River City Brass ‘goes green’ with ‘Celtic Connections’ | TribLIVE.com

River City Brass ‘goes green’ with ‘Celtic Connections’

Rex Rutkoski
River City Brass prepares to make a “Celtic Connection” at the Palace Theatre, Greensburg, March 2.

Whatever condition people arrive in for a River City Brass (RCB) concert, predicts its marketing director Andrew Blight, they will leave feeling better.

“We’re in the business of lifting spirits,” he says.

That will be especially easy to achieve for the people-pleasing organization with its annual “Celtic Connections” concert at The Palace Theatre, Greensburg, 7:30 p.m. March 2, always one of the most popular offerings of the RCB season.

The program honors the musical heritage of Ireland, Scotland and Appalachia, with selections ranging from the almost obligatory “Amazing Grace” to “Highland Cathedral,” “Oh Danny Boy,” “Take Me Home Country Roads” and even “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

The Celtic tradition is full of great tunes says Natrona Heights resident Drew Fennell, a Kittanning native, a composer-arranger who is principal solo flugelhorn. “These tunes have an unpretentious aspect that appeals to everyone. I think American folk music has a similar appeal, and that speaks to its connections to the Celtic music. And there you have your ‘Celtic Connections,’ ’’ he says.

He has conducted the River City Youth Brass Band since 2005. In 2007, he joined the faculty at Grove City College as adjunct professor of trumpet.

It’s amazing

“Amazing Grace,” with the pipes and drums of Carnegie Mellon University, is one tune that is expected every year.

It seems “Amazing Grace” with the pipes has become a standard.

Celtic music is based on a five-note scale, which is at the same time the basis for the folk music of many countries, explains music director James Gourlay via email from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the River City Brass Ensemble was performing.

“We know that the Scots left their land and settled in Appalachia and other parts of the US. They brought their instruments, their songs and so, of course, left an indelible mark on the music of America,” he says.

Bound to place

Irish music, says Blight, is so bound to its place of origin that it is almost part of the geography of Ireland.

Hearing Irish music brings you there, he suggests, and it is more transporting than music that is not identifiably ‘of’ a place. “Also, there is a melancholy longing for home that is almost always present in Irish music,” Blight says. “That sort of longing is common to all people, regardless of their place of birth.”

“Celtic Connections III” will offer “lots of energy, lots of notes,” says Fennell. “This is tuneful music which will stick with you beyond the end of the show. Our performances are powerful, but there is subtlety there too.”

Bagpipes rule

Gourlay says the sound of the bagpipes with the group is “simply thrilling,” especially when the pipes march though the concert hall to join the RCB on stage.

“Last year, reminds Blight, the RCB was voted “#1 in Family Entertainment” by the readers of the Trib newspapers.

“This would be a great opportunity for parents (or grandparents) to get their kids interested in attending live concerts,” he suggests.

River City Brass finds the Palace a wonderful place to entertain. “We love the Palace for its ambiance and great acoustics. The Greensburg audience is also very welcoming,” says Gourlay.

The musicians certainly enjoy playing there, adds Fennell. “I like the character of the place. There’s nothing like the workmanship and artistry you see in buildings from 50 or more years ago,” he says.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Categories: AandE | Music
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