Lively String Band concert puts Irish culture to music

In an inspired streak of cultural pride, I attended the 35th annual Pre-St. Patrick’s Day Concert in Wadsworth Auditorium on Saturday March 8. Although it made me realize just how unaware I am of the heritage behind my green eyes and pasty skin, the show influenced me to delve into a culture that I too often reduce to physical characteristics.

A solemn opening by the Geneseo Clarinet Choir offered itself as a harmonious base from which the spirit of the evening could only grow. In a delightful change of mood, the Geneseo String Band impressed the audience with upbeat percussion, fiddling and cello strumming.

The Geneseo Flute Choir and an accordion joined in, completing the wonderfully eclectic assortment of sounds. The tune conjured up images of a chipper lad in a felt cap leading me through the Dublin streets at lunchtime. For the duration of the evening, this vision would accompany me through many of the musical numbers.

My mirage dissipated at multiple points, however, especially when members of Sláinte Irish Dance and the Drumcliffe School of Irish Dance entered the stage. The dancers performed traditional Irish step, dazzling the audience with high kicks, forceful knee extensions and poised upper bodies. They performed throughout the night, never waning in energy and often asserting their own music with tap shoes.

At the very beginning, lecturer of music and concert director Jim Kimball set the tone for the entire show: “If you want to hum along, feel free,” he said. Much to my chagrin, I did not know any of the traditional songs on the program. I was lucky, however; a few lovely Irish heritage connoisseurs were seated behind me, and as they crooned I soaked up their gleeful affinity for folklore.

One of the songs that invited the most audience involvement was “McNamara’s Band.” I became instantly excited as a smiling man with a banjo took center stage. He proceeded to lead with his voice, which resembled that of the captain in the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song –albeit less enthusiastic about fish. Although I could not sing along, the tune sounded like one I had heard long ago at some obscure family gathering.

Before I knew it, everyone was clapping, foot stomping and head nodding. Once I discerned this liveliness throughout the crowd, I didn’t feel so alien to my own roots. Everyone was here to celebrate and have a good time, regardless of background.

Later, Kimball introduced “old-time waltzes.” With accordion accompaniment, members of the dance groups sporadically waltzed onto the stage, often bungling in a lighthearted, hilarious manner.

Another star performance of the evening was “Kathleen Mavourneen,” sung by junior CJ Roche. Backed by a piano and fiddles, Roche demonstrated his exquisite vocal range and was even able to silence the jolly clapping for a little while.

Stomping into the upcoming holiday with cultural flair, the concert celebrated serious Irish heritage with lax humor and style, encouraging everyone to share in the joy.