Music: Piping in the Christmas Spirit


How It’s New York: The Pipes of Christmas has three Broadway Babies playing with it: composer Steve Gibb is in Jersey Boys, fiddler Paul Woodiel is in Nice Work if You Can Get It, and cellist Sarah Hewitt-Roth is in Elf.

How It’s Irish: It’s Scottish, so Celtic, but Clan Currie actually originated in Ireland, as we learn on this week’s podcast.

The hush of falling snow. The beauty of voices blended in song. The rustle of velvet. The blare of highland pipes. The boom of brass. 

At this time of year you have your pick of Celtic-flavored holiday events: you could go to the intimate, living room session feel of the Irish Christmas concerts at the Irish Arts Center, or hear Phil Coulter in concert, sharing stories and warmth in the intimate space of Irish Repertory Theatre, or catch Cherish the Ladies on their tour (they are in Tarrytown, Troy, Philadelphia, Pawling and Mineola in the next two weeks), or catch Oisin MacDiarmada in An Irish Christmas in America in Lakewood, NJ on Friday.

For a concert that creates an air of solemnity and spirituality, along with its brogue, go hear “The Pipes of Christmas,” a Scottish concert that will be in New York City on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 2 and 7 p.m., and in New Jersey on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 3 p.m. Producer Bob Currie, of the Clan Currie Society, describes the event as an evening of Lessons and Carols… “if the lessons were from Sir Walter Scott, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Burns.”The concerts take place in churches: Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in the city, and Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, NJ, and the vaulted ceilings and wooden pews lend grandeur to the events—not to mention the sound of brass and organ.

“We can find ‘Christmas in Killarney’ everywhere and ‘Holly, Jolly Christmas,’” says Currie. “We don’t invoke the man in the red suit too much.” One of the great things about New York, for Currie, is the wide variety of events you can find everywhere. But, The Pipes of Christmas is particularly

“sacred and dignified. One year the actress Bebe Neuwirth was sitting three rows away from me, and she sobbed through the entire concert. She said it was the most incredible experience, not a Christian thing, but the soulful impac of the uillean pipes, and the pipes and brass band. A reviewer in a Jewish newspaper once said it was one of their favorite concerts of the year. Celtic music has broad appeal. It speaks to the heart and comes from the soul. It seems to warm people and bring satisfaction to those who hear it.” 

While the general format of the concert, with music and readings, hasn’t changed since the concert debuted in 1999, Currie always finds ways to switch it up and keep it fresh. This year marks the New York debut of Scottish Gaelic Mod champion singer Paul McCallum, from the outer Hebrides, who will sing in both English and Scottish Gaelic. Two new compositions will premiere at the concerts as well. “The Sea of Tranquility,” by Steve Gibb of Inverness, was written for the late astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Armstrong, Currie explains, had strong ties to the Scottish town of Langham, which made him a Freeman of the City in 1972. “That was important, because there was an old law that any member of the clan Armstrong should be hung on sight.” Cattle thieves are not popular in Scotland.

Paul McCallum

James Ross, of Wick, Scotland, composed “The Snows of Balmoral.” Currie says the piece was commissioned to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee. “I’m not a royalist,” Currie says with a laugh, “but 60 years of doing anything is worthy of commendation.” The Royals go to balmoral castle to relax, so the piece evokes the scenic beauty of the spot. While Gibb is from Inverness, he can be seen in New York as the guitarist for the Broadway show Jersey Boys. Another Broadway baby in the cast s cellist Sarah Hewitt-Roth, who is currently in Elf. Hewitt-Roth performed in The Pipes of Christmas last year, for the debut of Blair Douglas’ 9/11 memorial, “Angels from the Ashes,” and Currie pleaded with her to return.

The rock of the concert, according to Currie, is the Kevin Blandford Memorial Pipe Band of Redlands, CA, who fly in to perform, tuned to the brass and organs. A trio called “Local Hero,” including Scottish country dance expert Susie Petrov on piano and accordion, “that rascal” Christopher Layer, says Currie, on small pipes, uillean pipes, flute and whistle, and fiddler Paul Woodiel, will appear. Woodiel is a Broadway Baby too: he’s in the pit band for Nice Work if You Can Get It. The music is one of the best things in that show, so we’re particularly impressed (read our review here).

Jennifer Port, from Scotland, will play the clairseach, or wire-strung harp. Readers include James Robinson, who played young William Wallace in the film Braveheart, and Thomas Cattanach, who “invented the idea of a brand ambassador for whiskey,” Currie says. Susan Currie will narrate.

One person you won’t see on stage is Bob Currie. 

“If I get drunk enough at the cast party I’ll be playing spoons,” Currie says with a chuckle. “I handpick what I consider one of the finest companies of musicians. I provide them beautiful venues, and beautiful music, and, touch wood, deliver a full house. 
“Then I get out of their way.”  

Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 at 2:00 and 7:00 PM Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church
, 921 Madison Avenue at 73rd Street
New York City
Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 at 3:00 PM Central Presbyterian Church
70 Maple Street
Summit, NJ

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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts