Interview: The Celtic Rathskallions bring music, dance, and drama to audiences of all ages
By Jessica Ruano | January 4, 2022
The Celtic Rathskallions is a folk music duo composed of Arthur McGregor and Wendy Moore, who have been performing for adults and children alike for over 20 years. Versatile musicians whose goal is to bring Celtic-rooted music, song, dance, drama, stories, and culture to audiences of all ages, The Rathskallions have a special focus on working within schools and communities and have earned kudos for their concerts, workshops, and collaborations.
In this interview, Arthur and Wendy talk about the joys of performing for students and seniors and some of the curious contracts they’ve received since the beginning of the pandemic.
Between the two of you, you play 15 instruments, including the oboe, steel-string guitar, Celtic harp, autoharp, ukulele, mandolin, electric bass, bodhran, djembe, banjo, English horn, tin whistle, and bagpipes. How do you keep track of them all, and how do you choose which instruments to use in which song?
There are a few ways we choose instrumentation. If Wendy is dancing, she’s playing percussion with her feet. Arthur would be playing an instrument that focuses on the melody and rhythm. If Arthur sings, he’s playing a stringed instrument while Wendy is playing a back-up instrument such as whistle, oboe, or English horn. Instrumental songs allow us to spread out with Wendy choosing harp or whistle or oboe or English horn while Arthur plays either a background instrument or a percussion instrument. The Celtic Rathskallions school show is a piece of musical theatre with set instrumentation. In Celtic Rathskallions concerts, we create a setlist that reflects the venue and audience. As well, we try to continually add new content.
Many local folks know Arthur from the Ottawa Folklore Centre, which closed in 2015. How have your lives changed since the closing of this historic and treasured music store and school? Have you made more time for creating and sharing music?
With the closing of the Folklore Centre, we had to increase The Rathskallions’ touring. Tours in the fall and spring to Eastern and Western Canada, the USA, and Ireland were regular and a pleasure. We did a mid-winter tour of the northern Prairies a few years ago and, along with a dozen house concerts as “Moore and McGregor,” we performed 25 school shows as The Celtic Rathskallions. But with the onset of the pandemic, we have been out of work. Wendy has been studying nutrition with a focus on helping others. Arthur has been writing and performing online when he can. He’s also involved with some musical organizations like Gil’s Hootenanny and the Musicians’ Local 1000 union.
The pandemic has made it necessary for musicians and artists to be creative in the ways they share music and art. How have you managed with online programming, and have you made any interesting discoveries along the way?
Arthur has been quite involved with online presentations, organizing a live, cross-Canada musical relay through Gil’s Hootenanny. He’s presented new songs on online open stages. He’s had a show in downtown Kemptville with the contract saying “no singing or dancing.” He’s been involved with the first annual Upper Canada Folk Festival, presented in Prescott, Ontario on October 3 of this year. The festival, which adhered to social distancing protocol, was approved and supported by the local health unit. The festival was a huge success. Arthur also offers online music lessons.
As a member of MASC, what do you gain through offering your workshops in schools and in the community?
MASC is a hugely respected organization offering an eclectic lineup of professional artists representing an incredible range of the arts. Being part of this wonderful organization has been a joy. All of the interactions we’ve had with venues and MASC staff have been professional and friendly. This makes our job, to present joyful, professional and entertaining/educational shows, a wonderful experience.
Why do you think it’s important for our local community to have access to professional artists?
The arts are an essential and valuable asset to any community. A well-curated list of professional artists lets venues such as schools and senior residences feel confident in the booking process and what they will experience and maintains a high level of presentation that is very likely to impact strongly on the audiences. Our favourite feedback from school shows: “It was better than taco day!” and in a seniors’ show, the tapping of a foot from a woman confined to her bed. It’s a joy to perform.