Celtic Culture Comes to Holy Cross
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 18:09
On Wednesday September 18, students and faculty gathered in Dinand Library to listen to Kate Chadbourne, a renowned and accomplished storyteller, perform. She is also a poet, singer, and teacher, just to name a few of her skills. Chadbourne has a Ph.D. in Celtic Languages and Literatures from Harvard University.
Chadbourne opened up her performance with an Irish song where she encouraged the audience to sing the chorus with her. While playing the harp, her melodious voice created a calming aura in the room, setting the pace for the rest of the performance. Chadbourne’s career has been inspired by traditional Irish music, but she adds her own unique sounds using voice, piano, Irish flute, whistle, and the harp.
Chadnourne’s style of engaging the audience in her performance helped students and faculty members enjoy her visit more. Professor Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, associate professor of English at Holy Cross, acknowledged how Chadbourne is a very gifted teacher and performer.
“Somehow, Kate managed to interact with each member of the audience individually, by asking questions, bantering, making someone a character in a story, or responding to someone else’s facial expression,” said Professor Sweeney. “At the same time, she brought us all together as a group, prompting us to repeat phrases in Irish or sing along with a refrain.”
Over the years Chadbourne’s career has gained momentum. She has played in academic instituitions around the nation and in Ireland, she also has been featured on radio stations stations such as NPR.
In addition to music, Chadbourne taught the students and faculty members about Irish storytelling. Each of her stories wove humor, morality, fantasy, and love together to help the audience understand traditional Irish culture. She conveyed her stories through her energetic and positive personality that never seemed to falter. Her passion for storytelling originated from her study of Irish folklore in Ireland and Wales.
“There is a certain multiplicity in storytelling culture,” said Chadbourne. “There are so many variations of songs and stories because each person infuses a new spirit into them.”
Many audience members felt that Chadbourne’s visit was distinct from the other guests that the English department has invited to the College. Her combination of talents and knowledge of Irish culture was a beautiful way for her to express and share her feelings through art.
“Kate is unique in the way her singing, teaching, storytelling, performing of poetry, and playing on the harp and penny whistle seem to flow together so naturally and joyfully,” said Professor Sweeney. “It is very much in the tradition of the Irish céilidh, a social gathering that involves sharing music, stories, and dance.”
Chadbourne’s knowledge for the Gaelic language was demonstrated by her consistent references to Gaelic phrases and proverbs. By the end of her performance the audience understood key words such as scéal, which means story in Gaelic, and seanchaí, which is a type of storyteller.
Chadbourne’s presence had a special effect on her audience. She made them see the joys and possibilities of participating in stories and songs. “It was especially powerful when Kate emphasized that we each have our own stories to tell,” said Professor Sweeney. “None of us is ‘without a story’ -- like the title character in one of the folktales she told, “The Man Without a Story,” who eventually had a truly amazing story to tell.”
After numerous stories and songs, Chadbourne finished up her performance with one last song: “Molly Malone.” Since this song is more well-known than the others she played the audience was easily able to jump right in at the chorus and sing along.
“Stories are passed on from generation to generation, which is in itself incredible,” said Chadbourne. “I hope every student will find his or her own story to tell.”
Some people may question how a singer was asked to come to Holy Cross by the English department. The department teamed up with the Jenks Fund and the Callahan Irish Studies Fund to bring Chadbourne to campus.
“Although it may seem surprising for the English Department, along with the Jenks Fund and the Callahan Irish Studies Fund, to sponsor an event that included group singing and music on harp and penny whistle, it actually makes perfect sense,” said Professor Sweeney. “Rhythm, rhyme, and sound effects are important aspects of literary art, and music, poetry, and stories naturally go together.”