At some point in their 38 years together, The Chieftains stopped being just an ensemble and started becoming an institution. Drawing inspiration from every corner of the globe and their native country, The Chieftains have the distinction of being Ireland”s official “Musical Ambassadors.” But titles aside, this prolific sextet is truly worshipped for its live performances. This Sunday, the Hill Auditorium stage will be transformed into the rhythmic, enchanting world of The Chieftains.
The roots of The Chieftains lie in the traditional Celtic music of Ireland, which is as diverse as the backgrounds of each of the group”s members. The fiddle itself is a malleable instrument, varying in style and technique from county to county. “Water in the Well,” their most recent album, features the swing-like fiddle of Kerry, the laid back sound of Clare and the Scottish-influenced sound of Galway. “Chief” Chieftain Paddy Maloney likens the regional differences to a journey of fiddles. “If you listen attentively you”ll hear the different styles, the construction of tunes in each little place you go,” he said.
The Chieftains” unique combination of instruments uileann pipes, fiddle, harp, bodhran and flute is the brainchild of Maloney. And while Maloney does much of the composing and arranging himself, The Chieftains are foremost a collection of accomplished solo musicians. Each member hails from a different part of Ireland, providing the group with a great deal of breadth. Fiddler Sean Keane”s version of “Heartbreak Hotel” is a favorite piece of The Chieftains. Part Irish jig, part guitar-driven rock, this song is just one of many that combines sounds from several countries.
It is their thirst for new musical inspirations that has led The Chieftains to collaborate with dozens of famous artists. Their extensive roster includes Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Sting, Bryan Adams, Elvis Costello and Sinead O”Connor. Maloney began backtracking on a McCartney album back in 1972 and since then has forged a number of musical connections. On many occasions, artists will approach The Chieftains with an idea and Maloney will try to adapt it into traditional Irish music. The song “Long Black Veil,” for example, features Sting”s vocals in the Irish language. “It”s from the heartit”s great music, it”s music that belongs to everyone,” said Maloney. “You don”t have to be Irish to sing or play Irish music.”
Last October, The Chieftains traveled to New York City to play at a memorial service for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Visiting Ground Zero the next morning was an emotional experience for Maloney, who found the awfulness of it to be overwhelming. He pulled out a tin whistle and played the heartfelt Irish tune, “I am Asleep, Don”t Wake Me.” A lot of the workers stopped to listen to Maloney”s playing, which surely brought some tranquility to the scene. “I just played it as a mark of respect,” said Maloney.
Sunday”s program is brand new material for The Chieftains. They”ve surpassed even their own high performance standards with this show, which is comprised of bluegrass, country, traditional Irish music and even a tap dance sequence. Natalie MacMaster, a Canadian bombshell who plays fiddle and dances at the same time, will take center stage. “It will be quite a night,” said Maloney.