TC Women’s Choir sings with traditional Irish band in St. Paul February 5

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On Saturday, February 5, the Twin Cities Women’s Choir will meet with traditional Irish musicians, the HiBs and special guests for an interesting and potentially powerful mashup called Celtic Fire.

The Twin Cities Women’s Choir was founded in 1997 by Mary Bussman. While the original choir had 16 singers, the group has grown to 150; 100 singers will perform on Sunday. Members include mothers, students, teachers, lawyers, retirees – in other words a cross section of women. Their mission is to sing, perform and affirm the voices of women. They perform just a few concerts each year – this season they sang Illuminations, a celebration of the return of light to our lives in December, they will perform the Celtic Fire this week and will host a Divas and Desserts show in May.

The HiBs (pronounced hi-bees from Hibernians) are a Minnesota-based traditional Irish band featuring Kate and Jode Dowling on flute and fiddle. They have invited a handful of musicians to join them for the Celtic Fire show: former Bush Fellow Daithi Sproule on guitar and vocals, Tom Kline of the Great Northern Irish Pipers Club on uilleann pipes , Ann Hayman, master of the rare wire strong harp and Brian Wade on the bodhran (Irish drum). These musicians are well known for their dedication and mastery of traditional Irish music. They will also be joined by two Irish dancers, Danielle Emblom and Rose Duffy.

Each year the Twin Cities Women’s Choir collaborates with different musicians. Jode Dowling’s sister Christina is a second soprano in the Choir. That connection brought them together initially. The Twin Cities Women’s Choir and the HiBs have been working together since September to prepare for the show.  The choir selected most pieces and the band has worked to arrange them in a traditional manner with traditional instruments. The set list includes a wide range of song from  original lyrics written by Jode Dowling to Danny Boy.

While I am far from a music expert, I was curious about how this pairing might work out. A choir of 100 voices seems so majestic and almost formal, while Irish music has always seemed to have an intimacy drawn partially from bars where the music is often heard to a prevalence of personal themes such as immigration. How would these contrasts sounds together? When asked about the process of collaboration, Kate Dowling talks about working with the choir to draw out the music from between the notes or turning the notes on the page to a living thing created with the instruments and voices. While on the other hand, Mary Bussman speaks about the challenge of capturing the lilt of the traditional music and the close juxtaposition of joy and sorrow in the music. Both have enjoyed the process and are pleased with the outcome.

From the brief sneak preview I head earlier this week, the groups have succeeded in creating a sound so powerful you can feel it throughout your body and yet so intimate that it draws on your heart strings. Having worked at a St Paul Irish bar for more than 10 years, my view of Danny Boy is jaded – but, as the video below demonstrates the newness of the choral voice on an old standard works.

Celtic Fire will be begin at 4:00 at the Central Presbyterian Church, 500 Cedar Street, St Paul. Tickets are available online.