Posts tagged ‘music’

St. Patrick’s Day, 2020

With a last name like Schmidt, you probably wouldn’t expect me to be Irish, but my mother was Irish. We have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and, in the past 10 years or so, the annual gathering included me, my mom and dad, and my uncle and aunt (Mom’s also-Irish sister). We’d all wear green, put on leprechaun hats, and cook up something like shepherd’s pie or corned beef. Then we’d sing some special songs and raise a glass to our Irish relations and ancestors. The mixture of tradition and shenanigans made it one of my favorite days of the year.

As happens in life, sometimes you do a thing, and you don’t know that you are doing it for the last time. I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with Mom on March 17, 2019. In July, she passed away.

In January of this year, I saw an advertisement that the traditional Irish band The Chieftains was going to be in Pittsburgh in March. I cannot claim to be an expert, but I have an album or two that I like. It was called a good-bye tour, so I thought it might be my last chance to see them. And I thought of St. Patrick’s Day and how March was going to be a tough milestone. And, in that moment of jumbled sentiment, I bought tickets.

When the day of the concert arrived (March 9), I considered whether I should go. I had some concerns about germs. I had greater concerns about a previous occasion when I bought tickets to a (potentially) similar performance that turned out to be excruciating. And, beneath it all, I was experiencing the inertia that often threatens to overwhelm me these days when I anticipate going anywhere that requires makeup, bra, and shoes.

But I’d paid for the ticket and invited a friend, so I went. I went expecting to see three old Irish guys sitting on a stage with a flute, a tin whistle, and a drum.

The three guys were there all right (and they are phenomenal), but they were not alone on stage. There were also tap dancers, Irish step dancers, and The Pilatzke Brothers (a mix of Irish step, tap, crazy legs, and boyish abandon). There was a pipes and drum band. There were singers. There were fiddle players, a harpist, a guitar and accordion player, and, for the second half of the concert, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Talk about your bells and whistles. It was quite an extravaganza and one of the best musical shows I have ever seen/heard anywhere. All the adjectives feel trite, but it was superb, inspiring, moving, wondrous, magical.

There were jigs and good humor a’plenty. There was laughing, toe-tapping, and clapping. There were also ballads. Oh the ballads. When they played the sweeping melodies of the slow songs—haunting, beautiful, magnificent—I was done in. Had I been alone, I would have wept. Not for grief or longing or sadness or regret (although there was a bit of all of that). Not for joy or beauty or love (although there was a bit of all of that).

I wanted to weep for being. 

It’s not the prettiest of analogies, but:  If you ever had an old furnace with a re-usable metal filter and if you ever removed that filter and took it outside and turned the hose on full blast and blew all the gunk away . . . and in the end, the filter is sunlight-glinting clean and it can function again . . . it was kind of like that.

Live music, when it’s really good, it’s physical. It creates and transfers an energy, like an ancient Ley line from performer to audience, that vibrates every cell. It lifted me. It carried me. It was metamorphic.

We humans need music. We need music like we need air and water. (It’s a life preserver.)

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, take in some music. Blast your stereo, buy the tickets, support some local musicians, or just encourage your descendants to sing and play and stomp their feet.

To Rebecca Douglas, my great, great, great grandmother; to the Crokers and the Yochums and the McNallys; to the Maloneys; to the Daughertys. To Aunt Mitz. To Mom.

To you all, Sláinte.


Video:  One of the Chieftains (Matt Molloy) playing Easter Snow.

March 13, 2020 at 5:05 pm 2 comments

Musical Life Preserver

After a debilitating four-day, 50-plus-hour week and a yet another teeth-grinding commute from North to South, my week ended on a high note.

After a pit stop at home, I took a relatively breezy drive into Oakland to get to the classy-comfy, ushered, delightfully step-back-in-time Carnegie Music Hall (where parking in the lot behind the museum is just 5 bucks!) to see the River City Brass Band.

Tickets to the show can be had for as low as $21. For just a bit more, you can get one of the best seats in the house, like second row, first balcony, center, where I eased into my red-velvet seat between two of my favorite people in the world, Mom and Dad, and felt the lasso that binds me to the Rodeo de Ridiculousness unknot and slip away.

Lights dimmed and the band came on stage and the Best Loved Marches-themed show began. For each number, the band’s Conductor, Scotland-born James Gourlay, provides interesting, entertaining information about the song, its composer, or other historical trivia.

And they play. Lord do they play.

A brass band—a great brass band—live. It is an experience. Trumpets, cornets, trombones, tubas, a lively group of percussionists. It is so American. (And, I think, so Pittburghian.) It is music that reverberates through your ears and down into your gut before slipping out through fingertips and toes that, even among the most unmusically inclined, move throughout the show in easy, involuntary accompaniment.

The music itself would be enough. It moves you to audible ooh and ahhs, a primal appreciation, an ancient-feeling of wonderment that such sounds could come from the brassy metal implements before you, and at times, like while hearing “to dream the impossible dream” (The Quest, Mitch Leigh), sung last night by flugelhorn player Drew Fennell, tears.

Yes, the music would be enough. But there is more. This group of incredibly talented musicians also has a delightful sense of humor.

The Imperial March (John Williams), which most would recognize immediately (dum dum da dum dum da dum) from Star Wars included an appearance by Darth Vader, who used The Force to take over and conduct with his light saber.

During a medley of Scottish tunes, Gourlay conducted in a kilt. After which, he asked the audience if they were wondering what people wonder about Scotmen and kilts. And then he removed the kilt to show . . . rolled up tuxedo pant legs, from the pocket of which he swished out and twirled a Terrible Towel.

And there was a Spike-Jonesian solo on a xylophone that included notes played on a block of wood, a pot lid, and squeaky toys.

So, yes, it’s a band concert, but it’s not quite like any band concert you’ve been to before.

Offer me tickets to anything in this amazingly big small Pittsburgh town—city, pavilion, or arena—and I will choose the River City Brass Band. They are talented. They bring goosebumps, cheers, tears, guffaws, and giggles. And they bring the music. They are an affordable marvel. They create moments of purest happiness. They infuse joy.

This is an experience that reminds you that the soul you had as a child still exists. The River City Brass Band is a musical life preserver.

The band’s season runs from fall to spring, with the last show of the current season coming next month:  May 10 at the Carnegie Music Hall and May 3-13 at other local high school venues, which can be found on their website,

April 6, 2012 at 5:22 am 1 comment

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