Kindred Spirits Sets the Holiday Mood With Celtic Tunes

Kindred Spirits
Kindred Spirits
Courtesy of Kindred Spirits
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"It's not your typical 'Jingle Bells' shtick," says flutist Vicki Jordan, describing the music of her Celtic- and Renaissance-influenced ensemble, Kindred Spirits.

Her voice warms when she recalls the time a weary passerby stopped to listen to the band during one of its regular performances at Stella's coffee shop on South Pearl Street.

"A young man stopped in because he'd heard the music," recalls the part-time flute and piano teacher. "He'd just finished working the night shift and was exhausted. He told us we brightened his whole day. The most important thing for me is being able to add a little joy and lightness to people's lives. We try to lift them up."

The long-running group has been elevating moods in the Mile High City for more than 25 years. The Spirits are poised to honor the winter season with a pair of concerts, one of which marks their eighth year performing at Swallow Hill during the holidays.

"We play a lively set of songs," she says. "Some of the pieces can be serious, but they're also beautiful. We will be celebrating about all things winter. We mostly focus on old-world material going back to the 1500s, but we also have a few modern tunes that sound old. A lot of these are ancient carols that have carried over. We do songs like 'The Snow Lay on the Ground,' which is very fun and features bells in it; 'Still, Still, Still,' 'Here We Come a-Wassailing,' which is more recognizable; 'The Boar's Head Carol"; and we have one, 'The Helston Furry Dance,' that we play a lot. It's a tune that can be used for Christmas or spring. Helston is a place in Cornwall, England, and the song is part of its local culture."

Jordan has been with the Spirits for ten years. She joined the group in 2007 after one of its initial founders passed away and another fell ill. Kindred Spirits comprises four women who play year-round, though the band adds two men for its holiday shows.

"We are continuing the tradition of the women who founded the group," Jordan says. The seventy-year-old retired music teacher relocated to Colorado from West Virginia in 2005 in search of better schools for her youngest daughter and a new life in general. "As time passed on, they needed to replace some musicians, and that's how they hitched up with me. The harp player, Marianne, and cellist, Ana, have been in it for more than twenty years. They're almost original members. They met in a class that they took at Swallow Hill. I met them while I was working there at the front desk. They sent an email asking if they could put up a poster on the bulletin board because they had just lost a couple people in the band. I said, 'Sure, but do you need a flute player?' I've been part of the group ever since."

The members of Kindred Spirits include Jordan on flute and piccolo; Ana Mettler on cello, guitar and accordion; Marianne Gibbs on Celtic harp, viola and violin; and Ravay Snow on hammered dulcimer, marimba and bass. The Winter Spirit version of the band includes Eric Olson on Uilleann (Irish) pipes and Irish pennywhistle, and James Messerich on bodhran (Irish drum), djembe and other percussion instruments including bells and chimes.

"Our music comes from all over," says Jordan. "When we say Celtic, we generally mean from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. But we have pieces from England and Catalonia and all across the British Isles. Ana is German, actually from Germany, and Marianne is of Swedish descent. My family originally came from Germany and the British Isles. We also have three or four tunes from the Jewish tradition. We try to pull in music from different cultures."

Jordan says the group tries to get together at least once a month to rehearse and that any song or melody is fair game.

"If it sounds like something we like, we play it," she explains. "Anytime one of us hears or reads about something we think could work, we'll bring it in to talk about it. Sometimes it's just a melody line with some chords, and sometimes we add different harmonies. We arrange it to work with our instruments. We sometimes change instruments in the middle of a song. Marianne might go from the harp to the viola, or Ana from cello to accordion. We change things up from tune to tune, so everything gets a little bit of a different flavor."

She notes that the repertoire includes a few pieces that were influenced by Celtic artist Loreena McKennitt. One such song, "Bonny Portmore," takes on the cautionary environmental tale of Portmore and the demise of Ireland's oak forests. The outfit recorded a CD, Winter Still, of year-end songs in 2010.

"I sang in madrigals when I was young and started playing the flute in fifth grade, but I wasn't that familiar with Celtic and Renaissance music," Jordan says. "This band turned me on to it. People always tell me that our end-of-year shows really set the mood for the whole holiday season. It's great to have the guys join in. The pipes and percussion make it very interesting."

Kindred Spirits' Winter Spirit concert, 8 p.m. Saturday, December 2, Swallow Hill Music, 71 East Yale Avenue, $15-$17; second performance, Saturday, December 9,  St. Frances Cabrini Music Room Theater,
6673 West Chatfield Avenue, Littleton, $10.

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