Note: NJPAC has suspended performances through April 13. Check with SOPAC about Eileen Ivers, as with all venues.
Tuesday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.
One SOPAC Way, South Orange
By GWEN OREL
We’re in the throes of what the Irish call “the season,” the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, when Irish musicians make the money that sustains them for months, when you can find green bagels, when everybody’s a little bit Irish.
St. Patrick’s Day is Tuesday, March 17.
Here are a couple of area concerts to keep your Irish eyes (and remember they are all Irish this month) smiling. Concerts may be cancelled: check with venues. CDs and links still available, for the music that’s in it!
It was not Paddy Moloney’s idea to call this spring’s tour with The Chieftains the “farewell tour” or “An Irish Goodbye.”
But after 58 years, it is not surprising the band, which boasts six Grammy awards and an Academy Award, would decide to lie low for a bit.
The band, featuring Paddy Moloney on uillean pipes and tin whistle, Kevin Conneff on bodhrán and vocals, and Matt Molloy on flute and whistles, have been cultural ambassadors for Ireland for more than half a century. They were the first Western musicians to perform on the Great Wall of China, in 1983; that same year, they were the first group to perform at the U.S. Capitol, invited by then-Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and Sen. Ted Kennedy; in 2002; Moloney played a lament for victims of 9/11 on the Ground Zero site; and in 2010 NASA astronaut Cady Coleman took Paddy Moloney’s whistle and Matt Molloy’s flute to the International Space Station. Coleman recorded songs in 2012 with The Chieftains for the band’s 50th anniversary album, “Voice of Ages.”
The Chieftains have played with Japanese musicians for more than 30 years. A group of Japanese young women have even formed a band called “The Lady Chieftains,” playing Chieftains albums note-for-note.
What The Chieftains play is traditional Irish music (“trad”), but they have collaborated with musicians from many different cultures, including Mexican musicians for the 2010 “San Patricio” album, country singers for the 1992 “Another Country” album, and with pop musicians Van Morrison, Bon Iver, The Decemberists, and Carolina Chocolate Drops. They have made 45 albums, including soundtracks and live albums.
“Cultural ambassador” is not a feature writer conceit, either: the band received the title of “Ireland’s Musical Ambassadors” from the Irish government in 1989.
Sunday’s concert will have a video showing some reminiscences of the band through the ages — it began with Moloney, whistle player Sean Potts, and dancer/musician Mick Tubridy — including clips of The Chieftains with Tom Jones, Mick Jagger and Sting.
As always, The Chieftains will invite local musicians onstage; a local choir will sing “The Long Journey Home,” by Elvis Costello, Moloney said.
Fifty-eight years is a long time. Did Moloney ever imagine the band would exist this long?
“Heavens above!” he said with a laugh, from Chicago. “I cannot believe it.”
But he finds himself so inspired by the musicians he wants to work with, he intends to keep going.
“They’re still wanting to get together, and create that magic of music.”
To him, music is essential, like food and drink.
The Chieftains concert at NJPAC will include Ottawa Valley step-dancing from the Pilatski brothers, Catriona Marshall on harp, and vocals by Eilish McCormick, who hails from the Isle of Lewis on the west coast of Scotland. Moloney is now 81, but having these young musicians around keeps the show lively.
‘When you walk on the stage you get a standing ovation,” he said with a laugh.
Playing with musicians of different cultures has not changed his approach to Irish music: rather, he thinks, Irish music has made its way around the world. The “San Patricio” album was recorded in Mexico. “I could have spent two weeks.I could have made four albums,” Moloney said.
The album was inspired by the Irish battalion who fought with the Mexicans in 1847, during the Mexican-American war.
Irish music has only got better since he began performing, Moloney said.
“Younger people are playing. Back home and throughout the world, the Irish traditional music, the genuine music itself — even with the Japanese, who have started an uillean pipers association, and made me the honorary chairman — it is so encouraging. And back home, it’s, you know, it’s rampant. I mean, it used to be at one stage, that you were a bit shy about playing, you know, this diddly-eye music.
“There’s just something that touches the heart. You don’t have to be Irish.”
Just the day before he left for this tour, Moloney put some music to the work of a poet. “I can’t see anything stopping, if you know what I mean. I think until the Lord takes me, that’s how it’s going to be.”
Bronx-born Eileen Ivers has been playing the fiddle since she was a little girl. She wanted to play it since she was a toddler: her parents tell her she roamed about the house with a wooden spoon and a pink plastic guitar, mimicking a violin.
“I don’t remember it,” Ivers said with a laugh. A founding member of Irish-American “supergroup” Cherish the Ladies, led by whistle and flute player Joanie Madden (also of the Bronx), Ivers has performed with Riverdance, and is famous for her blue electric fiddle. She has released seven solo albums, and her eighth, “Scatter the Light,” comes out on Friday, March 13.
She has won nine All-Ireland fiddle championships, and a 10th for tenor banjo.
Like The Chieftains, Ivers has collaborated with musicians in many different styles; Cajun, French-Canadian, country.
She plays SOPAC on St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17.
Her 2016 album “Beyond the Bog Road” was a deeply researched investigation of Irish music and its influences and connections, with a beautiful booklet.
“Scatter the Light” is different: it is 11 tracks of joyful, and some original music, including the final track “You Are Strong,” that uses looping violin, and Ivers’ voice in a rap intonation, telling the story of a friend who was sexually assaulted.
Ivers saw a friend’s post on Facebook and felt it so viscerally, she wanted to express it somehow. Her friend agreed, and the result is a unique track that has elements of Irish trad, and a wholly contemporary sound. Her friend said, “You made something beautiful out of something that was so horrible.”
Ivers may even put it out as a single, to raise money for charity.
She will never get tired of the violin, she said, there’s nothing it cannot do, and it’s “the closest thing to the human voice.” Driving around with her 10-year-old, who plays her old 3/4th-size violin, she may hear a Billie Eilish song and be inspired.
While the music is trad-inspired, there is not one traditional reel or jig on the CD: everything is composed.
“The timeline of folk music, there are things that are similar for sure,” she said with a laugh. “There’s a poppier sense to this album that came out. There’s a tune I wrote, ‘Zero G,’ that I wanted to be based on a four-chord progression. I wanted it to be a calming thing.”
It is natural for Ivers to think in terms of numbers: she was a magna cum laude graduate from Iona College in New York and has done post-graduate work in mathematics, too. At one point she thought she would work for NASA and be an engineer.
“Math fuels what I do,” she said. “The logic that’s in math, when we prove theorems, there’s beauty, elegance and creativity. Harmonies are pure math. Ratios and arrangements and tunes and timing. There’s a logic to it.”
“Scatter the Light” also includes some Christmas songs.
“There’s music, reflections, faith, and gratitude,” Ivers said. “There’s that uplifting quality of taking a chance and going for it. I included two seasonal songs because for me, in my life, I do thankfully go to a faithful place, and that does get me through many of life’s challenges.”