The Muses, described by critics as fine and rootsy and very refreshing, generally play at folk festivals, libraries and in pubs, but made their way to St. Olaf by the request of Rebecca Trombley '06, one of its members. Trombley was eager to get back to campus and to play for her alma mater, and her presence on stage made the show intimate and personal.
The concert was lively from the start. The group opened with an old sea shanty about what one member, Matthew Gurnsey, described as one of [his] favorite subjects: "Cape Cod girls!" From that point the performance gained momentum as The Muses captivated the audience with a wide variety of traditional Celtic music. The range of songs performed, from heart-wrenching ballads of love lost to songs of hard drinking, fighting and men lost at sea, was quite impressive. One song was devoted entirely to the mystery of what a Scotsman has under his kilt.
Gurnseys catalog of bawdy jokes, told in a charming Irish lilt between songs, accented the rowdy and exciting air of the performance. The atmosphere was extremely casual as the musicians joked and bantered, and it was clear that they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience.
What was truly impressive about The Muses performance was the sheer number of instruments they could play and play well. The stage was strewn with instruments of all kinds: familiar guitars, flutes and fiddles, but also several exotic and traditional folk instruments such as mandolins, a concertina (similar to the accordion), a bodhrán (a type of drum) and a bowed psaltry (an ancient stringed instrument). The Muses not only knew how to play this massive repertoire of instruments, but were proficient enough to sound like masters. The group members all received basic piano or violin lessons as children but had taught themselves the rest of the instruments.
As the concert came to a close, the songs gradually grew more somber and calm, finally closing with an a cappella rendition of Auld Lang Syne. The performers bowed, and Gurnsey left the audience with an old Irish blessing: May those that love us, love us. And those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we will know them by their limping.
Though traditional Celtic music may not be the music of choice for everybody, a Muses concert is not one to be missed. The performance is an exciting and entertaining experience that draws the audience in and keeps them there. The Muses may perform traditional music, but there is nothing traditional about their performance.