Very much the same thing has happened with the words “Celt” or “Celtic,” but without even starting with a known specific people group. The first time we know of that this term was used was way back in ancient Greek times, when the term “keltoi” was used for people living in northern Italy, southern France, and part of Germany. (Of course, folks, none of those countries existed at the time.) What does that term mean? Well, it may refer to a stone hammer. Then again, it may not. And who exactly those people were, and whether or not they had any common identity—well, it's a mystery. Anyone who wasn't Greek or Roman could be considered a Celt. What we do know is that the languages of these people, along with those living in Spain, and the British Isles, and even parts of Turkey, had similarities and therefore seemed to have a common origin. All of the so-called Celtic languages on the continent of Europe have disappeared, but in Britain there are still remnants of them: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, Breton, Cornish, and, most relevant to our concert, Welsh.
Ho-kay. Where does that leave us? With a lot of speculation, that's where. There must have been some “original” settlers in Britain, but who knows who they were. Then the Celts arrived with their new languages, but they were much more interested in fighting each other than in uniting with each other in any way. There's no one “Celtic culture” that we can point to. Then various invasions arrived, including the Romans, the Vikings and the Normans, and everything got all mixed up. What's left for us today are the shadowy remnants of those ancient people, along with much later traditions and, be it said, some modern romanticized notions. Our current Celtic conceptions probably wouldn't make too much sense to someone living in 500 B.C. (“Ah, so we invented that knot, did we? Very nice.”)
But just because we can't be sure who these people were, when they arrived or from where, that doesn't mean that there isn't a rich artistic tradition associated with folk memories of them. I have this picture in my head of the British Isles, with a big spreading splotch in the middle that represents the victorious invaders and other areas around the edges that show the earlier arrivals being pushed to the margins. There's no hard and fast line anywhere; the borders have a lot of overlap. Some groups hold on tenaciously to their identity, or what they've been told is their identity. Others just join in with the victors. And there are real consequences to these differences, as we saw as recently as 2014 when there was a serious question as to whether Scotland would remain as part of Great Britain or become an independent nation. They voted to stay, but there were 1.6 million who voted to go against the 2 million majority. That's a pretty substantial independence party! (I'm sure that most of them were wearing kilts. Oh, and does the word “keltoi” mentioned above have anything to do with kilts? Probably not. Sigh.)
We are pleased to be collaborating again with Beth Gadbaw and Margot Krimmel of White Birds Celtic Music Artists. I like how their website phrases it: “Pleasing to folk and art music fans alike, the music of Gadbaw and Krimmel is inspired by Celtic and American traditions, and is enhanced by the artists’ originality and creativity.” So their emphasis is on enjoyment and artistry, and they feel free to put their own spin on things, but there's a deep respect for the past. And of course we'll be havin' the bagpipes! (I hope to track down the origin of that most unusual instrument.) So come back here over the weeks until our March concert to find out all that I can find out about our selections. And we'll hope to see you at the concert!