Whether you hail from the Emerald Isle or the Fraser Valley, the upcoming Songs, Strings and Steps presentations of An Irish Christmas this weekend at the Gateway Church will leave you feeling like you’ve just visited Dublin.
Director and violinist Calvin Dyck and the talented Abbotsford Youth Orchestra anchor a traditional Irish program featuring the voices of the Alumni Project – graduates of the MEI choir and Pacific Mennonite Children’s Choir – as well as champion Irish dancers, a traditional Uilleann piper, special guest singers and a native Irish narrator.
It’s all designed to offer you a glimpse into the traditions and music of Ireland, from the playing of Irish carols to the re-enactment of the ancient custom of putting a lit candle in the window, leaving the door unlatched and a plate of cookies nearby for weary, hungry travellers.
“We finish off with the singing of the Irish Christmas Blessing, with the lights down and the audience holding candles,” Dyck says. “It creates a real moment, with the piper coming in as people file out. I love to create an experience for people – yes, it’s a musical experience – but I want them to have a visual and an emotional experience as well.”
How you’ll get a taste of Ireland in the Valley:
- This year’s Christmas concert, the 15th for the youth orchestra, marks the first time you’ll hear a specifically Irish program. As part of the performances, members of the Steel School of Irish Dance will enjoy a rare opportunity to dance accompanied by a live orchestra, as opposed to recorded tracks.
- Narrator Paul Johnston, a native of Belfast who grew up during The Troubles and is a former police constable, brings a distinct Irish flair to the evening. He recalls there was one week of peace in the volatile city, that being the week of Christmas.
- Dyck’s original idea was to bring The Gettys to Abbotsford to perform Christmas songs. When the cost proved prohibitive, he purchased some of their arrangements for the local orchestra to play instead.
- For the song Christmas in Killarney, the orchestra’s violinists will dance while they’re playing. “All the girls will wear Irish plaid skirts and the guys are in Irish plaid ties,” Dyck says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Abbotsford supports local arts groups
While the AYO has performed concerts elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, playing at home always produces the best response. “When you have local patrons supporting us and local performers on stage, it’s really a homegrown production in every aspect,” Dyck says. “Everybody’s rooting for the kids on stage and there’s such a wholesome support for this. It really is an Abbotsford phenomenon.”
Tickets for the concerts, 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, are available at Kings Music and House of James in Abbotsford, or online at eventbrite.ca. You can also follow Songs, Strings and Steps on Facebook.