Published in the April 19, 2016 edition.
WAKEFIELD — It was a night befitting the MacDonalds, MacGregors and MacNeills.
It was also the grand finale of Standing Room Only, a concert series that got its start in 2007 at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Main Street.
But all good things do come to an end, including SRO. On Saturday night, the group gave its farewell concert to more than 100 loyal music lovers. The spoken and musical performance far surpassed all expectations as the 90-minute Atlantic Seaway show turned into a two-hour celebration that featured history lessons about Scottish music and honored its melody, lyrics and stories.
The audience was taken on a dynamic, culturally rich and compelling musical journey, beginning in Scotland and making its way across the Atlantic to America’s Appalachia, Deep South and West. The musicians fused different roots styles in the same program of work, from cowboy to contemporary folk songs, drawing on a large body of work that explored and authenticated the common threads of these centuries-old creative connections. Other works included music from Appalachia and the Ozarks, bluegrass and old time and “burn the barn down.”
Narrator Lawrence E. Bethune and retired professor at Berklee College of Music said, “If something sounds Scottish, trust your ear (it probably is).”
Bethune provided a series of lessons before the performances of various types of music, which included instrumentals and songs accompanied by fiddle, banjo, mandolin, harp, piano, guitar, bass and, of course, bagpipes.
The audience learned, for instance, that Scottish women once made wool at a “walking board” and they sang while they worked. Also, that Germans and several other western European countries wanted Scots to stop speaking Gaelic. Throughout the night, Bethune wove interesting facts about Scottish poet Robert Burns into his narration. He also brought Bob Cameron to the stage to play mellow tunes on his smaller set of bagpipes, sometimes called uillean pipes, which are different from the more robust, traditional Scottish Highland pipes. To round out the program, stepdancing was demonstrated.
In addition to Bethune, the musicians were special guest Maureen McMullan Schroder and Bob Cameron, Mairi Chaimbeul, Eden Forman, Neil Perlman, Lucas Pool and Twisted Pine.
McMullan’s association with Bethune and the Alliance for Scottish Roots Music was the perfect partnership to create a concert the SRO could be proud of, one that would long live in the memories of those fortunate enough to hold a ticket.
Born and raised in Coatbridge, Scotland, McMullan is an award-winning professional musician, educator and arts consultant. She currently works as an Artist-in-Residence and Music Archivist for the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA and as a member of the musical ensemble Atlantic Seaway. Her ambassadorial role at the NTSUSA is to advance and promote Scottish Roots Music and culture in North America and to raise awareness for the mission of the NTSUSA and the National Trust for Scotland.
She was a lead vocalist in the hit PBS TV music special “Highland Heartbeat” and recently made her acclaimed debut singing lead vocals with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall for Joseph Sohm’s “Visions of America.”
Recipient of the National Trust for Scotland’s 2012 Great Scot Award, Atlantic Seaway, is a creative and educational vehicle that demonstrates the migration and influence of traditional Scottish Roots Music on the music of other countries, most notably, North America, Canada (Nova Scotia), France (Brittany) and Spain (Asturias).
In keeping with the theme of Saturday evening’s final performance – the culmination of many years of musical entertainment — the musicians ended with a bluegrass selection titled “I’ve Endured.”
And the same can be said for SRO. The organization has passed the test of time with flying colors. It, too, has endured.
At the close of the evening, Stickel was presented a floral arrangement in appreciation of all the hard work he has done with SRO over the years. A reception followed in the lower portion of the church.
“The town is rich in music and culture,” said one patron on the way out. “SRO will be greatly missed but it wouldn’t surprise me if another group popped up to take its place.”
Only time will tell.
With the help of former Unitarian Universalist pastor Rev. Maddie Sifantus and as a function of the church’s Music Ministry, SRO Producers Peter Stickel and John Bumstead welcomed over the past seven years world renowned musicians, including Cory Pesaturo, Zulu Time and the Boston Cello Quartet as well as superstar singers Leigh Barrett, Joseph Holmes and Holly Zagaria to the sanctuary turned stage. Supporting the concert were The Savings Bank, Wakefield Co-operative Bank, KilKelly Law Offices and Wakefield Insurance Agency, Inc.