Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vocalist, flute player to blend Irish, Scottish musical traditions this Saturday in Brattleboro

Those of Scottish and Irish descent don’t enjoy having their cultures confused, but Nuala Kennedy has found a way to blend the two and honor them both. Kennedy, an Irish vocalist and flute player living in Edinburgh, visits the States Saturday with a performance at Brattleboro’s New England Youth Theatre.

While the majority of American children grow up listening to pop, Kennedy first fell in love with the traditional music of her native country. She began taking pennywhistle lessons when she was 7 growing up in Dundalk, in County Louth on Ireland’s east coast, and learned to play every traditional tune she could. “I loved practicing,” she said.

At the same time, she began taking classical piano lessons, and at 15 began studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Dublin.

The natural progression from playing Irish whistle is wooden flute, and Kennedy picked it up when she was 12. She became a member of a local ceilidh band, which won several awards for traditional music.

Although the fingering of the wooden flute is the same as a whistle, Kennedy’s is custom-made and fully chromatic, meaning it has keys to depress the holes, which gives the instrument a unique sound. “There’s a great depth to its tone,” she said.

Although she doesn’t play classical piano anymore, she uses an electronic keyboard in recording and performance, and sometimes to write music. “It’s basic but it adds texture for another dimension,” she said.

In addition to her trio, with which she has recorded three albums, Kennedy is also a member of the traditional Irish group Oirialla — she’ll record an album with the group next month. Her latest recording with her trio, “Noble Stranger,” is her third solo release on Nashville’s Compass Records label.

Kennedy’s Irish home has long historical links to Scotland, and five years ago she decided to move to Inverness, in the Scottish Highlands, to spend a year of intensive study of Scottish Gaelic.

The time she spent there helped her realize the connections between Scotland and her home country. “There’s a rich vein of musical history and tradition,” she said. “It’s something I’m very interested in.”

Within traditional Irish music, she explained, there’s a massive range of styles — and Scottish traditional music is the same. “It’s all very regional,” she said.

She said the rhythm of Scottish music is a bit different as a general rule from that of Irish traditional music, and the bagpipes have a huge influence on Scottish traditional music.

“There’s social factors as to why things evolved differently,” she said. “But the traditional music (of Scotland and Ireland) have the same origin. They’re both dance forms with a long history and they’re both connected by the Gaelic language.”

During her last tour, Kennedy spent time learning about traditional music in Canada, in Cape Breton; and in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.

Because trends have affected the evolution of traditional music, Kennedy believes it’s important to have her own interpretation to add.

“Traditional music has never been static,” she said. “No one will play exactly like their father or grandfather.”

But interpreting first and foremost means honoring for Kennedy.

“We’re still following the traditional outline for all our material,” she said. “But we’re leaving space for our own ideas.”

Nuala Kennedy will perform with fiddler Dana Lyn and guitarist Kyle Sanna Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St., Brattleboro. Tickets are $18-$21 and can be purchased at Call 802-257-1571 for more information.

Vocalist, flute player to blend Irish, Scottish musical traditions this Saturday in Brattleboro - Entertainment News

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