The 4 Celtic Women brought their traditional Christmas show to a sold-out Hart’s Theater in The Egg tonight. Playing flute, a Celtic harp and the bowed psaltery, the four women sang and played 12th century songs, traditional Christian melodies and contemporary fun originals recently written.
They started with songs like “I Saw Three Ships” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” They stayed with the traditional arrangements here and through the evening, Wendy Luck accompanying most of the songs on flute, singing less than the three others.
The crowd was asked early on to sing along with “The First Noel,” but bashfully stayed silent, a few initial mumblers faded as the song went on. They did considerably better during the first set’s closer, “Deck the Halls,” led by Celeste Ray’s cheerful vocals.
Ray took the time to explain her bowed psaltery, which she played on her lap like a violin, a bow in each hand. Brought over by the Celts in the 14th century as an 11-string instrument, it was kept alive and expanded to 25 strings by the Scots in the Appalachia.
While the combination of voices was rich with character, most wonderful time were the instrumental songs: their mix of the harp, bowed psaltery and flute, with faint support from an electric bass and percussionist behind them. Some original, some traditional, the lush, gentle tones of their playing along with their ear for each other filled every corner of the hall with a lush sound.
Erin Hill on the Celtic harp — or folk harp — played an original song she described as a “Celtic science fiction Christmas song.” Accompanied by Carol Crittenden on vocals, it moved like a rock-driven show tune, enjoyable, foot-tapping and catchy. They dropped their falsetto voices to sing of reindeer flying through space in Kevlar suits.
Hill and Crittenden sang “Patapan,” a French Christmas carol that Hill said her dad used to sing when she was a child. While every song was handled gently, “Little Drummer Boy” was the most aggressively sung song of the night.
Hill told us a little about her Irish harp. For one, it’s smaller than the harps we’re used to, it lacks pedals like the larger harps, and instead uses levers to change the key of the strings. Hill then played a wonderful and waltzy “The Isle of Innisfree,” and then moved into a cheery “Silver Bells.”
The women sang “Silent Night,” capturing the peace of the song, but not its melancholy. Some of the audience joined in on this, but not with much zest.
To end the evening, Crittenden sang “What Child Is This,” followed by an uptempo traditional instrumental that they performed with perfect skill. For an encore, they sang the modern, festive Irish song “Christmas in Killarney.”
The four women smiled and sang cheerily through most every song — like a happy holiday card — staying clear of the somber side of their carols, keeping the show one dimensional. Still, it was a pleasant evening of sweet music that made the holidays official, for those who hadn’t felt it yet.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: