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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

With a medieval flourish, Heather Dale refreshes campus music scene

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

Heather Dale performed a concert titled “An Ancient Yule” in Levin Ballroom Monday night. Although relatively few people attended the concert, the band kept the atmosphere light-hearted and fun and made for a good way to relax and listen to some enjoyably atypical music.

Hailing from Canada, the band consisted of Heather Dale as the show’s headliner along with Ben Deschamps, S.J. Tucker and John Stadtlander. The band has released 16 albums thus far and performed in numerous venues in both North America and Europe; Brandeis was one of the early stops in their winter tour. They produce medieval music with a modern twist, which Dale’s website describes as a fusion of “the Celtic folk tradition with a healthy mix of world music and rock influences.”

Despite a late start, they quickly kicked off into an engaging show. The band played a nicely balanced repertoire, with slower classics like “Ave Maria” standing in contrast with the upbeat rhythms of “This Endris Night” and “The Road to Santiago,” among others. Instrumental solos varied the band’s songs even further, as each member was featured in multiple songs on different instruments. These not only prevented the set list from becoming repetitive but also kept the audience’s rapt attention on the soloist of the moment. Each performer seemed to have enormous fun during their solos, showcasing a vast variety of talents. Perhaps the most memorable of these was Deschamp’s jazz flute solo at the beginning of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen/Patapan/Hunting the Wren,” which kept true to the medley’s jolly nature and had the entire room nodding their heads with the beat.

One of the most appealing aspects of the band was their sheer variety of musical instruments: from guitars and basses to the hammered dulcimer, each member specialized at playing multiple different instruments. The program for the performance highlighted this, attributing seven out of 15 instruments alone to Heather Dale. The more common instruments blended seamlessly with classic medieval apparatuses, which were particularly interesting to hear given that they have become such a rarity in modern music.

The lack of substantial attendance for the performance left Levin Ballroom feeling a bit empty and cavernous. Despite this, an undeterred Dale interacted with the audience throughout the performance, often by inviting them to sing along or by telling the background stories of each song. The rest of the group had no qualms about joining in. Deschamps had the crowd laughing uproariously after telling a story about being chased out of a Florida polling place four years ago during an election. The group was just as comfortable off-stage as they were during their performance. Members went into the audience to meet their fans and joke around during intermission as well as before and after the performance—a tactic that worked well for them, if the line at the merchandise table was any indicator.

Although Heather Dale performs music from our past, she has carved out a place for herself in the modern day. The band’s great attitude, powerful stage presence and appealing musical variety collide to make them not only good performers, but fun to listen to on recordings. To help promote itself, the band put up free downloadable copies of its album “Perpetual Gift” on its website; if nothing else, download them and listen for a bit—modern Celtic, rocky-folk music just might be a welcome diversion from pop and rap.