we explained that the song is about child labor, when children had to leave school and enter the mines to make a living, well, I know the audience really values context like that. They appreciate that kind of richness.

Listen to School Days Over

As Chieftain’s leader Paddy Moloney would shout at the end of a good session: “Mighty!”

SEE ALSO: The Chieftains and Jeff White's train medley (VIDEO)

Celebrating the Sounds of St. Patrick's Day

By Annie Shreffler   |   Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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March 12, 2012

Listen to the entire Chieftains and The Low Anthem performance:

BOSTON — During a world tour celebrating 50 years as one of the most celebrated traditional Irish bands in history, The Chieftains stopped by WGBH's Fraser Studio to share some tunes and have a few beers with fans and members of the WGBH Celtic Club.

Accompanying the legendary group were several other talents, including bluegrass icons Jeff White and Deanie Richardson, celebrated Scottish vocalist Alyth McCormack and the Rhode Island-based band Low Anthem, who also collaborated with The Chieftains on their new album Voice of Ages.

During the performance, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftans shared a recorded phone call he had with Irish-American astronaut Cady Coleman, currently serving on the International Space Station. To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Coleman played a tune for Paddy on a pennywhistle he had loaned her to take along some Irish tradition into space.

Before the last number for the evening, Moloney called out for anyone to join in, saying "If you have a mouth organ or you just want to stand on your head, this is your big moment."  Each musician took a solo moment in which to express their own version of the melody, and Tommy McCarthy, co-owner of Somerville pub The Burren, joined in to show he can turn a phrase on his fiddle.

You haven't missed your chance to hear live Irish music — both new and traditional — in Boston this week. Tickets are still available for A St. Patrick's Day Celtic Sojourn, appearing at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford on March 17 and at the Sanders Theaters in Cambridge on March 24. Performers include Susan McKeown, The Bee Eaters, Jeremy Kittel, Michael Brunnock and many more.

A Celtic Sojourn 2/18/2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012
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A Celtic Sojourn 1/14/2012

Friday, February 17, 2012
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A Celtic Sojourn 2/11/2012

Friday, February 17, 2012
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A Celtic Sojourn 12/17/2011

Thursday, February 16, 2012
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About the Author
Annie Shreffler Annie Shreffler
Annie Shreffler is a digital features producer, writer and photographer for She obtained an M.A. in Journalism from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and kicked off her second career as a digital projects producer for The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC New York Public Radio.


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