History blossoms for traditional music quartet Wild Columbine

A musical group playing Sundays at the Jacksonville Public Library is leaning into the holiday with a concert featuring a variety of music, including some carols, even though Christmas was over two weeks ago.

William “Bill” Farley, leader of Wild Columbine, a Springfield-area quartet that has performed traditional music from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries since 2015, said: “There are some (songs) that are sacred or at least tied to tradition. There are some traditional songs that are associated with Christmas.”

But audiences expecting a belated chorus of Christmas carols may be surprised by the selection of Wild Columbine carols.

“The songs have so many stories about what it took to write them and what inspired them,” Farley said. “There is a story in ‘White Christmas'”

But have you heard the story about Mary and Joseph in the cherry orchard?

Farley said the story is told in “The Cherry Tree Carol.”

“People weren’t allowed (or probably couldn’t) read the Bible, so they made up stories about Jesus,” he said. “This is a very unusual story, and certainly not in my tradition. There is some evidence of that.”

According to the group’s flutist and vocalist Sally McDaniel-Smith, the concert will include the stories behind the songs.

Megan Thornberry on violin and vocals and Emily Wheeler on mandolin, guitar and vocals join Smith and Farley in a variety of musical duties, including vocals, guitar, concertina, baudran and harmonium.

“We call it parlor music,” said McDaniel Smith. “Easy to hear.”

Parlor music is traditional music, she said.

“Music used to be people to people,” she said. “You played it in your parlor. A lot of the music we play comes from the tradition that one song can have different versions. We can, but how did we get to where we are now?

“Music is history in that sense, interwoven with music.”

Wild Columbine will also perform Irish and Scottish music, pre-Civil War American music, and contemporary music by “modern interpreters of folk traditions.”

Regardless of the genre of music a quartet plays at a particular concert, they all have one thing in common, says McDaniel Smith.

“It’s a really great song,” she said. “We play music, but we also make sure people know where[those songs]come from.”

She also said that performing in small groups, such as the Library’s Music Under the Dome series, fits Wild Columbine’s goals.

“Traditional American music was never played (in big arenas),” McDaniel Smith said. “It was played, friends, by the fireplace. If you want to honor traditional American music, that’s the way to go.”

McDaniel Smith enjoys being a part of it, she said.

“We interpret different songs and songs,” she said. “There is no one right way to play a traditional musical piece. You keep it alive.”

Fur agreed.

“These songs are out there,” he said. “We miss[by not exploring traditional songs]as much as we are obsessed with modern culture, because they tell stories worthy of attention.”

As part of the Jacksonville Public Library’s Music Under the Dome series, a Wild Columbine concert will be held at the library on Sundays at 4pm. Admission is free.

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