The 18th annual production of The Pipes of Christmas was presented at the Central Presbyterian Church in Summit on Dec. 18. And if you missed it, you’ll just have to wait for the 19th to happen, next December. For there is no other concert like it.
Well, maybe there is in Scotland, or other locations around the globe. But certainly not in New Jersey.
This concert series, which also includes annual shows in New York (two took place Dec. 17 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church), has built a devoted following over the years by emphasizing traditional Christmas music, played on bagpipes and other instruments. The sound can be big and bold — as it was on the show-opening “Highland Cathedral” and the evening’s climactic number, “O Come All Ye Faithful” — or more quiet and reflective, as it was on “The John Muir Suite,” a new piece written by Steve Gibb that paid tribute to the Scottish born naturalist, and featured Gibbs’ guitar as well as instruments such as flute, harp, violin and cello.
Another nice treat was a new arrangement, by Gibb, of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” This number was conceived, before Cohen died, as a tribute to Pipes of Christmas participants and supporters who have died in the past year, but Gibb’s stately arrangement took on more meaning after the death of Cohen himself, last month.
There was a third premiere, too: “The Old Bard of Stilligarry,” an intricate piece featuring two harps as well as other instruments, composed by Eyler Coates and the winner of a contest sponsored by the Scottish Harp Society of America.
But mostly, the show was made up of traditional music, including “Joy to the World,” “Amazing Grace,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “The Little Drummer Boy,” plus bonuses like readings, in a thick Scottish accent, by actor James Robinson, of passages from Scottish, Irish and Welsh literature; and the opportunity to watch percussionists from the Kevin Ray Blandford Memorial Pipe Band dexterously twirl their mallets above their heads.
Susan Porterfield Currie served as the evening’s host, introducing songs and readings. Her warm, welcoming manner served as a nice contrast to the staunchly formal marching and stoic gazes of the pipe band members.
I know that bagpipes have a bad reputation: I can’t think of an instrument that serves, more often, as the butt of jokes. But, as music lovers who keep attending Pipes of Christmas concerts year after year know, they can also be deeply hypnotic, or even downright majestic, given the right material.
You don’t have to take my word on it: There isn’t much question that the Pipes of Christmas series wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has, drawing packed houses year after year, if this wasn’t true.
For more information on the series, visit pipesofchristmas.com.
Here is a clip of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” from the 2012 show: