Music of the ‘common folk’ highlighted during Celtic celebration

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By Bonnie Strassell

As slender fingers glided along its strings, the spirited violin beckoned the deep-throated viola and perky piano to join in and melodious notes, chasing each other around the room, captured hearts and created picturesque images of ancient Celts in their homelands of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Last week the Owen County Library meeting room was transformed into a Celtic celebration by a trio of talented musicians from Northern Kentucky. The Owen County Historical Society and Owen County library sponsored the event.
Doug Webb, his wife Diana and friend Barbara Salzman played lively reels, beautiful ballads and mournful laments to a large, appreciative audience of Owen countians and friends, many of whose ancestors hailed from the isles across the sea.
Doug and Diana are retired music educators and freelance performers and Barbara is a private strings teacher and director of the Blessed Sacrament String Ensemble. Their enchanting program reflected the character of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh peoples whose love of music, dancing and storytelling are inspiring.
In many of the tunes, Doug accompanied Barbara on his viola, but his portrayal of Scotland and its moors and mountains from the misty past was vibrantly visualized as he coaxed the strings of his harp into a poignant rendition of the Scottish ballad “The Mist Covered Mountains of Home.”
The harp is an ancient instrument of  Ireland Scotland and Wales. In Scotland, it was the national instrument until replaced by the bagpipes in the 15th century. It was an emblem of Ireland and Irish pride and became a symbol of resistance to England until the mid-1600s when the English king ordered all Irish harps to be burned.
The harp was also regarded as the national instrument of Wales, and through the ages, it accompanied folk singing and dancing.
Barbara performed several solos, and her violin (known as the fiddle to most poor Irish) seemed to anticipate her every move, as at times it either skipped and frolicked or slowed to a melancholy voice destined to touch the inner soul.
Diana convinced the piano of its creative role in the Gaelic gala as her fingers soared from one end of the keyboard to the other to honor the Celtic way of life.
To the delight of the audience, she also led them on a journey of Irish singing in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
Music of the common folk was highlighted in a few of the Welsh pieces, including “The Blacksmith,” in which one could hear the musical clang of the blacksmith’s mighty hammer against the anvil.
Perhaps one of the most favorite tunes was the popular “Danny Boy.” Although it has come to symbolize the Irish Diaspora and Irish national pride, its author was Frederic Weatherly, an Englishman. Weatherly’s Irish sister-in-law sent him the music to an old Irish folk song, and he used that tune for his lyrics of Danny Boy. According to Weatherly, Danny Boy is a “very universal lament about separation, the finality of death but the greater power of love.”
Though we all are Americans, each family preserves traditions, songs and stories of their ancestors. This was succinctly demonstrated by the music of Doug and Diana Webb and Barbara Salzman as they touched upon the multi-faceted storied layers of the Celtic nations and provided a glimpse into stories and songs of the past that continue to captivate the heart and delight the soul.
Join the Owen County Historical Society from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, April 27, at the museum when the society will present a Kentucky River Day. Banjo pluckin’, dulcimer and calliope playing, games, prizes, tours and paddle boat races for the kids will all be offered in this Bicentennial event.
We would like to thank all of you who continue to support us with your membership dues and donations. We are still working on paying off the major expense of the new roof we had installed in the last year. Thanks to all who have donated to the roof fund. If anyone would like to add to the fund, please send the donation to Owen County Historical Society, 206 North Main St., Owenton, KY 40359. Please make a note on your check that it is for the roof fund.