Flute featured in Celtic concert

January 20, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Is there a difference between a wooden flute and a Celtic flute?

It's kind of like the difference between a violin and a fiddle, says Chris Norman, who's been called a flute virtuoso no matter what the instrument is named.

The Chris Norman Ensemble will perform at Shepherd College's Frank Center Theater on Saturday at 8 p.m. The concert is part of Shepherdstown Music and Dance's "High Mountains, Green Hills," a series that celebrates a variety of traditions and cultures.

Norman and his group will present the music of Scotland, Quebec and maritime Canada.

The first half of the program will feature older music - music from the Baroque period, which Norman places between 1650 and 1750, and the Renaissance, dating from 1500 to about 1650 or 1700.


After intermission, James Blachy will trade his viola da gamba - an early string instrument similar in range to the cello - for an upright bass. Simeon Darley-Chapin will add a few percussion instruments and Norman will take up the small pipes and pennywhistle for a more contemporary sound.

"It's a fun concert that will showcase the amazing versatility of the musicians," Norman says. Guitarist Andy Thurston and Ronn McFarlane on lute complete the ensemble.

Music may be categorized by genre today, but such distinctions weren't made in the 18th century. "It was all music," Norman says. Baroque musicians played jigs and reels, he explains. "There is a wonderful overlap."

Norman, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, has been interested in music as long as he can remember. His dad, who played piano, was very musical. There was a lot of Scottish, Irish and French Canadian music, and he had some contact with music of the Baroque and Renaissance.

His family moved to Baltimore when he was a kid, Norman says. He studied classical and baroque flute in high school and spent a year studying music in a conservatory setting at Indiana University.

Norman says he's suspicious of people who have advanced degrees in the "applied arts." "Why aren't they just doing it?" he asks.

So when he was about 20 years old, he returned to Nova Scotia. He became an apple picker, traveling with his flute, a tape recorder and a notebook, talking and playing with musicians in his homeland. "That's where I had most of my musical training," he says.

Norman has performed as a member of the international folk trio Helicon, with the Celtic fusion group Skyedance, and the early music group The Baltimore Consort. His playing can be heard on the Oscar-winning soundtrack for "Titanic" as well as the 1998 film "Soldier."

He is director and founder - in 1996 - of the Boxwood Festival, a gathering of artists and scholars whose work focuses on traditional flute playing.

The ensemble's latest recording project is "The Caledonian Flute," Scottish music Norman found in a variety of old collections.

A lot of artists are looking backward as well as forward for music to play; they want to explore where all the music came from, he says.

Norman, 39, has owned his 1830 English-made boxwood flute for two decades.

"It's just a fantastic instrument," he says. "It carries those 200 years," he adds.

For information on The Chris Norman Ensemble, go to

If you go . . .

The Chris Norman Ensemble

Saturday, Jan. 18, 8 p.m.

Frank Center Theater

Shepherd College

Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for Shepherdstown Music and Dance members and seniors $6 for children. Free for Shepherd College students with student ID. For tickets and information, call Shepherd College Information Desk at 1-304-876-5497; O'Hurley's General Store, 1-304-876-6907; Shepherdstown Music and Dance, 1-304-263-2531, or e-mail

Directions: From Hagerstown, take Md. 65 south to Sharpsburg. Turn right on Md. 34 west. Take 34 through Sharpsburg, across the Potomac River into Shepherdstown. Turn right onto the campus just past the Bavarian Inn. Frank Center is the large building on right at the top of the hill.

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