Keeper of the Flame
The days are short, the air is suffused with the promise of snow and you have a sudden urge to light candles and sing in public. It must be time to celebrate the solstice with Brian O’Donovan’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn. An offshoot of A Celtic Sojourn, O’Donovan’s popular radio broadcast on WGBH, the winter special filled with dance, poetry and music first went live at the Somerville Theatre in 2003 before a sold-out crowd. Now a Boston tradition, this year’s show includes nine performances scheduled at four different Massachusetts venues between December 11 and 20, and O’Donovan couldn’t be happier.
Born in Ireland, O’Donovan has been living in Boston since the 1980s, when he pursued a graduate degree in communications at Emerson College and became involved in radio through Emerson’s station, WERS. Though his initial career was in professional sports (he was vice president for the New England Patriots), O’Donovan has always held Celtic music close to his heart, as do his many fans. People look forward to certain songs at A Christmas Celtic Sojourn every year, notably “Wassailing,” to the point that O’Donovan claims “there would be a riot” if the song was dropped. “It’s a funny dynamic,” he says. “People want the ritual of Christmas, but they also want the newness of being introduced to new music and musicians.” This year, new musicians include Irish singer Cathy Jordan, who leads the group Dervish, and a trio called The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, who explore the commonalities between Celtic and Scandinavian music.
“What I like to think about with this particular show,” explains O’Donovan, “is that the audience is part of it, rather than a passive absorber of it. They are in the moment, with us, like a gathering would be if you invited a group of people into your house.” A true gathering of friends, the show has forged many happy memories, including one performance when Liam Harney, renowned step dancer and director of the Harney Academy of Irish Dancers in Walpole, Mass., surprised everyone—especially O’Donovan—when his dog appeared on stage at the end of a routine, dressed as a dancer and bowing to the applause. “That was a delightful moment,” remembers O’Donovan. “It was certainly a Christmas surprise.”