A! Magazine for the Arts

Seated from left, Anna Gilmer, Will MacMorran, Stephanie Muncie. Standing, Jane MacMorran, Kathryn Shanks, Myra Shanks and Rachael Emery. (Photo courtesy of Celtic Air)

Seated from left, Anna Gilmer, Will MacMorran, Stephanie Muncie. Standing, Jane MacMorran, Kathryn Shanks, Myra Shanks and Rachael Emery. (Photo courtesy of Celtic Air)

Recent Concert a Reunion for the Strings of Celtic Air

March 17, 2008

*** This story appeared in the Johnson City Press Friday, Mar. 14, 2008 ***

Nine years ago, fiddler and teacher Jane MacMorran got together a group of her young classical violin students and hooked them on traditional Celtic music. Little did she realize her group, Celtic Air, would have such staying power.

"We really just did it for fun. We didn't have any long-range plan at all. I think when we first started out I was tuning their violins," she recalls with a laugh. "Originally I would bow every single tune so they'd all go in the same direction, but as they've gotten older it's become a collaboration."

She added, "It was the kids who worked so hard on classical stuff, and this was sort of a fun outlet. Once we got going, there was no stopping it, really."

Despite the fact they've all grown up and moved on, the members will reunite today for a free Celtic Concert at East Tennessee State University to kick off St. Patrick's Day weekend. The show will include The Muses, an all-female a capella group from Asheville, N.C., and will take place in Bud Frank Theatre in Gilbreath Hall at 7 p.m.

MacMorran is a former U.S. Scottish Fiddling Champion who teaches Celtic music in ETSU's Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program, and directs the Appalachian, Scottish and Irish Studies Program ? both of them part of ETSU's Center for Appalachian Studies and Services.

Celtic Air has played for numerous festivals, toured Scotland six times, made three albums and developed quite a fan base and reputation. The music, as described by a Scottish review, is "high-energy traditional Celtic with a New World feel." The lineup originally included nine fiddlers and guitarist Will MacMorran, Jane's son. Now it comprises six fiddlers plus Will's guitar accompaniment.

MacMorran remembers when things got started. She had a handful of students attending different local elementary and middle schools who didn't even know each other. The longer the group stayed together, though, the better it became.

"They have really dedicated themselves to this," MacMorran said. "I didn't expect us to play as much as we have. There was one St. Patrick's Day weekend where we had maybe six or seven performances."

The band has been featured on Public Radio International's "From the Top" and Will, who is also a piper, was featured on a different show. Their resume includes playing the prestigious Speyfest in Scotland as well as the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention. They've played with the Symphony of the Mountains. Celtic Air has also given numerous post-concert workshops.

The current lineup consists of Jane and Will MacMorran, sisters Kathryn and Myra Shanks, Anna Gilmer, Stephanie Muncie and Rachael Emery.

"The concert is a little bit of a reunion for us," MacMorran said. "Over the years everybody has scattered. They're at different colleges and the age ranges a lot for the members, so to play together is a challenge.

"But I think they're still excited and committed to playing. Everybody has been working on it on their own. The thing that's such a kick is that, when we've gotten back together, it just clicks. And that's extremely exciting."

The last time Celtic Air performed was at the 2007 Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Bristol last October. Their last trip to Scotland was 2006, although MacMorran said they hope to do another one perhaps this summer.

"When I was contacted about this ETSU performance, I thought it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and ask, and everybody just jumped on it," she said. "They were excited about playing."

They'll share the stage with The Muses, a three-woman group singing a mix of Celtic, traditional Appalachian, Americana and world music. Their repertoire covers a wide range and includes original compositions, spirituals, soul numbers and songs from Ireland and Scotland. The Muses have released two CDs, "Angel" (July 2003) and "Celtic Hillbilly Soul" (Jan. 2007).

Members are Gail Forsyth, Natalie Grinnell and Judy Rhodes.

The concert is sponsored by CASS and ETSU's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.

For more information, call 423-439-4223.