Winston's Home
at the Gaelic College,
St. Ann's, NS
(16 October 2004)

Each year, the Celtic Colours festival hosts a venue dedicated to youthful up-and-coming musicians. In the past, I have really enjoyed attending this show. It is very refreshing to see such talent in our young people and the enthusiasm they bring to the stage. I found that this year's concert, although it served to display some tremendous talent, was somewhat disappointing. I would have to say that my disappointment stems more from an organizational standpoint than from the actual music I heard, although both contributed.

First of all, seating in the Gaelic College's Hall of the Clans (the concert venue) is rather dismal. The hall itself has good acoustics, but the seating arrangements make viewing rather difficult. The chairs are your standard plastic gymnasium-type chair, arranged such that if you are in the least bit "vertically challenged" (like myself), you haven't a prayer of being able to see over the heads in front of you. Not only that, but they are squished together with very little leg or arm room. Secondly (and I'm not 100 percent sure whether this is a sound problem or an annunciation problem, but...) the event's emcee was next to impossible to understand. This might not be a problem if you don't care to find out who you are listening to, but I certainly like to know! When you add long-windedness to the mix, it becomes downright frustrating.

At any rate, on to the concert itself. The afternoon began with a young lady, Nerea Gourlaouen Alonso, who was playing an unaccompanied (and un-tuned as well, by the sound of it) fiddle. She had good speed, rhythm and ornamentation in the set she played, but unfortunately, very little expression and few correct notes. I got the impression that she could be a decent fiddler -- perhaps her nerves got the best of her. Her next set added Matthew MacLennan to the mix, on guitar. This greatly improved the performance, and there were some good off-beat rhythms, but the stage presence of the pair didn't serve to capture the crowd's attention.

Next on stage was Kolten MacDonnell, a grade 10 student at Dalbrae Academy. He played a set of piano tunes learned in Scotland, which were quite good. The air had a bit of a jazzy flair, and the light, airy jigs that followed were well-played and expressive. Stage presence was still lacking, however. Matthew MacLennan then returned to the stage for a jig and reel set on guitar. He shared some banter with the audience before beginning the set, which greatly improved the atmosphere in the hall. The tunes featured a wonderfully expressive finger-picking style, and MacLennan was obviously enjoying playing -- a definite crowd-pleaser.

Give Way, an energetic young group from Scotland, were next (following a long-winded introduction). This group had much better energy and managed to breathe some life back into the audience. With accordion, drums, piano and fiddle, they played a sort of funky version of traditional tunes characterized by good expression, intricate arrangements and a foot-tapping pace. Organizers should definitely consider starting the concert with a band like this in the future! Give Way played four sets, all of which were very well done. I enjoyed the accordion/fiddle melodies, and they had crisp, clean transitions and finishes. The girls received a well-deserved standing ovation.

After the intermission, we heard again from Matthew MacLennan, with a lovely Gaelic tune. He provided both vocals and guitar, as well as engaging conversation. His voice was clear and strong, and the emotion of the song came through. Someone in the audience (mom?) knew the chorus quite well, and so we were even treated to some nice vocal harmonies. Kolton MacDonnell was back for a fiddle set next with Melissa Evans on piano. He had nice crisp playing, strong ornamentation and transitions with great pace and tone.

Grade 9 student Hannah Stockley took the stage next and played a couple of fiddle sets. Now, while I really enjoyed the music itself from this young woman -- it had great speed, ornamentation, expression and everything you need for a good performance -- I really did not enjoy the performance. Her face seemed set in stone -- she looked bored, even -- and she was simply lacking in energy. If I closed my eyes, I could hear this wonderful music, but when I looked up, she just looked like she didn't even want to be there, and that's just not entertaining to me.

Thank goodness for Samantha Robichaud! This talented musician finally showed the crowd some more energy! As soon as she walked on stage, it was obvious that we were about to be entertained. We heard lilting Acadian-style rhythms and off-beats with blazing speed, enthusiastic expression and great harmonies with the piano. She also performed a vocal number (which was well-done) and an impeccable version of the "Orange Blossom Special" that had the crowd on its feet.

The entire crew (with the exception of Give Way, who had a plane to catch) returned to the stage for a finale. They did a fine job with the tunes (although once again, only half of them looked happy to be there), and Nerea, Kolton and Burton did some great sets of steps.

So, although I enjoyed much of the afternoon's music, I still felt somewhat disappointed with the overall concert. The shortcomings could easily be remedied, however, by ensuring that when deciding on next year's participants in the concert, organizers choose performers who not only can play but who can also perform. If we really want to promote our young musicians, we need to choose representatives who have an excellent stage presence, because it can make all of the difference in the world. If the audience sees enthusiastic young people who clearly enjoy what they are doing and are good at it, it will leave them with much more positive impression. A performer who has no enthusiasm can ruin an otherwise fantastic performance!

Organizers might have more success (and a larger crowd -- perhaps with some young people in it) if they stick to a few outstanding young acts who perform longer sets, rather than the variety-show format of the last couple of years.

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 4 December 2004

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