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Pauline Lerner

Iona in concert

May 14, 2006 at 5:49 AM


I’ve been out of the house twice since I fell and injured myself – once to see my doctor and once to attend a concert. Guess which one was more fun? I got rides to and from the concert, and I got in free because I do volunteer work for the concert series. I appreciate the free ticket, but I would be happy to help anyway.

The concert series, put on by the Institute of Musical Traditions (IMT), features folk music of many kinds. This was a concert of Celtic music (one of my favorite kinds) by Iona, one of my favorite groups. Many people think of Celtic music as Irish or Irish/Scottish, but there are many, many kinds of Celtic music. The ancient Celts and their descendants got around, and they left their musical imprint wherever they went – areas that are now Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, Isle of Mann, Cornwall, Wales, Brittany (in France), Asturies (in Spain), Galicia (in Spain), Cape Breton (in Canada), Acadia (in the U.S.), and even Bolivia. Iona has scouted far and wide for traditional music which might otherwise be overlooked, and they deliver it to us with gusto. They play flutes, whistle, guitar, bodhran (a traditional drum), fiddle, border pipes (similar to the Highland bagpipes but smaller and less deafening), and others, as well as the human voice. They teach their audiences to sing in various Celtic languages and to do simple Celtic dances. They are very, very good at everything they do, and their concerts are always fun.

I’ve been asking myself what makes a music group like this great. It’s not just great instrumentalists and singers, although they are. Nor is it just their choice of melodies or their improvisational rhythms and harmonies, although these, too, are outstanding. It’s not just their arrangements for various instruments and voice, which are unique. It’s not just their stage presence and their adeptness at connecting with their audience, although they excel in these areas, too. All music, but especially traditional music, is reborn every time it is played. Each group of performers makes the music their very own. Any verbal explanation of how they do it is inadequate. I can only describe the source of Iona’s greatness as their sense/understanding of the music and their captivating way of delivering it to their listeners.

The founding members and backbone of Iona are Barbara Ryan and Bernard Argent, and they are just as nice, down to earth, and accessible as they can possibly be. They are executive co-directors of the Institute of Musical Traditions, and they find and book some wonderful musicians, including those they have met in their years of performing. The IMT concerts don’t generate much money. The tickets are reasonably well priced, but IMT still needs grants to keep the concert series afloat. If they had more money, they would pay the performers more. I do my best to help with PR on the Internet, spreading the word to people who would enjoy the concerts but simply aren’t aware of them. The tiny paid staff and the group of dedicated volunteers are wonderful people to work with. They give generously of their time and talents keep the concert series going. They may have stress in their jobs or in their homes, but they feel redeemed by working together in the cause of music.

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