Music News & Reviews

Celtic charm at San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble concert

Lindi Doud will accompany the Vocal Arts Ensemble on the Celtic harp.
Lindi Doud will accompany the Vocal Arts Ensemble on the Celtic harp. PHOTO BY BRIAN P. LAWLER

Here’s a dose of Celtic cheer, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

The San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble celebrates such beloved songs as “Danny Boy” and “Loch Lomond” with two concerts this weekend in a program titled “Celtic Charm.”

Inspiration arose from director Gary Lamprecht’s love of Celtic music.

“My wife and I have had a soft spot for Irish music for a long time,” explained Lamprecht, fostered by three trips to the Emerald Isle. “Each time it’s been a glimpse into a culture that is very familiar to us.”

Saturday and Sunday’s concerts will feature favorites as well as lesser-known gems. Audience members can even join in a sing-along of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.”

“People are going to feel like they’ve actually been to Ireland and Wales and Scotland,” Lamprecht said. “People who love Celtic music will love this concert.”

According to the Vocal Arts founder, the term “Celtic music” extends far beyond Ireland and Scotland. Traditional music from Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Brittany and parts of Spain and Portugal also falls under that wide-ranging category.

American folk music was influenced by immigrant communities in Boston, New York City and the Appalachian Mountains, while Canadian Celtic music flourished in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.

“Celtic Charm” pays tribute to that heritage with songs from the British Isles and beyond, performed by soloists, small groups and, in some cases, the entire 47-member choir.

Both concerts kick off with the classic “Scotland the Brave,” performed on Scottish bagpipes by Riley and Aiden Foster Evans. The brothers are both members of the Central Coast Pipe Band.

The remainder of the program ranges from the romantic ( “Star of County Down,” “Sweet Afton”) to the stirring ( “Irish Soldier Laddie”). Sure to be audience favorites are the gentle “Welsh Lullaby,” heard in the film “Empire of the Sun,” and “Dúlamán,” a haunting Irish song about two seaweed merchants.

The traditional tune known to Irish-Americans everywhere as “Danny Boy” gets two treatments — first as the Scottish folk song “My Gentle Harp,” then as a vocal jazz song.

“It has such lush harmonies that the audience is going to love it,” Lamprecht said of the jazz version of “Danny Boy” arranged by Damon Meader. “The choir already loves it.”

Vocal Arts Ensemble taps into another tradition with “Mouth Music” and the French Canadian “Reel à Bouche,” which invite singers to vocally mimic fiddles, bagpipes and mouth harps.

“It’s a glimpse of an old culture,” Lamprecht said.

The goal is to create as authentic an experience as possible, reminiscent of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo held every August at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, according to Lamprecht.

“There’s an unwritten law that you should try to relive what the composer was thinking,” he explained. “(This concert) will have a feel of traditional Celtic music, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Most of the songs in “Celtic Charm” will be performed a cappella or accompanied by a handful of instrumentalists, as they would be in pubs and private homes. Vocal Arts Ensemble got a glimpse of similar concerts when it toured England, Ireland

and Wales in 1999, Lamprecht said.

Accompanying the choir are Lindi Doud on Celtic harp, Warren Hamrick on guitar, Pat Lamprecht on viola, Kris Springer on pennywhistle and Shannon Harmon on bodhrán (Irish frame drum), button accordion and hammered dulcimer.

Lamprecht dismissed the elaborate stage shows associated with The Irish Tenors and their peers as pure blarney.

“We’re closer to the original than they are by far,” he said.