Scottish-born Maeve Gilchrist, among the featured performers at this year’s “Christmas Celtic Sojourn,” has been awfully busy of late, but she paused in her recent travels to discuss the show, her past times in Boston, and her childhood memories of the holiday season.
Q. This is your second go-round with “Christmas Celtic Sojourn.” What was it about your first experience with the show that made you want to return?
“I had a fantastic time on every level during my time with the “Christmas Sojourn” two years ago. It was a chance to collaborate with some of my favorite musicians on some beautiful stages, but just as importantly, I made some really wonderful new friends. There was a memorably great vibe in the cast of that show – supportive and fun in equal measures. I think that Brian [O’Donovan] knows the importance of hiring musicians who get on both personally and musically and the show was so rewarding on both those levels. Additionally, who doesn’t love a bit of Christmas indulgence?”
Q. Give us an insight into the preparations for the show: You probably trade ideas and thoughts via e-mail, Skype, etc., beforehand but what is it like when you finally all get together? Is it hours and hours of jamming and directed practices, and then exhausted sleep?
“Yes - all of that! We’re lucky to have Seamus Egan as our patient and insightful music director. Ideas get swapped around before the show, but if I remember correctly, it’s really the rehearsal week where the magic happens. The musical arc of the show seemed to shape around everyone’s strengths, giving each artist the space to do their own thing while contributing to the supporting musical tapestry the rest of the time. During the rehearsal process, ideas are constantly being thrown out and shaped to the line-up available. Someone will hop on the piano, create a backing vocal or harmony line on their instrument. As someone who loves the challenge of creating both as a solo artist and as a side person, it’s a perfect gig.”
Q. Do you have any special memories of Christmas/New Year’s as a kid? Do you find these inspire you as you get ready for “Christmas Celtic”?
“Certainly! Christmas was a magical time in my household and I still get a kick out of the lights, the trees, and the child-like anticipation leading up to the day. We had our own Christmas traditions including pillowcases (instead of stockings), our verbose great aunt Betty, and whiskey for Santa (milk didn’t cut it in Scotland).
And the biggest celebration of all came at New Year’s, or “Hogmanay” as we call it in Scotland. The kitchen would be crammed with family and friends. We’d count down the bells as my father played the small pipes and when the clock struck midnight we’d all join hands and sing the original version of “Auld Lang Syne.” It was a party that always went long into the night and our neighbors and friends of all ages would stay up together to welcome in all the fresh hope of the new year. Good times!”
Q. You have a history with Boston, going back to when you were a student at Berklee College of Music, and another period when you lived in town for few years. How did your experiences here influence you as a musician, and as a person?
“I moved back to Boston in 2009 after a couple of years away. I was drawn back by the rich “new acoustic” music scene that seemed to be exploding around that time. So I remember lots and lots of tunes. It was a time that I think really informed my playing. Just the sheer amount of jamming and creating – it felt like I was part of a scene and everyone around me wanted to make music just for the love of it. It’s hard to tell whether the music was good or bad - but it was certainly a lot of fun.
My roommate at the time was Matt Smith, the manager of Club Passim. That place really became like a second home while I was living in Boston. Either playing or taking in a concert, it was a great hang in a historic club that still seems very much at the heart of the music in scene in Boston.”
Q. You’ve explored other genres in your music other than trad and folk, of course. What are some of your current/ongoing projects and activities?
“I’m currently sitting in Orlando airport having finished a residency at a college here with one of my collaborators, Nic Gareiss. He’s a wonderful percussive dancer and we have a duo project I’m very proud of. It’s raw and challenging and (hopefully) evocative. We aim to take elements of traditional music and use it to come up with a language between the footwork and the harp, trying to move away from what is commonly expected of our respective instruments and create a duet that intertwines the two.
“I have two recording projects coming up in January and February. I’ll be flying to Nashville to make a record with the great bassist Viktor Krauss. I met him at the Berklee American Roots festival last summer and we both enjoyed that collaboration so much we decided to make a record that will be released on Adventure Music.
“I’m also making a record with the fantastic local hardanger fiddle player Mariel Vandersteel, with whom I worked with in the “Christmas Celtic Sojourn” a couple of years back. We’re working with the electronics artist Charlie Van Kirk and New York City-based electric guitarist Kenji Herbert to create a recording in January. I can’t wait for both of these.
“And I’ve been commissioned to write a lever-harp concerto for the Western Piedmont Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina to be debuted in March 2017, and I’ve been spending a lot of the past few months coming up with the raw material for that.
“It’s a busy, busy time. But I love every minute of it!”
– SEAN SMITH