Music for the heart of winter: Cathie Ryan
Christmas, and season of Advent which comes before it, are times that invite both celebration and reflection. These cold days of winter when dark comes early invite quiet solitude and well as gathering and sharing in community. Winter and its holidays and holy days have inspired musicians to explore all these things in many ways: through classic songs of the season which have been handed down, through their own ways of interpreting familiar songs, and through creation of their own seasonal stories.
Cathie Ryan is one such musician. The award winning Irish American singer and songwriter tours internationally through the year and has been a guest on winter season programs of other top artists. This is the first year, though, that she will be offering a series of holiday concerts of her own design. It is to be called The Winter’s Heart.
“I love Christmas! The sharing of meals, of gifts, of song, of together time is a blessing,” Ryan says. “We all slow down to be with our family, our community. No matter how stressed we are, Christmas seems to take the edge off, people are more patient and kind. I wanted to bring the band together to make some beautiful Christmas music that we could all share. And to sing to those who may not have anyone to celebrate the holiday with - to ameliorate the loneliness. Music does that. One of my most favorite things about Christmas,” she adds, “is that we celebrate the holiday with song.”
That recognition of connection and community goes deep for Ryan. She grew up in Michigan, the child of parents who had emigrated from Ireland. They’d spend time in summer with family back in Kerry and in Tipperary. In Detroit, her parents loved not only Irish music but country singers such as Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn, and Ryan also heard music of Motown and of Appalachia. As an adult Ryan has spent time living in both the US and in Ireland. All of this has had influence on how she understands music. She’s chosen the subtitle of the Winter’s Heart series to be An Irish American Christmas.
That duality was one of the things which guided Ryan’s choices of music for the shows. “I love Christmas songs and the impulse was to do lots of songs we all know already, but I’d like to highlight our Irish American traditions through song so that will mean new songs!” she says. “There are some beloved songs that are musts, like Silent Night, and we will be singing those. My guitarist, Patsy O’Brien, and I have written a song called The Winter’s Heart that we’ll do. There are also some lovely Christmas songs sung in Ireland in Irish and in English that aren’t so well known in America, and I look forward to sharing those.”
The spiritual aspects of the season also go deep for Ryan. “The way we open our hearts at Christmas inspired the show’s title. The Winter’s Heart seems to encapsulate everything I believe Christmas is about, including Christ being born at Christmas and all of the heart centered teachings of Christianity. It is beautiful that in this time of cold and barrenness, a time when most of us go inside, we open our hearts, our homes, to new hope, new life and to each other. It raises us up.
“We have a big, beautiful shared songbook, we all join in the music,” Cathie Ryan says. “It is a reminder that we are all connected at the core. I love that.”
On this tour, Ryan will be accompanied by Patsy O’Brien from Cork on guitar and vocals, Patrick Mangan from New York on fiddle, and Kieran O’Hare from Chicago on uillean pipes, Irish flute, and tin whistle. Among them the three men have appeared with a roster of top artists including Eileen Ivers, Don Henley, and the Milwaukee Symphony, and have appeared on stages with shows from from Riverdance to Broadway theater.
Tour graphic courtesy of Cathie Ryan; photos of Ireland in winter and Cathie Ryan with bodhran by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.