Free Celtic and Renaissance music concert set for tomorrow

Photo courtesy Jessica Peterson and Paul Roberts
Jessica Peterson’s clay bird ocarina.

By Jessica Peterson and Paul Roberts
Special to The PREVIEW
Jessica Peterson and Paul Roberts will perform a free concert of Celtic and Renaissance music at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Friday, Jan. 5, at noon.
Bringing to life the ancient and powerful musical traditions of Ireland, Scotland, England and Brittany, the program offers a colorful blend of lively and moving tunes played on flute, cittern, guitar, ocarina, drum, Native American flute, cello banjo and five-string banjo. The music sets a heartfelt and uplifting tone.
The portal to ancient Celtic tunes is available to the modern musician through a proliferation of recordings and the preservation of ancient manuscripts containing thousands of tunes. In this concert, English Renaissance tunes, Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, and Breton tunes intermingle, forming a radiant tapestry of sound.
Colorful English country dance tunes like “Virgin Pullets,” “Kemp’s Jig” and “The Dressed Ship”; lively Irish and Scottish jigs like “Cooley’s Reel” and “The Three Sisters”; sweet, flowing melodies like “Sí Beag Sí Mór” and “The Butterfly”; and many others will leave your toes tapping, your heart full and your ears wanting more.
“The Market Truants” was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s tale of two pigs who conspire to avoid being sold at market, dreaming of becoming potato farmers instead. After a harrowing adventure, they make their escape, dancing and singing to celebrate. Composed by Peterson and played on ocarina, it transports the listener back in time for a dance in a picturesque Renaissance village.
The ocarina is an ancient wind instrument made from clay. The instrument’s history goes back to ancient cultures in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Oddly, Europe was without ocarinas until the late Renaissance, when Aztec musicians played the small, toy-like instruments in the royal courts. Three centuries later, a young Italian brick-maker changed the ocarina to give it greater range and accurate pitch. After another hundred years, an Englishman developed a full-octave ocarina with only four finger holes. Peterson will play this sweet-sounding English style of ocarina. In the tradition of ancient ocarinas, hers is shaped as a bird.
Besides concert flute and ocarina, Peterson will play two wooden flutes. These versatile flutes and others she makes always figure into the duo’s music, regardless of the culture being portrayed.
The listing of two types of banjos on the roster begs the question, what are banjos doing in a program of Celtic music? Early settlers from the British Isles planted their musical roots in America as African Americans were planting theirs. The settlers played fiddles to accompany their dances. The slaves played banjos, which they had brought from Africa.
When the fiddles met up with the banjos, a unique Celtic-African musical fusion blossomed. Old-time music of the Southern Mountains and bluegrass, a later adaptation, are two of the American musical styles that emerged from this meeting.
Performing on banjo, beginning in the 1830s, a Virginian named Joel Walker Sweeney became the first American pop star. He learned how to play the instrument from slaves. His performances inspired a banjo craze in America and, later, in the British Isles when he performed there in the 1840s.
American banjo companies shipped banjos to the British Isles and British banjo companies started popping up. In America, banjo sales were brisk and new models were being invented. In about 1910, a shorter-necked tenor banjo became a popular instrument in America and the British Isles. This four-string banjo soon got scooped up by Irish traditional musicians and remains one of the main instruments in Irish bands to this day.
Roberts will demonstrate the cross-cultural influence of the banjo, playing a medley of tunes derived from the fiddle music of early settlers and an Irish jig. Instead of the Irish tenor banjo that one hears in Irish music today, he will play an early American instrument called the cello banjo, which he has pitched two octaves below fiddle and mandolin tuning.
Beautiful old tunes are jewels of the heart and soul. Celtic music has influenced many styles of music. It’s a pleasure to take a journey back into the roots of this great music, to get inside our cultural heritage. It’s heartfelt music that we hope you will enjoy. Please join us at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Friday, Jan. 5, at noon, for a free concert of some great Celtic and Renaissance music.