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"Irish Christmas in America" Comes to the Temple Theater

 Irish Christmas in America

By: Darren Tromblay

For those wanting to add an extra slice of beauty, fun and tradition to their usual Christmas itineraries, Des Moines Performing Arts has something special for you this holiday season.

A group of top Irish musicians and performers will be on hand to perform “Irish Christmas in America” on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Live At The Temple Concert Series at the Temple Theater. 

The family-friendly performance produced by Oisín Mac Diarmada of the award-winning lrish group Téada, is now in its 15thseason of touring the world. The show has been described as a cornucopia of Irish ballads, instrumentals, dancing and visuals of the country’s rich holiday traditions wrapped up in a theme that resonates profoundly with many this time of year — family. 

“There’s such an emphasis on family at Christmas time,” Diarmada said. “People who are living in different parts of Ireland, and all over the world, make a special effort to come back to their home place to celebrate Christmas with family.”

As a preview, Diarmada took time from his busy schedule to answer 10 questions about “Irish Christmas in America” and give fans a sneak peek of what’s to come.

1. Congratulations on this, your 15thyear of “Irish Christmas In America.” Does it seem like it’s been that long?
The 15 years have flown by! We have lots of really great memories of the great musicians and singers we’ve worked with over the years, and of course, the beautiful cities and venues all over America that we’ve been privileged to perform in.

2. Any particularly fond or funny memories from the tours?
A funny story that comes to mind is one time during a show in the lovely laid-back city of Santa Cruz, California, our dancer, Brian, didn’t make his stage entrance at the scheduled time during the show. Upon further investigation, he was found passed out asleep in the backstage dressing room, having perhaps taken the laid-back atmosphere a bit too much to heart! We got plenty of laughs out of that!

3. How would you describe an “Irish Christmas In America” show?
Our show is a very Irish experience, with the spirit of Christmas being the pervasive theme with brings the music, song and dance together. You’ll hear a couple of popular songs, as well a lot of songs and tunes associated with Ireland. And hopefully some fun stories, too!

4. Who are the other members of “Irish Christmas In America” you will be sharing the stage with?
We have a fantastic collection of musicians and singers in this show, and of course some Irish dancing, too! Our two amazing singers — Séamus Begley & Niamh Farrell — are the heart and soul of the show. They are so different in approach, but equally charming. Séamus has an incredible repertoire of songs and sings beautifully in the Irish language, while Niamh represents one of the finest young singing talents in Ireland at the moment. The harp is one of the truly historic Irish instruments, and harper Gráinne Hambly from Co. Mayo has shared her inspiring music with Irish Christmas in America since our first tour in 2005. In addition, we have a wonderful uilleann piper and flute player in Seán Gavin, who grew up in Detroit and whose father hails from Co. Clare. Lastly, but certainly not least, is my wonderful wife, Samantha Harvey, on piano, who also lights up the stage with her dance steps.

5. Not only is there music and imagery in the performance, there’s also the dance aspect to it.
Irish music is so connected to dance in its origins, and I think people hearing this music for the first time will immediately hear that connection!

6. How does an Irish Christmas differ from Christmas here in the States?
Well, there are a lot of similarities in how we all celebrate Christmas, but what strikes Americans most about how we do it in Ireland is the scale. Christmas is such a huge celebration in Ireland, and the festivities can run into a few weeks. It’s really one of the only times of the year where nearly everybody takes vacation time with family, so it is a wonderful social occasion. And, of course, we still try to keep some of our older traditions such as the Wren Boys alive, which brings much fun to the day after Christmas Day, when we are all excited to get out of the house after a day of fine dining!

7. You wear two hats in this production, one as a producer and the other as a performer. Double the pressure or double the enjoyment?
Double the enjoyment, I think! I really enjoy the whole process of bringing together talented artists and letting them show the best of what they do individually but also as part of a collective experience. When you enjoy and admire the people you are creating with, it’s not a pressurized experience.

8. You play the fiddle in the show. That’s a beautiful instrument. How did you get your start?
I love the fiddle and have known it for most of my life, since my mother bought me my first instrument at the age of six. I grew up in a small village in Co. Clare, on Ireland’s West coast. Traditional music is a big part of community life there, and it was a very inspiring place to learn the craft. My family moved further up the coast to Sligo when I was 11, and Sligo has such an amazing fiddle tradition and a huge musical connection with America from the early 20thcentury recordings. I still live here with my Californian wife and great musician/dancer Samantha, who also performs in the show. We recently had a beautiful new addition to the family with baby boy, Finnán, who was born at the end of August.

9. What do you do in your role as a producer?
My role as producer is made very easy by the wonderful artists that make up this show. With this being the 15thyear of the show, I try to keep an overview so that the show changes enough from year to year. We have many venues where we perform in consecutive years, and lots of repeat audiences, so it’s important to make sure that this experience stays fresh and meaningful for both the artist, and of course, the audience. It’s also important to get a nice mix of the familiar Christmas songs along with the Irish material, which makes this a uniquely Irish experience. It’s a really busy tour for us each year, with performances every night and sometimes multiple shows in a day, so I try to stay focused on making sure we are at our best for each show, even where we have had a long travel day or are lacking sleep!

10. Have you played the Temple Theater and/or Des Moines before?
Yes, we played Temple Theater in Des Moines back in 2011, which was a very enjoyable night. The Temple Theater as a venue has a lovely intimate and informal feel, which suits Irish music quite well, I think. I love the vibrancy of Des Moines. It has a great cultural scene and lots of business activity, which is wonderful to see. 

(BONUS) You’ll be here on Nov. 26, which is just a couple of days ahead of Thanksgiving, so you’ll get to celebrate TWO holidays. Any Turkey Day plans?
We are really thrilled to get to celebrate two holidays on tour this year, as this is the first year we have started the tour pre-Thanksgiving. Since Thanksgiving is the only day off on our 27-show tour, we hope to make the most of the chance to relax and enjoy some of what Iowa has to offer in food and drink!