A Celebration of St. Patrick’s Day With Music at St. John’s Church

“When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” tells it all. Friends of the Charlestown Library together with St. John’s Church will present tenor Joshua Collier and pianist Liya Nigmati in classical settings of Irish & Scottish Ballads and Tin Pan Alley Favorites in a Celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The engaging free concert at St. John’s Church, Charlestown, on Saturday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. will evoke the great Irish tenor John McCormack and encourage some sing along at the end. St. John’s Church has wonderful acoustics and a very important Chickering concert grand from 1870.

According to the Boston Musical Intelligencer, American operatic tenor Joshua Collie  “…stopped the show from his first utterance. We did not have to wait for the resplendent interpolated high C in “Ah, jour de deuil”—gleaming for eight bars until the cows came home…!” Finally he is getting in touch with his Irish roots.

“As a lirco-spinto operatic tenor, I am very acquainted with the operas of Puccini and Verdi, but had not ever considered my relation to my maternal great grandmother, Hildred Mattie O’Brian, as being of tremendous musical importance. I could sooner tell you the last 300 years of Italian culture, then recount any Irish history,” said Collier. 

Therefore, it was a revelation for Collier when asked to perform the free St. Patrick’s Day Concert at St. John’s Church on March 18 to become acquainted with — and truly fall in love with — this breathtakingly beautiful music. I’ve had many a drink bought for me as a result of a table-top rendition of “Danny Boy,” but regretfully was not familiar with the vast wealth of the Irish repertoire. Each with its singular story, but all with overarching theme of Irish resilience and the unmistakable beauty of the Irish people and land. 

“There’s no more famous Irish musical storyteller than the incomparable tenor John McCormack. The tenor, referred to as “the greatest tenor of all time” by Enrico Caruso, traded the proscenium stage, for the concert hall, to bring these remarkable stories and tunes to the American awareness. Again, dear reader, I am ashamed that I knew neither the story, nor the repertoire of John McCormack, but while I am late, in this case, it is much better late than never. While programming this concert, I found that every ballad, folk song, dance tune, was better than the last, and it made my job almost impossible,” Colllier added. 

The first part is a selection of Irish folksongs transcribed by famous British composer, Benjamin Britten. Many of these tunes will sound familiar (ie. The Salley Gardens, The Ash Grove, The Plough Boy) but as with all of Britten’s music, a slight twist. The second pays direct homage to McCormack, with some of the most beautiful songs I have encountered: She Moved Through The Fair will have you weep with nostalgia; The Kerry Dance will have you in the aisle doing a jig, and you’ll be humming Star of the County Down for weeks. Lastly, what St. Patrick’s day concert would be complete without popular favorites like My Wild Irish Rose, Danny Boy, and When Irish Eyes are Smiling. 

Collier concluded saying, “When programming, McCormack followed these principles:

• I give my audiences the songs I love. 

• I give them songs they ought to love.

• I give them the folksongs of my native land, which I hold to be the most beautiful of any music of this kind.              

• I give my audiences songs they want to hear.”

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