A Dec. 2 Business article incorrectly said Freddie Mac boosted its dividend by 34 cents. The mortgage finance company increased its dividend 34 percent. (Published 12/3/2005)
THE CRUSH of holiday concerts is about to get into full swing (see our listings below and on Page 27), but for some folks, this year's celebrations clearly have a bittersweet edge. Case in point: New Orleans-born, -bred and -based singer Aaron Neville. "For me, it's hard, thinking about other people that's displaced and don't have anything. I play music, so my work kept going, but there's so many people, everything they owned was wiped out."
Neville lost his two-story, French Quarter-style home in New Orleans East, and three of his children lost homes as well. "We were insured, but still," says the anchor of the Neville Brothers, "it was a shock to the system."
Since Hurricane Katrina, Neville and his brothers have been crisscrossing the country, headlining an endless array of benefit concerts, and 60 cents from each sale of his new CD, "Christmas Prayer," is going to Red Cross Katrina disaster relief. Neville and sax-playing brother Charles will bring their Christmas show to the Ram's Head Tavern (33 West St., Annapolis; 410-268-5111) on Monday and Tuesday.
The album, featuring a dozen Christmas standards and several originals, was recorded a month before Katrina hit, and, when he first heard the title track, Neville recalls, "I knew it applied to people everywhere. But when [Katrina] happened, it definitely pinpointed it to the people in the Gulf Coast who lost everything, all across Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, and the heart and soul of New Orleans."
Now, he adds, "every city you go to you're going to see people from New Orleans, and lately I've been meeting a lot of musicians, like [trumpeter] John Brunious with Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- he lost his house and he's been on the road ever since. We talked about it a while, and it brought a tear from both of us. So many families lost their jobs, their homes, their benefits, their papers -- they thought they were going to come back in three days. I feel for these people because even if I don't know 'em personally, I don't care what color, creed, whatever, they're my home people, and they're the city's soul."
One of the highlights of Neville's Christmas album -- a follow-up to 1993's platinum "Soulful Christmas" -- is "Ave Maria," a song whose heart-stopping rendition has become as associated with Neville as his 1966 hit "Tell It Like It Is." Franz Schubert's hymn to the Virgin Mary seems particularly suited to the singer's signature falsetto tremolo, though that voice probably seemed more appropriate to the youngster attending St. Monica's Catholic School in New Orleans's Calliope housing project.
"Growing up going to Catholic school, I used to hear the choir singing it but didn't know what it was about, yet it was catching my soul," Neville recalls. He didn't learn the actual Latin words but says that "it made me feel good to sing along to it. Then a lady wanted to surprise her sister at her wedding and said she'd heard me sing it. But I told her I never really sang it, but if she got me a record, I'd learn it and sing it." The 64-year-old Neville has now been singing "Ave Maria" for half a century.
REVELING IN THE HOLIDAYS
Two Takoma Park fiddlers of international renown will be central players in this year's edition of the Washington Revels, opening a two-weekend run at Lisner Auditorium on Dec. 9 This year's theme is music, song and dance from Scandinavia (Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Karelia), with tales drawn from the Finnish folk epic the Kalevala, celebrations of the Yule and the joyful return of the sun and light after the "shortest day" of the winter solstice. Also featured will be champion Finnish dancers Karin Brennesvik, Tom Lovli and Sigbjorn Rua and the Karelian Folk Music Ensemble. As always, this 23rd annual Revels will include lots of audience participation in carols and rounds and what is traditionally the best "Lord of the Dance" around town.
The local fiddlers are Loretta Kelley and Andrea Hoag, the first a master of Norwegian folk styles, the other a master of Swedish music. Kelley, Hoag and bassist Charlie Pilzer have just released a seasonally themed CD, "Hambo in the Snow," on Azalea City Recordings. Kelly will perform with label mates Karen Collins and Carey Creed on Saturday at the annual Azalea City Christmas concert at Sangha (7014 Westmoreland Ave., Takoma Park; 301-891-3214).
Kelley is the foremost American-born player of the hardingfele, a fiddle with sympathetic strings that is Norway's national instrument (though most common in western and central Norway). Dating to the mid-16th century, it's a violin with four melody strings that can be conventionally tuned but frequently are not. The bridge and the fingerboard have less curvature than a violin, allowing for easier double-stopping that becomes a characteristic part of the music.
Kelley, who says she has no Scandinavian family background, used to be a violinist; then in 1976, she became so captivated by the hardingfele fiddle she learned Norwegian and spent a year in Norway, studying with masters of the instrument and learning its cultural context. She has taken a half-dozen trips there since.
"It was unlike anything I'd ever heard played on the fiddle before," Kelley says. "It's very strange-sounding music even to people who are used to hearing Western European fiddle music -- the harmonies sound very foreign. It's a very sophisticated tradition that's been passed down for hundreds of years, coming from a very different tonal environment and tonal space."
A tune featured on "Hambo in the Snow," which will also open the Revels, is "Omadead Sltaz," translated as "The Judgment Day Tune." Kelley describes songs such as those as "powerful tunes that are supposed to have special powers to put the listener into a trance, or even the fiddler himself or herself in a trance. It's played in a very special tuning where the low G string is tuned down one step to F so it has very distinctive harmonies than what most people might hear." The Christmas Revels concerts are at Lisner Auditorium Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 2 p.m.
OTHER HOLIDAY CONCERTS
Upcoming holiday concerts in the area include:
Saturday, Sunday, Thursday and Dec. 9-10 -- Celtic Christmas with the Barnes & Hampton Celtic Consort at Dumbarton Church, Georgetown.
Sunday -- The Three Irish Tenors at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, Annapolis.
Sunday -- Celtic Christmas with Jezic Ensemble, Robin Bullock, Ken Kalodner and others at BlackRock Center for the Arts, Germantown.
Thursday -- Santa Jam 9 at the State Theatre, Falls Church.
Dec. 9 -- Dave Koz and friends, with Patti Austin, David Benoit and Jonathan Butler at the Hippodrome, Baltimore.
Dec. 10 -- Dave Schneyer and the Fabrangen Fiddlers (Hanukkah) at BlackRock Center for the Arts.
Dec. 13 -- Clay Aiken at DAR Constitution Hall.
Dec. 13, 14 -- Manhattan Transfer at Music Center at Strathmore, North Bethesda.
Dec. 16 -- Alison Brown at George Mason University's Center for the Arts, Fairfax.
Dec. 17 -- Canadian Brass at GMU Center for the Arts.
Dec. 18 -- Violins of Lafayette (17th- and 18th-century seasonal fare) at BlackRock Center for the Arts.
Dec. 20 -- Dianne Reeves at Maryland Hall.
Dec. 21 -- Elizabeth Von Trapp at Alden Theatre, McLean.
Dec. 21 -- Trans-Siberian Orchestra at 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore.
Dec. 22 -- Bonnie Rideout at Music Center at Strathmore.
Dec. 22 -- Trans-Siberian Orchestra at MCI Center.
In the Clubs
Friday -- Judy Collins.
Tuesday -- Peter White with Mindi Abair & Rick Braun.
Dec. 9 -- The Roches.
Dec. 11 -- Suzy Bogguss.
Dec. 12 -- Jane Monheit.
Dec. 18 -- Maggie's Music.
Dec. 26 -- What I Like About Jew, featuring Sean Altman & Rob Tannenbaum.
Dec. 27 -- Cafe Soul Allstars, featuring Glenn Jones, Vesta and Rene McLean.
Dec. 22 -- A John Waters Christmas with Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey and Lobsterboy.
Dec. 25 -- Matisyahu.
RAM'S HEAD TAVERN
Monday, Tuesday -- Aaron Neville Quintet with Charles Neville.
Wednesday -- Peter White featuring Mindi Abair.
Dec. 10 -- Suzy Bogguss.
Dec. 19 -- Los Straitjackets with the World Famous Pontani Sisters.
Dec. 23 -- Frank Wess and pianist Junior Mance.
Dec. 27 -- What I Like About Jew.
Dec. 12 -- Prelude featuring Dave Detwiler.
Dec. 14 -- Joshua Rich.
Dec. 15 -- Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra performs "The Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite."
Dec. 20 -- Travecssia Christmas Celebration.
Dec. 21 -- "A Stan Kenton Christmas" with the Capitol Bones Big Band.
Dec. 22 -- Chuck and Robert Redd.
Dec. 23 -- Phaze II.
Dec. 10 -- Hungry for Christmas Music with the Brindley Brothers, Tim Bracken Band, Fire-Dean and more.
Dec. 14 -- Lacey Roland.
Dec. 18 -- Wassailing with the Dog Waggers.
Dec. 23 -- The Getaway Car and the Alternate Routes.