by Rodger Hara

There are rare times in life when things seem to happen because they were supposed to happen – as if there was a predestined pattern of individual events leading to a synergistic sort of larger outcome. Not to make too much of a grand thing, but that is surely what seems to have happened with the joining of the musical talents of Margot Krimmel and Beth Leachman-Gadbaw, two of Colorado’s more accomplished individual Celtic performers.
A native of Denver, Margot began singing whatever came into her head when she was three and taught herself to play guitar by observing her older brother Max play the guitars he made. Then while living in Steamboat Springs, a friend stored a harp with her, so she picked up the Sylvia Woods book Teach Yourself to Play Folk Harp and began the next stage of her musical life. And what a life it has been. Deciding that the book was only a good start, she went on to study folk harp with Sylvia Woods, jazz harp with Deborah Henson-Conant and classical pedal harp with former Denver Symphony harpist Helen Hope. Honors have included first place awards from the Longs Peak Scottish Highland Festival and the Pop and Jazz Harp Festival and in 2007 won two awards at the New Century Harp Competition: the Best for Beginners Prize for her composition Planxty Earl Grey and a merit prize for her arrangement of Shenandoah. She has released two solo recordings, Songlines and St. John’s Tide, made guest appearances on over 20 albums with a variety of artists including cowboy singer Lon Hannah, guitarist Janet Feder and devotional chant master Robert Gass and has works included in several compilations of harp music. Margot has also written and published music that in a nicely symmetrical turn can be purchased from the Sylvia Woods Harp Center in Los Angeles and Kolacny Music in Denver and continues to teach harp.
Born in California and raised in Western Colorado, Beth is one of a set of triplets who grew up with a father who played ragtime piano and a mother with family roots in Kilkenny and Kerry. She sang in choirs in high school and college and after graduation from CU began exploring her Irish heritage at the National University of Ireland in Galway where she studied Gaelic. To deepen her learning, she lived with a family in the Gaeltacht in Connemara and using that as a base, traveled around the south of Ireland to classes, sessions and song circles in Clare and Wexford three times a week for a year. She described it as a magical way to experience and learn the music. In Clare, she met and sang alongside Robbie O’Connell weekly at Cruise’s Pub in Ennis. (Robbie is a nephew of the Clancy Brothers and was just at the Spanish Peaks International Music Festival in La Veta in September.) From Ireland, she made her way to England where she taught music for a year on the border of Devon and Cornwall where she continued her musical growth in the vibrant indigenous folk music scene there. By 1998, she had earned a Masters Degree in Ethnomusicology specializing in Irish singing and met Matt and Shannon Heaton to form Siúcra (shoo-kruh – sugar in Gaelic), a trad group then based in Boulder that toured the country until 2008 when Matt and Shannon moved to Boston. When Billy Bair, Music Director at Colorado Academy wrote a new musical version of the story of Gráinne Ní Mháille, he asked Beth, who he had met through their mutual friend Anne Marie Kennedy, to write some new songs for the show. She performed for a time with Parting Glass, a local trad/eclectic group as lead singer and bodhrán player. In her early career, Beth enjoyed touring, playing at festivals, house concerts and folk clubs. She has opened for Great Big Sea, made guest appearances with the Chieftains, Lon Hannah and the Colorado Springs Symphony and was honored with a Fulbright music award in 2007 and also continues to teach as well as perform.
Margot and Beth met in 1998. Beth had just returned from living in Ireland where her roommate had been a Celtic harpist. When she returned to Colorado, she missed the sound so much she decided to take up the harp. Dave Kolacny, Denver’s harp guru, recommended Margot as a teacher. They met, Margot taught her to play the harp and Beth taught music to Margot’s daughter Jordan. Beth and Margot started playing music together soon after they met and very quickly discovered their common love of taking traditional music and putting their own creative stamp on it. An added bonus was that Margot’s harp and Beth’s voice were a match made in heaven.
They have appeared together across Colorado and the west and with Beth’s connections have also toured in Ireland and England. In 2005, they made White Birds, an album with a rich mix of traditional Celtic, American folk and original music that features Margot’s magical harp, Beth’s rhythmic drumming, whistle and bodhrán and ethereal voice, the pleasing union and interplay of their two voices in harmony and guest artists Jean Bolger and Sandra Wong. The title track features words from a poem by William Butler Yeats with original music by Beth and Margot and provided the name for their label. Margot says that “Of all my musical pursuits the work on White Birds with Beth is the apex – at least until we recorded our latest CD, Icy December.” Both were recorded with Jim Ratts at Raven Studio in Englewood and mastered by David Glasser at Airshow Mastering in Boulder, and both projects only deepened her love of music and friendship with Beth.
Their latest production is a Christmas CD that is also a mix of traditional music including some carols with additional words and/or music added by Margot and/or Beth, original songs with music and words by Beth and Margot and an original song by Margot. Beth provides the lead vocals, bodhrán, hand bells and hand claps and Margot plays pedal harp and lever harp and harmonies. They are joined by an able group of guest artists including Gaelic Storm’s Jessie Burns on fiddle, Daune Green on riq (a Middle Eastern instrument that looks like a tambourine but has a much richer sound), James Hoskins on cello and Margot’s daughter Jordan Miller on horn. Additional vocal support comes from a musically eclectic group that includes Chris Daniels, Josh Gadbaw, Mary Hoskins, Timothy P. Irvin, Jim Ratts and Salli Severing-Ratts. While many of the songs are familiar, the presentations and arrangements are fresh and reflect the Celtic music overlay of their mutual talents. Their original composition The Donkey and the Doves has a comfortable lilt and the potential to become a new traditional carol. On that song and on the rarely performed When Jesus Lived in Galilee the colors of their voices combine to paint an aurally pleasing picture enhanced by the subtle and effective instrumentation. Margot’s original song Before the Snow weaves a delightful tapestry of sound with her harp, James’ cello and Daune’s riq. Margot’s delicate and energetic harp and Beth’s clear voice on their original Song of Peace and the rest of the songs make this CD one to enjoy with a hot whisky before a warm fire and a grand addition to your collection of holiday albums.

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