Much like Santa Claus who is said to trek the world by sleigh every Christmas Eve, making many stops to deliver bow-topped gifts to children young and old, Celtic Woman, on its “The Best of Christmas Tour,” made a stop in Shippensburg on Thursday to deliver the gift of music to the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center.
While the temperatures dipped below freezing outside, cozy Christmas sweaters — which were the outfit of choice among many audience members — and the familiar tunes of Christmas carols kept Luhrs radiating with warmth and holiday cheer.
As Celtic Woman, comprised of Irish-native musicians Mairéad Carlin, Éabha McMahon, Tara McNeil (on violin) and Megan Walsh, stepped foot on the string-light adorned stage, their angelic voices and the sweet shrill of violin intertwined in an effortless harmony.
The show’s set list covered its grounds with classics, “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “White Christmas,” “We Three Kings” and “Joy to the World,” as well as lesser known songs in the United States, such as “The Wexford Carol” and Irish carol, “Ard Uí Chuain / Sadhbh Ní Bhruinneallaigh.”
The addition of traditional Irish tunes gave Celtic Woman the opportunity to highlight an aspect of their Irish culture, and though the crowd did not know the words to sing along, they happily clapped to the music.
However pleasant-sounding Celtic Woman may be unaccompanied, they would not have been able to attain the delicate balance between layers of voice and instruments without the 46-piece orchestra that formed a crescent behind them.
Since Celtic Woman does not have its own orchestra that travels with them, they recruit locally for each performance, with this show’s being the Shippensburg Festival Orchestra.
Among the many locals in the orchestra was percussionist Spencer Zembrodt, who did not travel quite as far as Ireland for the show, but still had quite the trip to Shippensburg from Florence, Kentucky, which is his hometown.
This was Zembrodt’s second time playing with Celtic Woman.
“It’s always fun to play with a group like Celtic Woman,” Zembrodt said. “They bring a different quality to the music, I think, than what you would get at a regular symphony concert hall.”
Unlike other orchestra performances, Zembrodt said a challenge of performing with Celtic Woman, although rewarding in the end result of a natural and authentic sound, is that the orchestra only rehearses together once before the show — the day of its performance.
Despite the pressure that Zembrodt referenced in having limited group preparation, the orchestra’s instruments danced together without stepping on each other’s feet and blended well with Celtic Woman from its beginning to closing songs, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Auld Lange Syne,” which translates to mean “days gone by.”
Following a standing ovation, those in attendance left with a youthful sparkle in their eyes that only the “magic” of the holidays and the power of music can explain.
“We live in a place where there is always something bad happening,” Zembrodt said. “To be able to come in and say, ‘for the next two hours, I don’t care about anything else. I am here to heal, I am here to think about something else,’ is a gift in itself.”