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Ushering in winter solstice on harp strings

Harpist Aine Minogue celebrates the year's darkest days with traditional Celtic sounds. Harpist Aine Minogue celebrates the year's darkest days with traditional Celtic sounds. (Anne Sweeney)
By Robert Knox
Globe Correspondent / December 18, 2008
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Praised for her feathery touch on the harp, angelic voice, and command of deeply rooted Celtic material, Irish harpist Áine Minogue each year celebrates the year's darkest days.

She will perform her winter solstice-themed solo concert, "To Warm a Winter's Night" on Sunday at The Old Ship Coffeehouse in Hingham.

The darkest day of the year (which falls on Sunday this year) is a theme for a spiritual journey as well as a musical one. The traditional Celtic festivals such as the winter solstice occur at the "big cracks of the year," Minogue said last week, when "the veil between the worlds" is thinner and "more conduits" open between the known world and the unknown.

The ancient world's solstice celebration, she said, "is totally about beseeching the winter season to stay alive."

Born in Ireland, where she was harpist in residence at Bunratty Castle, Minogue has recorded eight Celtic music albums, based on traditional music from Ireland and original interpretations of the Celtic experience. Much of the material she performs in her winter solstice program is found on her "To Warm a Winter's Night" recording, called "a tender holiday masterpiece" by the Los Angeles Times and "a spellbinding portrait of midwinter's moods and textures" by Boston Globe reviewer Scott Alarik.

Minogue's music is based on her extensive research into the traditional music and world view of the Celtic culture that once stretched over much of western Europe.

"To Warm the Winter's Night" probes the connection between the ancient winter solstice celebrations and the holidays, notably Christmas, that later cultures have placed at this time of year.

At the year's shortest days, traditional societies of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, and Brittany "sought to connect the old with the new through song and dance," Minogue said in her album notes, and join "the death and rebirth of a new year." Christianity celebrates the birth of its savior at the time of year when days begin to grow longer.

Traditional music on the CD includes "The Horn Dance," based on the practice of men dressing in antler horns and running through a village to bring good luck in the new year; and "The Mummers March," announcing ancient Mummers' plays that treated themes such St. George slaying the dragon.

Also on the album are "The Darkest Midnight" from Kylemore, Ireland; "Noel Nouvelle" from Brittany; "Reflections on a Scottish Christmas," and a Gaelic "Silent Night."

Contact Robert Knox at rc.knox@gmail.com.

'To Warm a Winter's Night' Concert by Aine Minogue

Sunday, 4 p.m.

Old Ship Church Parish Hall, 107 Main St., Hingham

$10; no reservations

781-749-1767

www.bostoncoffeehouses.org

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