Considering the Arctic freeze that settled over St. Albert last Friday and Saturday night, it was amazing to see the Arden Theatre filled to near capacity.
But for many local music fans, Christmas just wouldn’t quite be the same without a hearth and home concert by Terry McDade and his three children, The McDades. They are Jeremiah (tin whistle/flute/sax), Solon (upright bass) and Shannon Johnson (fiddle).
In a two-set concert, Edmonton’s favourite Celtic/roots/world family reeled off a few McDade hits blended with Christmas favourites and some less-familiar carols.
What set this performance apart from other seasonal concerts is the McDade family’s uncanny instrumental ability to weave fresh arrangements from timeless carols into spellbinding moments you wish would never end.
And as products of Edmonton’s French immersion schools, the younger McDades have an enviable skill with languages as demonstrated by Shannon singing Noel, Noel, Noel in French and Jeremiah singing Huron Carol in Huron and Riu, Riu, Riu in Spanish.
As the two main singers they were expressive and set out to engage the audience from the beginning. While Shannon’s vocals were powerful and crisp, Jeremiah pipes were warm and acrobatic.
Backed by the amazing Gord Graber on drums and Mark Ladouceur on guitar, the McDade family kicked off the show with a Catalonian carol, The Angel Gabriel, an excellent opening for father Terry to show off his harp skills.
Immediately after the last note, the witty siblings started bantering, whereupon Jeremiah announced Angel Gabriel was his favourite carol. Not missing a beat Solon stepped up with “Yeah, the rest of the show is downhill from here.” The crowd roared and the ice melted.
On a theatrical stage decorated with a tall tree and sparkling lights, they pulled many familiars from their Christmas sack – a fast paced Good King Wenceslas, a delicate harp-infused What Child is This, and the hypnotic We Three Kings that built to a crescendo much like Ravel’s Bolero.
Perhaps the lushest piece was a stunning arrangement of Little Drummer Boy saturated with a Middle Eastern essence where Graber’s drum solo and Jeremiah’s guttural throat made for a savvy surprise.
Adding to the Christmas concert’s old-fashioned feel were two poetry readings by retired University of Alberta drama professor Jim de Felice. In reading his two Robert Frost poems and William Wordsworth’s Minstrels, de Felice found the right seasonal pulse. His voice, weathered by the years, still carried a characteristic emotional punch that has elevated him to one of the area’s most sought after theatre and film luminaries.
As the encore Silent Night was played, one by one people in the audience started singing in single voice. This unexpected goose bump moment left everyone in a jolly mood yearning for eggnog and mistletoe. Or maybe just a relaxing game of gin rummy.
Terry McDade and The McDades<br />Dec. 11 and 12<br />Arden Theatre