Scottish fiddler Jamie Laval has earned worldwide acclaim for his lyrical and evocative musicianship, as well as his always-compelling annual Christmas-themed live shows. Ever winter since 2011, the award-winning fiddler (winner of the 2002 U.S. National Scottish fiddle Championship) has staged a fascinating and highly entertaining show built around themes of the holidays, solstice and winter, always with a strong Celtic undercurrent.
2017 would be no different. Calling that year’s show “a work in progress these last six years,” Laval says that as opposed to the wider stylistic net he’s cast in previous years, the December shows would feature “strictly music from the Celtic world.” Ancient, traditional songs from Ireland, Scotland, the northwestern French region of Brittany (Région de Bretagne) and even Iceland formed the basis of 2017’s “Celtic Christmas: Music and Stories for the Deep Midwinter.” Performances in Western North Carolina included dates in Asheville and Tryon.
Noting that the conventional Christian-based holiday spirit is very well represented in popular entertainment, Laval aims to do something that’s at once different and yet firmly rooted in a long tradition of its own. The performances evoke what Laval describes as the “warm, cozy, cold-weather-outside” vibe that “makes merry through song and dance.”
In 2017, Laval led a troupe of five performing artists. Streamlined ever so slightly compared to some of his more opulent shows of past years, the December 2017 program would, he says, “focus on the best of the best material” from Laval’s extensive repertoire. The show put Laval’s fiddle playing front and center, and featured soprano Megan McConnell, a popular fixture of past years’ performances.
Audiences would recognize some of the songs in the show, like a sizzling, fiddle-led “Deck the Halls.” Other tunes might be completely unfamiliar. And McConnell even sang two songs in their original language of Breton. And in a nod toward better-known traditions, the program included the song “Christ Child Lullaby.” Laval explains that while the lyrics are Christian-themed, the song and its original words “predate the Christian tradition by over a thousand years.” Laval’s program brought all the various traditions of Europe’s Celtic regions together in one highly entertaining evening.