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The Art of Celtic Music

Grace Myers | Monday, October 3, 2005

The performance of Tommy Makem and the Makem Brothers was incredibly enjoyable.

The Leighton Concert Hall’s audience was a mixture of long-time Celtic music followers, musicians and aficionados, as well as many people who had almost no idea of what to expect. Tommy Makem and the Makem Brother’s highly energized performance was engaging, fun and interesting, even to the most inexperienced audience member. It was a lively and charming combination of music and story telling – a fine introduction to the Celtic music scene.

The Makem Brothers -Shane, Conor and Rory Makem – along with Mickey and Liam Spain, performed first. The quintet began with an upbeat number, which was similar to music that would be heard in a Celtic pub. They then introduced themselves formally and played a slower, more traditional song. Their sound was dynamic in that they each played different instruments and synthesized their diverse voices to fulfill each of the song’s particular moods.

Undoubtedly, the act’s greatest strength was their vibrant stage-presence. They obviously loved the music that they were playing, but also loved playing it with each other. They joked around about being brothers, about their hometown, alcohol, the Irish Catholics, the game against Purdue and Rudy. They essentially talked about things that anyone at Notre Dame can appreciate. It was evident that, despite their lineage of Irish musicians, they have established a new identity for themselves and have gained their own unique appreciation for the music.

One of the best songs performed was one written by Conor Makem. It was slower and more eloquent, dealing with the remembrance of one’s history and culture, despite the progression of life and technology. It was interesting to see him continue the making of and love for Irish music through a song that dealt with the continuation of tradition. It was particularly poignant in lieu of the fact that he is the son of a legendary Irish musician.

After intermission, Tommy Makem performed, with his son Rory on the guitar. From the moment he walked onto the stage, it was obvious that Tommy Makem is a legend and a pro. He also resembles what one would expect a typical Irishman to be. His first words to the audience were, “Is everybody sober?” This indicated that his presence would display his fun-loving and endearing nature, while maintaining still retaining the ability to engage the audience. His thin frame and thick glasses did not hinder him from belting out the complicated lyrics or playing the banjo with great technical ability.

He played an array of traditional songs including drinking songs, songs about war, children’s songs and several well-known classic songs. He told a story or a joke before each song. He also made a point of giving a background to that song that helped to explain what the song addresses, which helped set the tone so that the audience could appreciate it to a greater extent. He also played numerous songs that he had written, which were equally enjoyable. They displayed his great pride for the history and culture of Ireland. Celtic music is his means for spreading this pride and inciting interest, not only to his sons but also to every audience for which he plays.

Many times, he taught the audience the chorus of the song he was going to sing, so that they could join in the singing. There were a few songs that the audience sang along with while he stepped back from the microphone. It was an example of why Tommy Makem is a legend, and it showed his unique ability to pass on an interest and love for the music he makes.