GENEVA, NY --- If you think your holiday season is busy, try keeping up with Eileen Ivers during the month of December. The Grammy Award-winning Celtic fiddle virtuoso (she kept toes tapping during Riverdance and was a charter member of the group Cherish the Ladies) is on an East Coast tour. Final stop? The Smith Opera House on Dec. 17. She will be joined by Geneva’s own Mount Calvary Choir.
This is the 12th year that Ivers, 52, has brought her Joyful Christmas show to fiddle fans. But if you have been it before, Ivers promises it’s not the same show.
“It is really important for the band and for me to keep it fresh. This is an extremely joyful show, and a lot of thought has gone into the set list,” says Ivers in a phone interview from her West Nyack, Rockland County home.
Joyful Christmas used to rely more heavily on Celtic tunes and Gaelic traditions, and there are certainly strong elements of that in this year’s show. For example, Ivers is really excited to introduce her audiences to some “beautiful Irish Christmas carols,” as well as a few tunes that celebrate Wren Day, also known as St. Stephen’s Day. The Dec. 26 holiday finds costumed men and boys singing and dancing their way through the streets in hopes that money will be thrown their way to “bury the wren.”
As you can imagine, there is some great Irish story-telling that goes along with these Wren Day tunes, Ivers says. Audience participation is encouraged.
As the daughter of Irish immigrants who settled in the Bronx, Ivers was raised on such story-telling, spending her girlhood summers in her father’s home turf of County Mayo. She took up the violin at age 9, and by the time she enrolled in Iona College, she has nine All-Ireland fiddler championships under her belt. The tenth championship title was earned on tenor banjo.
While her formative years were steeped in all things Irish, Ivers was also a student of multi-cultural New York City, and learned quickly to assimilate her playing into various musical styles.
Which is why it’s not too big a stretch to imagine Ivers and band collaborating with the gospel roots of the Mount Calvary Choir. After all, Ivers is an artist who has played with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, Patti Smith and Steve Gadd.
“We are always so excited to be sharing the stage with a local group,” says Ivers.
Mount Calvary Choir director Patrisha Blue shares the sentiment. While singing Irish music will be a first for the 15-member choir, performing with other musicians and musical groups is not. “Most of my members are very experienced singers. They see it as a way to share what they do in church with the community,” Blue says.
(If you want to see the choir sing in their home environment, Blue encourages anyone to attend the 11:30 am service on the first, second or third Sunday of the month, when the choir sings at Mount Calvary Church of God in Christ on Milton Street.)
“It's about being together, joining our voices to the ones in audience, having a very fun time, and getting out of the craziness of the holiday season,” adds Ivers. “If a bum note or late entrance happens, it adds to realness of the holiday.”