Rollicking drinking songs, toe-tapping jigs and reels, and lyrical Irish laments sung with tender pathos filled Friday and Saturday evening’s concert. The pre-concert dinner was accompanied by the Ballybeg Band from Atlanta, a traditional Irish band of musicians who instantly won the affection and admiration of the audience. The exceptional four musicians entertained guests with a variety of tunes played on instruments associated with Irish folk music: guitar, fiddle, bodhrán, Irish flue, tin whistle and Uileann pipes. The band also accompanied many of the choral renditions of Irish folk music, adding an additional touch of authenticity to the splendid sound.
A pleasing touch to the show was the virtuosi dance trio from the Drake School of Irish Dance. When they took the stage, they immediately wowed the audience with their remarkable stepdances in both soft and hard shoes. With characteristic stationary arms and synchronized feet, they pounded their way across the dance floor in a seemingly flawless and effortless performance which dazzled the audience.
The impressive vocal portion of the program began with the three Irish American tenors - Ed Biggs, Randy Ogle and Cory Speakman - singing “A Little Bit of Heaven.” This tune, along with other solos interspersed throughout the program, pulled at the heartstrings of all who long for the Emerald Isle. Their passionate, gifted voices longingly transported the listeners to a better place and time, and made us all want to stand up and cry, “Ireland Forever!”
Other soloists worthy of mention included James Camp, whose rich lyric baritone voice easily filled the crowded room. Soprano Rebecca Hafner-Camp was mesmerizing in her heartfelt solo in “Be Thou My Vision,” and Gretchen Swanson sang admirably in “Home and the Heartland.” And one cannot say enough for the impeccable talent and artistry of the lyrical and sensitive accompaniment of Cindy Brown.
Bettie Biggs’ excellent and varied program choices featured the outstanding soloists mentioned above and a well-disciplined choir. Of special note from the night’s performance were “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” a jaunty tune featuring the full-bodied sound of the chorus; “Green Grows the Laurel,” a sad and sonorous melody of unrequited love, and, of course, “Danny Boy,” the beloved, haunting Irish lament.
Liam Waters, a native of Ireland, served as the charming master of ceremonies, amusing guests with humorous insights into his beloved country. One of the evening’s most poignant moments occurred when Waters told of the adjustments he experienced upon moving to America and the welcome he received from our community. Though he will never lose his devotion to his motherland, Waters ex-pressed the love for this country he now calls home. “Ireland is my mother,” he proclaimed, “but I married America.”
The culminating highlight of the evening was the chorus’ rendition of “The Wearin’ of the Green,” a stirring patriotic tune that featured the full chorus and guest musicians. In that one moment, we all somehow sensed the struggles that befell the Irish immigrants of long ago, and the opportunities of discovering here a place in which to make a new beginning. How fortunate that so many have made LaGrange their home. We are all the richer because of the heritage they share with us once a year on St. Patrick’s Day.
“And when Irish eyes are smiling, sure they”ll steal your heart away,” warns the well-known tune. Our hearts were certainly warmed, and completely won, by the melodious sounds of the LaGrange Civic Chorale. Kudos to Bettie Biggs and her chorus for giving us once again a memorable night of thrilling music and quality entertainment.
Toni Anderson is head of the music department and professor of vocal studies at LaGrange College.