Last week I took my kids to a concert by “Connla,” a band from northern Ireland. Through some instant karma, we were lucky enough to get floor seats (literally, sitting on our pockets at the band members’ feet). When I realized how close we would be to the performers, I felt a shyness, which feeling intensified when the band came up.
But only a few measures into the first song, “Pilot,” I realized my crossed legs were moving to the rhythm, and I’d already forgotten my reserve. The band had started its magic, and like all the best professional musicians, they were enticing everyone to become part of their spell-casting. They led us through jazzy pieces that felt like easily dancing on a sunlit path through a bright green meadow (“Mighty Makena’s”), dark songs that conjured disturbing history (“Julia”), exciting tunes that made me wish I could lock arms and turn with my fellow audience members (“Drunken Piper”), songs of hope (“Sail On”), and lots of others, tied together with pleasant personal stories that made us laugh or cheer.
Being that close, I witnessed their talent in a way impossible from a seat in the back. Every instantaneous pitch change in the drum was because she precisely positioned her fingers on its underside. The harpist leapt from chord to chord, her fingers perfect for each attack, exactly complimenting the guitarist, whose fingers worked with such rapidity up and down the fretboard that they seemed unconnected to the calm face of their owner. And the pipes and flutes– I would’ve thought their fingers were merely fluttering over their instruments except that those shockingly fast notes were in perfect alignment with each other and all the other instruments. And the lead singer’s voice had a sweetness not usually found in tones so rich and full.
I loved how they played the sudden, quick silences in their music to add a breath of excitement or to signal a change of tempo or style in the song. That kind of precise expression only comes from countless hours of practicing together. (Think of how easy it is for someone singing Handel’s “Alleluia Chorus” to stick an extra “alleluia” into the caesura at the very end. A choir director I know often warns members about not taking unintended solos.)
Though a few of us did take them up on their invitation to give a yell when we felt so inspired, my guess is that we stuffy Americans weren’t as fun of an audience as they might get on a Saturday night in a pub in Armagh. But they wielded their power to make the standing-room-only crowded room of widely varying strangers feel a unity, an enlivening. For that too-short time together, we lived our lives more abundantly.