|Irish, mountain music duo returns to Chapel Hill tonight
Rebecca Bailey, The Herald-Sun (Chapel Hill)
During an interview last year on Clare FM radio in Ireland, Julee Glaub and Mark Weems put their foreheads together -- as they sometimes do when singing a capella "to really hear each other" -- and sang an old-time Appalachian song.
Announcer Cormac McConnell loved it.
"He thought that's how people sing in the mountains of North Carolina," recalled Glaub. "Later that week, we ran into folks who had heard the show. They asked, 'Are yus gonna put your foreheads together and sing us an awl song?' "
Glaub and Weems, as the duo "Little Windows," have taken their music across Ireland and the eastern U.S. Tonight they're back home to play traditional Irish and Appalachian music at the Open Eye Café, where their brand new CD "Just Beyond Me" will be available for the first time in North Carolina.
After graduating from Wake Forest, Glaub worked for seven years in Dublin with single mothers, children and street people. She didn't move to Ireland looking for Irish music -- instead, she said, "traditional Irish songs found me." Because music and stories are an important part of the daily routine in Ireland, "It's common to go to a house for dinner and end up singing and playing music."
The weather on the Emerald Isle contributes to that cultural tradition. "My first winter in Ireland, I went out and bought a guitar to make it through the dark cold days," said Glaub, "and I started to learn the traditional songs." Her teachers were older singers, particularly in the west of Ireland; and she found additional material in the Dublin Music Archives.
Learning the songs, said Glaub, meant learning the people. "There was always time for a tea and a chat. I learned how to appreciate timelessness in Ireland." She also learned to play the Irish drum called the bodhran; today, she plays flute and guitar as well.
But when she traveled through Ireland last year performing with Weems, who adds banjo, fiddle, guitar, piano, and mountain dulcimer to the instrumental mix, Glaub was sobered by certain changes: "The Ireland I knew in the '90s has changed so much," she said. "I was saddened to find it more difficult to come across a traditional music session, and to see a fast-paced Ireland that drank tea in paper cups on the go."
Seeing traditional Ireland "getting a bit lost in the success of Ireland" left Glaub more determined, she said, "to discover songs that are not being sung, and sing them and teach them." In addition to performing, Glaub teaches traditional singing both privately and publicly, in workshops throughout the states and abroad; she also has created a teaching program for lower- and middle-school children.
Just over a year ago, Glaub met duet partner Weems at the Mt. Airy Fiddlers Convention. Said Weems, "She likes to tell people she fell in love with a voice she heard in the darkness and followed the sound until she found me singing."
Weems is part of an extended family of musicians, including the Weems String Band players who recorded in the late 1920s. On the new CD's hymn "Palms of Victory," Weems' father Kelly added a bass vocal harmony, recorded at Jerry Brown's Chapel Hill studio.
Weems' old style string band music was warmly received in Ireland, where, said Glaub, he was pronounced "the real TING." And while Weems has two other very popular bands -- the Stillhouse Bottom Band (playing at the ArtsCenter March 17) and the Weems-Gerrard band -- he calls his work with Glaub "the most personally rewarding musical expression I've been a part of."
"Unlike the current trend in most acoustic music," he said, "our instrumental playing is still sparse and tasteful, always conscious of [a song's] delivery needs, which often leads us to sing a capella. Somehow, the combination of our two voices, in spite of the sparse approach, seems to affect people in a much deeper way than anything I've ever done before."
The two still put their foreheads together while singing to feel the intense vibrations created by their close harmony. "It's metaphysical, supernatural. Sometimes it scares me," said Weems. "Singing with Julee is a spiritual experience for me."
Weems is the duos composer; the new CD features two of his songs in addition to traditional Appalachian and old-time gospel. For his composition Loneliest One, Weems said he hit up a poem by Nietzsche for the words, which fit perfectly. Ive always really liked Nietzsche, in all his difficultyand find him, strangely, quite spiritual.
Weems added, Im always struck by how I can write a song about some obscure thing or idea that personally interests meand then have a large audience make a connection to it somehow, and be touched.
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