I recently had the privilege of attending a concert, put on by the Irish sextet Celtic Thunder, that managed to capture much of what was once wonderful about music. For three hours, these six men enraptured the crowd with songs of chivalry, poverty, romance, unrequited love, battle, and, of course, Ireland.
English composer Benjamin Britten once mused, “It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness, of pain, of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony.”
Those who listen only to the “songs” produced by the commercial machine of pop culture music may well wonder what this means, and even doubt that Britten was correct. The beauty of real music has been lost—the alternatively soothing and rousing strains of instruments such as the violin, harp, and bagpipes and the ballads have been replaced by the same tired beat and the same tired lyrics with a constant stream of new pretty faces. Celtic Thunder makes a valiant—and rather successful—attempt to revive the time-honored musical arts of harmony and story-telling.
Save for me and a handful of others, the audience was an amalgam of over-fifty’s. While the kindly old lady next to me assured me that they often attract “young people” in bigger cities, I have my doubts that “young people” (at least those in Generation Y and later) even appreciate music like this. My generational counterparts are not so much interested in music that is experienced (at least without the aid of alcohol or narcotics) rather than simply listened to. Instead, we seem to be more interested in the jarring rock and hideous pop music that smashes you in the face and clubs the senses rather than nourishes.
In a porn-saturated culture, concepts like unrequited love, romance, and chivalry often seem rather passé. Hip hop and rap “artists” seem perfectly capable of supplying the auditory pornography craved by the younger generation.
Now, I’ll confess that I’m quite a traditionalist when it comes to music and in that sense, this editorial is heavily biased. What Celtic Thunder does is very appealing to people with my sensibilities—reviving old folk songs, singing old hymns, breathing new life into past ballads that arch over the years into relevance as the singers connect with the audience. Even the setup of the stage was very nostalgic—a background of vast ocean with a triple-masted ship at harbor, a cobblestone walkway flanked by piles of rocks resting somehow mysteriously beneath a slow-moving film of mist. Then, a deep voice intones from somewhere on the waters:
“Out of the mists of Time it comes
Older than the oldest rhyme it comes
Coursing through our veins it comes
Pulsing in our brains it comes
The pure um primal sound of drums.”
I felt as if I was staring into the past—and when the six men strode up the cobblestone walkway with manly roars, I felt like I was hearing it.
The entire evening was nothing short of spectacular. Songs like “The Maid of Culmore,” “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” “Ireland’s Call” and “Heartland” had the audience clapping, cheering, and at times, crying. The harpist, cellist, and violinist did an exquisite job adding flavor to the various songs. The singers and the instrumentalists all had amazing chemistry, and I really got the sense that they were enjoying every minute on the stage. If I had to pinpoint (at gunpoint) one flaw in their performance, it was when they sang Garth Brooks’ blue collar anthem “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places”—not that they did a bad job, it just didn’t seem to fit with their repertoire and felt a bit jarring and out of place.