Last Saturday, I had the amazing opportunity to see Keith & Kristyn Getty live in concert in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The auditorium held as many people as it could seat, which is approximately 2000 people.
It was a huge concert. Keith and Kristyn were joined by a mixed Irish/American band, including Dave Cleveland and Fionan de Barra on guitars, Deborah Klemme on fiddle, Jeff Taylor on accordion/mandolin/penny whistle/concertina, and Patrick D’Arcy on Uillean pipes, plus a bass player and drummer whose names I didn’t catch. Dave and Fionan are involved in arranging the Gettys’ music and are considered to be the band directors. (More on the band later. If I don’t mention their awesomeness on every single song, it’s because they were so awesome on every song that I just sort of got used to it and took it for granted. So, yeah, they were awesome.) A mass choir backed them up comprising singers from the choirs of two local churches.
I brought a camera which ran out of battery power partway through and had to be replenished (we figured out what the problem was—continuous image stabilization, huge battery hog). I recently got Lightroom 3 as a Christmas present and was able to improve some of the less-than-optimal shots I got from my less-than-optimal seat in the balcony. My best shots were taken during the after-concert I mentioned earlier this week when three of the musicians came out to the reception room for an informal jam. I was right there up close to them with perfect lighting. But I managed to get some good concert shots too. Enjoy the images and scroll down for the review. Also, there’s a special surprise at the very end of this post!
O Come Redeemer Of the Earth/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: The prelude was slow and expectant, a song that I think may be new from the Gettys. From there they moved into a rousing version of “God Rest Ye Merry.” Like many of the carols on their new Christmas album (which you should buy immediately), it’s combined with a traditional Irish reel. This one features the Star of Munster. It set a vigorous, energetic tone for the evening.
What Child Is This: This is an exciting arrangement. Ordinarily, this carol gets the quiet, contemplative treatment, but this arrangement moves along and has a lot of punch to it.
Good Christian Men Rejoice: The Gettys turned this not-quite-so-well-known carol into a congregational sing-along. It worked splendidly. We were treated to some glorious penny whistling from Jeff Taylor as the audience clapped and worshiped. I loved the way they took the line “Christ was born today, Christ was born today,” and instead of drawing out the first “today” for two syllables, they sang “Christ was born today, OH! Christ was born today!” Keith was at the piano throughout the concert, but for audience singalongs, he was always turning to lead them in clapping, sometimes even jumping up from the piano. The enthusiasm with which the Gettys tackle their music is infectious.
Here there was a break between songs as Keith talked about being in Kalamazoo for the first time and took a few jabs at Dutch people. (Southwest Michigan is full of Van-this-er-mullens and Hoekstras and Kooistras and what-not.) He said he was looking forward to having their first ever Dutch-Irish Christmas with us. He generated a good response when he said that even though he and Kristyn have lived in Ohio for about six years, they never supported Ohio state (perhaps that was his way of trying to smooth things over after all those Dutch jokes!)
Then Kristyn took the microphone and said that she became a mother back in March, to a little girl named Eliza Joy who now travels with them. The fiddle player also has a little boy who travels with her, and Kristyn expressed her hope that both children were fast asleep in the bus.
Magnificat: From there Kristyn introduced their new musical setting for the “Magnificat,” which they wrote several years ago when they were still hoping for a child. She talked about how the beauty of Mary’s song is that she looks beyond her own personal joy to God’s plan for mankind in sending the Messiah. Kristyn understandably referred to it as “God’s redemptive plan,” though it is debatable whether Mary really understood Christ’s true purpose in coming to earth at the time. (But that deserves a post of its own!) Keith left the piano to play guitar. I love the melody they wrote. It’s got a stately, almost medieval dignity.
How Suddenly A Baby Cries: This is a new Christmas lyric written to the traditional folk tune “Star of the County Down,” which most people know as the tune for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” It has always been one of my favorite melodies. The Gettys’ lyrics are a sweeping meditation on the mystery of Christ’s birth and salvation. The first couple of verses are soft and pregnant with anticipation, but then it suddenly picks up and turns into a reel. I lost count of how many verses there are, but it’s a very impressive piece.
Keith said that County Down was one of C. S. Lewis’s favorite places in North Ireland (mentioning it when asked what he thought heaven would be like). So when they were writing a new reel to tack onto their arrangement of the tune, they christened it the Narnian Reel in his memory.
Joy Has Dawned: Keith said that every hymn-writer wants to write a Christmas carol, and this is their attempt at one. After talking a little about the history of carols, he said that joy seems to be a major theme of Christmas wherever you go. Whatever people’s view of the season, they want to get as much enjoyment as they can out of it. Keith quoted a writer who said that the world’s attempt to find that kind of materialistic joy is like “grabbing a raindrop to find the ocean,” because true joy isn’t found within. True joy came to us in the form of Christ’s incarnation.
This is one of my favorite songs on the new album. (It’s also been recorded by a couple other artists, but this arrangement is so much better it’s not even funny.) The tune sticks in your head and is easy to remember, plus you want to remember it. Also, the lyrics are some of the best I think I’ve ever heard from them. They sound most similar to an actual hymn of anything the Getty/Townend team has written. The closing verse is my favorite:
Son of Adam Son of heav’n
Given as a ransom
Reconciling God and man
Christ our mighty Champion!
What a Saviour what a Friend
What a glorious myst’ry
Once a babe in Bethlehem
Now the Lord of hist’ry
For their Christmas album, they chose to blend this carol with “Angels We Have Heard On High.” It works great.
Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven: Probably my absolute favorite new song of theirs (it would definitely be “The Star On Top” if I were including it in my new series), this was specifically written as a children’s carol. Keith wrote the melody, and Kristyn wrote the lyrics while she was pregnant. It’s very easily singable, as it was meant to be, and the lyrics are just perfect, obviously not just for children:
Jesus, take away every darkness
Steady my simple footsteps
That I might in your goodness
Live as a child of God
Jeff Taylor played a really sweet accordion on this one.
When Trials Come: This was one of a few non-Christmas songs they did that evening. Kristyn set it up by talking about how the history of Irish music is wrought with pathos because of the various things its people have suffered through the centuries. This song was written in that spirit. It’s always been one of my favorite songs of theirs, because the melody and lyrics come together to create such a potent sense of longing and hope. It starts slowly and poignantly, then builds in intensity to a triumphant finale. Hugely uplifting and drew a great response.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing: Time for another carol/reel combo! This is a definite highlight on the new project. It has a great bluegrass flavor, but it’s a little rocky too. The fiddle player really tore it up on this one, but then again she tore it up on everything. The fiddle was an essential instrument in most of their arrangements.
After intermission, Keith introduced the various band members. For those of you who think southern gospel singers are the only ones who tell corny jokes, guess what… they’re not! I couldn’t follow it all, partly because of Keith’s thick Irish brogue and partly because I was way up in the balcony, but I caught some. I heard Patrick D’Arcy talk a little about his pipes, joking about the fact that you don’t have to blow into them by saying “You can have a cigarette while you’re playing!” (That’s one joke you wouldn’t hear at a southern gospel event. :lol:) Patrick is an Irish studio musician who’s played on film scores. Then when Jeff Taylor was introduced, he provided some perfectly timed comedy, saying “I play the accordion. Please don’t take any Youtube videos, it would break my wife’s heart to know what I did for a living. She thinks I’m a professional wrestler.” Then, when talking about his mandolin’s official name, he said, “This is a bazouki, unless you’re going on a plane ride. Then it’s ‘an octave mandolin, sir.’ ” Guitarist Dave Cleveland was introduced as one of Nashville’s top studio musicians, having played for people like Michael W. Smith and Point of Grace. He also told us that he got to play all the guitars for the movie Courageous, which generated a lot of applause! And Fionan de Barre has played with all the top Irish musicians, including Riverdance in the 90s.
The band then treated us to an instrumental number. Keith set it up by talking about Greengrass parties, where Irish musicians and bluegrass/Americana musicians come together to sit around and play Celtic/bluegrass tunes. I didn’t catch the name of the tune—it sounded like “The Village Reel.” It was a treat to watch all these fine musicians go at it. Dave and Fionan were particularly fun to watch all night because they were physically so into the music, bouncing up and down side by side. Jeff Taylor switched artfully from instrument to instrument. I know he played at least penny whistle and accordion, and I think he may also have played his bazouki (er, I mean “octave mandolin”). I wouldn’t have minded a whole concert just with the band (which we sort of ended up getting later). The audience was clapping along and soaking up every minute of it.
Simple Living: This cheerful meditation on being a cheerful giver comes from a new collection of songs written with Stuart Townend, which looks at how different parts of the gospel apply to daily Christian living. “For this song,” said Keith humorously, “We thought we’d take an uncontroversial topic, so we chose money.” It doesn’t really sound like a hymn, but Keith said that churches had been picking it up anyway (“Because presumably they have building projects and stuff…”) With reference to the widow’s mite, the song insightfully observes, “Not what you give but what you keep/Is what the King is counting.” The audience was invited to sing along.
Still, My Soul Be Still: Here Kristyn talked about life as a new mother, during which she realized that her previous goals of having eight hours of sleep at night in a row and one interrupted hour of quiet time per day were now permanently unattainable. This song is a prayer that God would help us to be still in His presence despite the busy-ness of life in this world. The accompaniment was very tasteful. Keith once again left the piano to play guitar, and other instruments gradually joined in to flesh it out.
Carol of the Bells: This is a fun carol for any arranger to work with. The Gettys combined it with the Young Tom Ennis Jig. There was a lot of great pipe-work on this one, and the choir got to some dramatic “ding dongs.”
Fullness of Grace: A new Christmas song, this has a hushed, minor key feel. Kristyn preceded it by reading John 1. It would have been even better if she had used a translation which said that the light lighteth every man that cometh into the world (instead of “everyone”), but in terms of cadencing and rhythm, it was a pretty good translation that sticks fairly close to the familiar King James.
In Christ Alone: This is a new arrangement. It’s a little slower and mellower than the original. Everyone stood and sang.
Joy to the World: With everyone on their feet, the Gettys segued into this rousing favorite. This was arranged with a brand new reel composed by Keith, named Miss Eliza’s Reel after their baby girl. There was some surprisingly kickin’ electric guitar work on this one. Watch a high quality live performance of it here , filmed in New York the very night before.
An Irish Christmas Blessing: Here my dad suggested that I might want to get down the first floor so that I’d have a chance to meet Keith and the band before the mob stampeded in. So I slipped out in the middle of this song. But I couldn’t resist lingering a moment in the back of the balcony, letting the blessing wash over me. I can’t describe how beautiful this piece is—the music and lyrics combine for a gorgeously peaceful effect.
So may his joy rush over you
Delight in the pow’r he has called you to
May all your steps walk in heaven’s endless light
Beyond this Christmas night
Go Tell It On the Mountain: This was a little extra piece that they pulled out while I was downstairs scouting out the reception room. Fortunately I sneaked back in on the bottom floor to catch the end of it. This arrangement is not on their new project, but it makes a capital closing number. They gave it a rootsy folk/rock flavor with lots of killer guitar and fiddle licks. Here is another high quality video, also from the New York concert.
And now I come to the best part, which is that I took video of two numbers performed after the concert! At first it was just Patrick and Fionan, but Jeff Taylor came and joined them, and that’s when I started taking video. The first one I took was a request from me — “Be Thou My Vision.” Patrick fumbled a little on one note, but c’mon, this was totally impromptu!
The second was some unidentified reel/jig. This was a little longer, so I had time to zoom in on the players some:
They were still playing when I left. I have no idea how long they kept on going, but Keith said they would stay until the last person left, which was incredibly classy considering how many people there were. I got to meet him myself and slipped him a demo CD of some hymns stuff I’ve done, and then Dad got him to sign the new CD to me while I was over watching the band. Kristyn didn’t come out and instead went back to the bus (presumably collapsing in exhaustion with her baby).
This was probably the best produced show I’ve ever seen. But tonight I’m going to see the Homecoming friends, and I hear their band is pretty decent too.