Celtic Woman

The “Celtic Woman” concert is a marvelous celebration of Irish ethnicity. Premiering as a PBS Television special in March of 2005, it has gone on to become a live touring production. The program was conceived and arranged by Irish prodigy David Downes, who also conducts the concert performances. The audience is treated to breathtaking beauty of both sights and sounds. The featured women not only are wonderful to behold, but as well are truly gifted vocalists. They are accompanied by a chorus and a large orchestra of expert musicians, who perform with obvious passion. Included are traditional Irish favorites such as Isle of Inisfree, She Moved Thru the Fair, Danny Boy, Last Rose of Summer, as well as spiritual numbers such as Ave Maria and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and contemporary Irish hits such as Orinoco Flow, Harry’s Game, and May it Be. The program is engaging from its first chords and captivates the audience throughout. Perhaps it is the power of this engagement that makes the program’s weaknesses contrast so sharply with its overall beauty and grandeur. Included are three rather “sappy” numbers that clash so dramatically with the theme of “Celtic Woman” that one can only wonder how there came to be a decision to include them.

First of the three is “You Raise Me Up” (music by Rolf Lovland, lyrics by Brendan Graham). Lovland commissioned Graham to write the lyrics, and the song debuted in a recording by Lovland’s “New Age” ensemble called Secret Garden. Since then it has acquired international popularity, being recorded by over a hundred different artists. It eloquently exhibits the most necessary prerequisite to wild, worldwide popularity, viz. a thoroughgoing ambiguity. The chorus runs as follows:

“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up: To more than I can be.”

At no point in the song is the identity of “you” made clear. What is said of “you” is sufficiently nebulous that literally anyone can make literally anything of it he wishes. Indeed, many have done so. The Christian popular musical ensemble Selah determined that “you” is the God of the Bible and recorded this number as a Christian anthem. It went straight to No. 1 on Billboard’s chart of Christian music. But this same song began life as “New Age” and has extended its appeal in those circles. For example, consider this testimony:

“As I listened to the soothing ness of the focusing guide’s voice, the gentleness of the music and the subtle meaning of the lyrics, my body was brought to a place of contemplation and delight which I had not experienced in a long time. In the beginning of this experience I was, as the song suggested, actually ‘down’ and ‘my soul’ was ‘so weary’ because I was ‘walking on stormy seas.’ It seemed I couldn’t get myself out of this unexplainable rut. As I entered the silence in my body, a rich awareness came over me. I allowed the truth inside of me ‘sit awhile with me’ and this gave me an overwhelming feeling of relief and exhilaration. At the completion of the music-oriented focusing, I felt an inner sense of peace and contentment without the mind-boggling jumble of the brain.”

Being so widely hailed by Christians as a hymn to God, while at the same time being a New Age testament to “inner truth,” proves that at best this song is an “indistinct sound.” “So also you, unless you utter by the tongue speech that is clear, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air.” (I Cor. 14:9) If we try to make “you” in this song to be God, then we attribute to Him an inappropriate humanity. If we try to make “you” to be some supportive or inspiring person, then we attribute to him an inappropriate divinity. If we try to make “you” to be the “energy of a universal force,” then we do both of the above.

What makes this incongruous in a “Celtic Woman” program is that the Celtic heritage is characterized by a sharp contrast. It is steeped in pagan roots, and then dramatically converted to Christianity. If this song were clearly pagan, it would have a place in this program as a nod to the past - an acknowledgement of that former state, up from which God has raised the Celtic people. If it were clearly Christian, then it also would have a place, like Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, as a glorious anthem to the Grace of God in so providentially redeeming a lost people. As it is, this song attempts to mingle divine and human elements. Such pretended mingling faithfully represents the spirit of the age, and so may harken to the decline of Irish culture. But it hardly represents the historic Celtic heritage.

The second “sappy” number in the Celtic Woman program is titled “Someday,” and is borrowed from a Disney soundtrack, the music of Alan Menken and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz. This song basically presents a Millennial vision that is divorced from the power and authority of the Millenial King, Jesus Christ. The hope is stated, in part:

“Someday, life will be fairer
Need will be rarer
And greed will not pay
Godspeed, this bright millenia
On it’s way, let it come someday”

The pursuit of Millennial bliss without the Millennial King not only is an exercise in futility, but also is treasonous. Listening to the futile optimism of this song, the Reformed Christian is prone to respond, “You might as well wish upon the moon.” And no sooner does the listener think this than the singer breaks forth with:

“ ‘Til then, on days when the sun
Is gone, we’ll hang on
If we wish upon the moon”

Perhaps this is supposed to resolve into the Celtic theme by way of an idea of pagan moon worship. But this cannot be, as the composers are both modern American Jews. More likely the moon is chosen as the object of hope for no more noble reason than that it rhymes with “soon,” as in the conclusion:

“Godspeed this bright millenia
Let it come
If we wish upon the moon
One day, someday....soon”

Such is the stuff of modern showbusiness. If the ultimate harmonious outcome of human history is pursued without recourse to the redemption of the sinner in Jesus Christ, then it hardly matters what object is substituted. The moon will do as well as the sun, or the “inner truth” of the human heart. Regardless, it all amounts to an exercise in denying the true condition of humanity and the whole of his surrounding universe as corrupted in sin, and denying the redemption of the sinner and the redemption of the whole cosmos in Jesus Christ. As such, this number is contrary to the theme of “Celtic Woman,” for it gives us no true glimpse into the paganism of the ancient Celtic past, nor does it present any true idea of the Christian redemption of a formerly pagan people. It is simply sappy, postmodern, irrational optimism. It is a sad thing to see the Irish embrace this kind of feel-good pabulum.

The sappiest and most incongruent of all numbers in the show is “One World,” a plea for the universal brotherhood of all mankind. They sing, in part:

So let your hearts be open
And reach out with all your love
There are no strangers now
They are our brothers now
And we are one

We’re all a part of one world
We all can share the same dream
And if you just reach out to me
Then you will find deep down inside
I'm just like you.

It is a most amazing thing to behold a chorus of lovely Irish women gush to the world in general, “I’m just like you.” What, indeed, is the point of working up an elaborate musical program showcasing the Celtic Woman if there is no appreciable difference between the Celtic woman and any other random people of the world? The whole pretext of the program and the basis of its appeal lies in the very real difference that exists between the Celts and other peoples. Were it not for this difference, there would be no inducement to conceive of such a program nor to do the hard work necessary to produce it. What is especially significant is the origins of this tune. It is not borrowed from the catalog of popular music, nor from the soundtrack of popular cinema. It is the original composition of the originator, musical director, and conductor of Celtic Woman, David Downes.

Now, why would ethnic Irishman Downes, working on a program ostensibly celebrating the ethnicity of the Celtic Woman, compose and include a number in which these women deny any difference between themselves and other peoples? It is impossible to discern another’s motives, but to the observer it comes across as an apology. Celtic women do exist and they are beautiful and talented. This is something wonderful to set before the world, but in so doing the truly modern Irishman must be careful not to imply that the Celtic woman is in any way superior to any other women of the world. The modern outlook must downplay the obvious differences, which the program is meant to display, as superficial over against the deeper reality of oneness. Though the whole reason for doing the show lies in ethnic distinction, Mr. Downes made sure that the final message of the show was equality. But, there is something terribly odd in this expression of equality. It is a cry emanating from the wrong side of the equation.

The mathematical equation has the “commutative” property. That is, the mathematical equation is true regardless of the order in which it is expressed. We can say 2 times 3 equals 6, and by the commutative property we therefore also can say 6 equals 2 times 3. One fully substitutes for the other in any subsequent expression. This is not so in the modern idea of social equality. It does not have the commutative property. For example, it is infinitely more popular to argue that Blacks are equal to Whites than it is to argue that Whites are equal to Blacks. If there were a program titled “African Woman,” we would expect to hear the chorus cry out to the world, “if you just reach out to me, then you will find deep down inside I'm just like you.” In this case the Celtic women would be among those begged to “reach out” and to admit the equality of the plaintiffs. Such would fit with the typical tenor of currently popular rhetoric concerning “equality.” Instead, we have the Celtic women begging the world to “reach out” to them and to grant equality in a way that rubs against the grain of the modern idea.

This is not how Celtic women came to be what they are. Instead, this procedure is the surest prescription for the demise of the Celtic heritage. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries Ireland suffered negative population growth as stagnant economic conditions prompted mass emigration at levels that outpaced births. At the close of the 20th century Ireland entered into economic boom conditions and required a massive influx of immigrants to fill positions. Immigration policies quickly were liberalized. Immigrants arrived from all over the world. The positions were filled, but also Ireland became for the first time in its history a “multicultural society.” Ireland now experiences the inevitable racial tensions and conflicts that result from diverse peoples being collected together into a single “society.” In further demonstration that social “equality” lacks the commutative property, the immigrants are not becoming “just like” the Irish, rather, the Irish are progressively losing - and in some cases even renouncing - their distinctiveness Irishness. The recordings of the Celtic Woman program may perhaps best serve as an archive of the beauty that once was Celtic, giving in these three sappy numbers a glimpse into how it began to fade away.


Blogger Scorebored said...

Superb observations. And I'm glad someone else noticed the "you're just like me" nonsense the lasses were singing.

Sometimes, disgust wearies me.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Laurel1861 said...

Excellent review, S.C.!

Lyrics of songs have a more powerful effect than most people think. I see young people attempting to live out the lyrics in the music they listen to, with predictably disastrous conseqences.

BTW, S.C., I 've never asked, but is it all right if I link to your site over at Natural Consequences?

God bless,

12:25 AM  
Blogger S. C. Mooney said...

Laurel, I thank you for your encouragement. And, certainly, it would be an honor for you to link to me.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Sophie said...

Originally I would have responded to this article with "It's just a musical performance," but after seeing the most recent performances where the women, who are NOT the originals, look more like the women on that horrid reality show about wealthy housewives with plastic surgery, and seeing how they've filled the show with black people, I agree. I just assumed the lead guy, David Downes, was Jewish and has an agenda.

11:25 AM  

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