Wailing Banshees captivate at Spring Concert

Photo by Jessica Feinberg '18| The Wailing Banshees recently performed their spring concert in which each song contained the name of a bird.

Photo by Jessica Feinberg ’18| The Wailing Banshees recently performed their spring concert in which each song contained the name of a bird.

Eliza Going ’18
Assistant Arts Editor 

Smith College’s Irish Celtic music ensemble The Wailing Banshees held their Spring Concert on April 21, one of their two yearly full concerts.

“Welcome to a concert for the birds,” announced Ellen Redman, the director as the concert began. The tunes featured were named for birds, and an ensemble composed mainly flutes and fiddles was already reminiscent of bird-like singing and chirping patterns.

Because I was five minutes late to the show, I walked alone into the unlit ground level of Sage Hall. A dim sign pointing to Earle Recital Hall led me down a staircase, where a faint harmony of strings and flutes, whistling behind a heavy wooden door, grew louder with every step. When I walked in, the audience was captivated by a semicircle of shoeless musicians on the small stage.

Redman incorporated mini history lessons throughout the concert, presenting a little background about each tune before it was performed. One was written about St. Stephen’s Day, an Irish holiday celebrated the day after Christmas where people historically hunted a wren in response to Celtic myths about wrens flapping their wings on Irish soldiers’ shields during battle against Viking invaders. Nowadays, people instead sing songs and collect money for charity.

“The Crested Hens” by Gilles Shabbenott is “a little different than you might think,” said Redman. As a waltz, this number was a short break from the otherwise fluttery and fast-paced tunes.

Another favorite number of mine was “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” sung by the whole group, accompanied by one fiddle and one flute. The members seemed not to know the rapid succession of lyrics with the exception of the director, but everyone sang the chorus, “She is handsome, she is pretty / She is the belle of Belfast city,” at the top of their lungs.

“South of Byers Road” was a captivating and fast-paced original tune written by Ellie Davis ’16. To fit the theme, this tune was presented as “The Penguins of Byers Road,” due to the absence of penguins in the rest of the songs.

This was the most percussion-heavy number in the concert with Michaela Rohde ’17 Irish step dancing and an active presence of the bodhrán, an Irish frame drum. The rapid, constant clacking of Rohde’s shoes, coupled with the flutes, sounded like a train, evoking movement, action and change.

Davis wrote the song when she studied abroad in Glasgow but was staying with a few friends in Manchester in an apartment “steeped in musical talent.” She had never written a tune on the fiddle before, but had written songs on the piano and guitar “a fair amount.”

Davis also wrote a play, “The Legend of Galtrigillian,” which marries Celtic music with mythological storytelling and will be performed May 12 at 8 p.m. and 13 at 4 p.m. in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre. It will be free and open to the public.

The Wailing Banshees traveled through history in their spring concert, exploring Celtic mythology, holidays and tradition. Sitting in the intimate concert hall was as comfortable and familiar to me as the Converse high-tops that the dancers left strewn on the ground.

Leave a Comment