Sunday, December 9, 2012

christmas revels

I've wanted to go to a Portland Revels show for a while, now. A great lady I know has been involved with the group for years and yet I've never made it down there. Well, this week, I scored myself some tickets to their winter show, the Christmas Revels, and had myself a very nice evening, out at the beautiful old Scottish Rite building in downtown Portland.
The Christmas Revels is like that old tradition where carolers come to your home and sing, except that in this case, you're invited into their home. And asked to stay a while. What I like the most about it, though, is the historical aspect. Each year, they pick a new time and place from which to regale you. This year, it's nineteenth century Appalachia - my old stomping grounds. Kind of. Not the nineteenth century part, but a lot of my kith and kin came from or settled in Appalachia. Kind of. Maysville, Kentucky, where my Dad grew up and Cross Junction, Virginia, where I used to go visit my grandparents, are right at the edge of the purple on the map, so close that I can't tell whether they're officially in or out. But still. I'm claiming it.

You can't help but want to claim that area when you're treated to lovely banjo and fiddle music and even clog dancing. The music was by the Blue Mountain String Band, and it was loads of fun. One member of the band, Leela Grace, who played banjo, was one of the cloggers as well. The show also featured the Portland Brass Quintet, a troupe of mummers, sword dancers and a huge chorus of singers.

I love harmony and choral music, so the back and forth between that and the string band was really a treat. Lovely, lovely singing. Some highlights of the show for me...

~Soloist Suzannah Park singing the old traditional version of the hymn "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah" in a beautifully ornamented style that the program says comes from eastern Kentucky's oral tradition.

~Nedra Schnoor Egan playing the possum in the theatrical staging of the Native American story of how light was brought into the world.

~Suzannah Park and Leela Grace's duet of Say Darlin' Say.

~Clog dancing, you guys!

~Ithica Tell. Every place she appeared in the program. She was wonderful and dynamic.

There was also one song performed by the big choral group that particularly knocked my socks off, and I have no idea what it was anymore. So much of the music, I'd never heard before, so I couldn't hold onto it. Shaker hymns and shape note songs and Appalachian tunes. But I have a nice, little printed program full of interesting, historical info on all the different offerings of the evening, so I can learn more, which I love.

Square Dance

The Christmas Revels is playing through December 16. You can check out showtimes and get more info here.

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