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REVIEW Cherish the Ladies in Martinsville, VA

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Tuesday March 30, 2010

(From Martinsville Bulletin)

By: Eliza Winston
Published: March 26, 2010

Area residents got a taste of Celtic heritage through traditional Irish dancing and music on Thursday night.

“You all thought St. Patrick’s Day was over,” said flautist Joanie Madden, “but it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

About 500 people attended the concert performed by Cherish the Ladies at the Martinsville High School auditorium. Cherish the Ladies is the first-all female professional ensemble in Irish music. It began in New York in the mid-1980s.

A large black tapestry with bright red Celtic designs hung from the stage behind the musicians, who played the flute, guitar, violin, piano and accordion. Some of their songs were all instrumental, while others were accompanied by singer Michelle Burke, a native of Ireland.

In between songs with vocals, the musicians performed with three dancers, who brought their own sound into the music with their fast, rhythmic footwork.

“I love the music, dancing and singing — they’re all great,” said Amy Haynes, who had heard the band’s CD before but had not heard the music live until Thursday night.

Mike and Donna Grant said they saw Cherish the Ladies perform several years ago when they traveled from Bassett to Lynchburg for a show. Mike expressed his gratitude that the group came to Martinsville.

“We love this group and Celtic music. It’s great that it came to the area,” he said. “The performance brings a little taste of the world right to Henry County.”

“The music is great. It makes me want to go right back to Ireland,” said Sandra Cox during the intermission.

Piedmont Arts Association (PAA) sponsored the performance, and its tour is funded through the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. Madden praised the shows PAA brings to the area, saying, “You all should be really proud of what they’re doing here.”

She also said she was impressed with the MHS band, which has more than 100 members. Cherish The Ladies held a flute workshop at the high school Thursday afternoon.

“We really appreciate the arts you all have in the schools here,” said Madden.

Also, two of the dancers visited to Carlisle School for an Irish dance workshop.

While Madden enjoyed teaching the students during the flute workshop, she said the group’s guitarist, Mary Coogan, actually was a first- and second-grade teacher for 17 years before joining Cherish the Ladies.

The group’s vocalist is from Ireland, but Madden said others in the group are not, although many of their parents were.

“Irish music was passed down from father to son for centuries,” she said, “but we all learned to appreciate Irish music when our fathers passed their musical heritage down to their daughters.”

Many of their fathers still have an influence on the performers’ music, said Madden. When it comes to creating new music, “We call our dads the Judge Judies of Irish music,” she joked.

Madden, who is from the Bronx, said she was the only child of the seven in her family to follow in her father’s musical footsteps.

Her parents met after both immigrated from Ireland in the 1950s. She explained to the crowd that immigrating to the United States was a necessity due to Ireland’s bad economy in those years.

The trip over “was a one-way ticket. No one expected to see or hear from their families again except for a Christmas letter,” Madden said.

Pianist Kathleen Boyle of Scotland said her father and grandfather were Irish musicians. During the show she performed a piece she composed for her sister’s wedding, which she said she should have made faster because her father “rushed my sister down the aisle.”

During the show, the audience added to the performance by clapping in time to the music and even helped Burke with a few songs. Before several songs, she asked the audience to help her sing the choruses.

“I loved it,” said Bob Bushnell as everyone filed out of the auditorium. “It was a great way to end the day.”

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