Celtic concert rings out at University of Missouri, St. Louis
By Kelli Solt

Celtic music, step dancing, and history took the audience on an uplifting journey back in time at the Celtic piano performance that took place in the Music Building on October 11.

Cape Breton-style master pianist Barbara MacDonald Magone filled the intimate setting with sweet sounds. Irish jigs, Scottish marches, and original compositions delighted the audience as she pounded out rhythmic melodies from days of yore. Magone’s daughter, Eileen, traded in vacation days to join her mother’s tour. She demonstrated traditional step dancing that Magone explained is never done for competition. Eileen said Irish children would typically do the simple and lively steps in grandma’s kitchen.

Magone spent most of her childhood in Detroit and was greatly influenced by her father, a fiddle player, and the musical home that was filled with Cape Breton locals who came down to Detroit to work in factories. Too young to operate the pipe organ alone, she had her two sisters pump the billows of the pipe organ as she played. As a young child taking lessons and learning theory, she recalled that she did not read notes well or use her left hand efficiently. Her improvising, lifetime of practice, and love of the music’s heritage overwhelming compensated, and she performs with seemingly effortless grandeur.

Magone has performed at the Dublin Theater Festival, along the West Coast of Scotland, and in Canada. She was on three tours of Masters of Folk Violin and has visited many college campuses and Universities on both coasts of the U.S. She commented that her favorite place to perform is, fittingly, Cape Breton. This was her first time entertaining in St. Louis, but she seemed right at home. She encouraged the audience to join hands and move with the rhythm, as she occasionally let out a yelp of glee during the invigorating merry making.

The traditional Irish and Scottish music has survived over 200 years and was brought to Cape Breton, northeast of Canada near Newfoundland, in the late 1700s and early 1800s due to the forced immigration of Scottish people to make room for sheep. Magone described that the tunes were “music of the kitchen” that the poor would play.

With her eyes closed and left-hand jumping octaves, she opened with “The Cuckoo,” an Irish piece. Next, she stirred emotions with marches such as “Blue Bonnets,” composed for Scottish soldiers forced to join the British army.

Two original compositions, one entitled “Tripping up and down the stairs,” written after her twins were born, along with various jigs, set toes tapping from start to finish. Magone said, “I see the tune as a picture,” and her quick rhythms and rolling highs and lows painted beautiful reflections of the Celtic countryside.

The solo act became a trio when Magone invited Irish Studies professor Gearoid O’hAllmhurain to join in with the concertina. He in turn welcomed UM-St. Louis student Kevin Buckley to play the fiddle. Buckley is an Honors College senior who was honored with 3rd place in the All-Ireland Slow Aires for his impressive fiddle playing in August 2000. The ensemble ended with a joyful melody entitled “Rolling in the Rye Grass.” Eileen invited anyone willing to join her in step dancing as the music lifted her to her feet. These talented artists graciously presented a marvelous blend of Celtic heritage carried by music, a timeless messenger.

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