CD: Winter Air
Artist: School of Irish Music

Winter AirWhile a recording of Gaelic or Celtic music is not unusual to find, one that was performed by children is. However, you would never guess by listening to it that many of the instrumentalists and vocalists range from age 9 to 18. All of the songs are traditional Irish tunes representing Christmas, New Years, and the winter season. According to Tim Kennedy, who is the album’s producer and Executive Director for the School of Irish Music: “It was created as a way to help raise funds to take kids from the school to Ireland in summer 2014 to help them learn about Irish culture and history, and get music instruction first hand from those who created it. The CD features 14 solos/ small ensemble pieces from our advanced vocalists and instrumental performers backed up by school instructors. A few songs even feature world-renowned Irish fiddler, James Kelly, who serves as the school’s Irish Heritage Advisor.” The school, a non-profit organization, is headquartered in Dallas and has 4 locations around Texas that teach traditional Irish music instrumentals and Gaelic singing/ chorus.


The Winter Air album came to my attention via Pamela and Randy Copus of the award-winning duo known as 2002. I Pamela & Randy Copushave had the pleasure of writing about a number of their incredible albums. Their 9 year-old daughter Sarah attends the school and is featured on Winter Air, as well as on the latest 2002 release entitled Believe – A Spiritual Romance. Randy and Pamela offered their state of the art recording studio for the project and had a major role in the production. The school could not have had better mentors given the high level of professionalism and quality of the recordings they produce. Over the years, their own music has enjoyed stellar chart success, awards, and nominations. I really can’t speak highly enough of their work.


As can be imagined, the making of this album was a dream come true for the students involved. In the words of the director: “What started out as a project to record a few tunes turned into what was a life changing experience for so many involved. The kids on the CD got really excited and focused on this. They spent hundreds of hours practicing and in every case, took their musicianship to a much higher level, and in many cases, even astonished themselves at what they could do. They endured take after take to get it perfect, often asking if they could try just one more to get it just right. And in the process, they learned what they can accomplish with hard work, and how satisfying performing music can be.”


Sarah CopusThe idea was to create a holiday release, but rather than the well-trodden Christmas classics, it was important that the songs were authentic Irish tunes. The opening song, with the title of “Gleanntáin Ghlas’ Ghaoth Dobhair” is about as authentic Irish as you can get. It translates as “the green glens of Gweedore“. The song is one of the well-known Irish language songs of Ireland and it can be heard in many Irish pubs around the world. As much as I’d like to go into detail on every piece and its performers, with 14 tracks, it would be a lot to cover. But I will mention here the names and instruments of the advanced soloists, which will also provide a glimpse into the variety of instrumentation:

Sarah Copus (9) – harp, whistle, Gaelic vocals, Clio Heathe (12) – Irish fiddle and vocals, Aiden and Elliot Nychka – fiddle, mandolin, and whistle, Peter Dhooghe – bodhran, Liam Dhooghe – vocals and whistle, Brenna Campbell (16) – fiddle, Nathan Kennedy (12) – violin, Sam Hatch – guitar, banjo, and mandolin, Arthur Hatch – whistle, Alexandra Koch (16) – whistle and vocal, and Aidan Flanagan (12) – fiddle.


Here is a sampling of some of the highlights of this delightful album. One of the most well known ballads is “Foggy Dew.” Although the song does have lyrics, it is presented here in an instrumental version. Being an Irish lament, it captures that bittersweet feeling often found in Celtic music, and is expressed with great soulfulness on the harp and Irish whistle. Striking a very different emotional tone is the lively, upbeat “Christmas Day In The Morning,” that makes you feel like getting up to dance a jig. Also expressing a celebratory mood is “New Years Night,” with its bouncy festive air. One thing I found interesting on this tune, as well as some others, was the style of the acoustic guitar playing, which was excellent, although new to me in terms of being traditional Irish music. However, I’ll be the first to say that I am far from being an expert in this genre. But I did enjoy it and felt like it added a lot to the compositions where it was heard.


Another song I was somewhat familiar with was “Gort na Saileán – Down By The Salley Gardens.” The lyrics, which are students preparing to recordbeautifully sung here, first in Gaelic, and later in English are based on a poem by William Butler Yeates and tells the story of young love and loss. There is a wistful feel captured in this tune that is quite evocative.  (Incidentally, a salley is a willow tree, whose branches are used for thatched roofs of cottages.) And speaking of evocative, “Don Oíche Ud I Mbeithil,” which translates as “That Night In Bethlehem,” and is a tribute to the birth of the baby Jesus, is absolutely haunting. While most of the songs on the album are performed by small ensembles of two or three musicians or vocalists, the last two compositions are much more elaborate productions. “Apples In Winter” includes 17 musicians, while the final track, “The Frost Is All Over,” is performed by 27 instrumentalists, and provides a grand finale to this wonderful project.


One of the things that impressed me the most about this recording was hearing young people in this age range devote themselves so completely to learning this music and developing the ability to perform it so well. With all the technologically enhanced superficial teen pop music flooding the market these days, it is gratifying and encouraging to find a recording by young people on real instruments creating authentic traditional music with substance and feeling. The project was evidently a transformative experience for these students in the studioyoung performers. In the words of producer, Tim Kennedy: “Most of all they changed… from students… to musicians. For so many, it dawned on them why practice is so important, and what their own persistence could do. The smiles on their faces after they heard the result, the determination they showed, and their own drive to produce the best they possibly could was one of the most heart-warming things many of us at the school have personally experienced. In the most wonderful of ways, it changed their lives, and many of the adults who helped them.” I was also quite moved, not only by the music, but also by the story behind it. I’m happy to support such an inspiring and worthwhile project and highly recommend it.