Vernon Chorale to renew bond with Irish music trio in ‘Emerald Isle’ concert at church on Tolland Green

By Stephanie Summers

It’s a rare thing when an idea hatched in a lively pub over vacation still has its appeal come the unforgiving light of the next morning. And yet, it does happen.

Several years ago, Vernon Chorale Artistic Director Ehren Brown was camping with his wife near Bar Harbor, Maine, when they came upon the engaging Irish music of The Jordan TW Trio from Manchester, New Hampshire. 

“We go back and we go back again,” Brown says about the lure of the traditional Irish group, led by fiddler Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki and booked for the month of August at an area Bar Harbor pub. Brown told his wife, Carla, he had to bring together this Irish group and The Vernon Chorale, a 40-member central and eastern Connecticut community group that performs sacred and secular choral music dating from the Renaissance through contemporary times.

Then he followed up, met Tirrell-Wysocki and the others and made it all happen six years ago at a church in Vernon. “It’s not uncommon that someone from the audience will come up with an idea for a collaboration that they’re excited for in the moment,” the trio leader says, “but it is rare that they will follow up when they get home. So I was thrilled when Ehren did that.”

Now that collaboration is being renewed at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 27, at the United Congregational Church on the Green in Tolland, Connecticut. The concert will feature music that goes from the ephemeral “Star of the County Down,” with indistinctive text but plenty of choral texture, to the rousing tale of woe “On the Rocky Road to Dublin” and pub singalong favorite “Wild Rover.”

Tirrell-Wysocki, who calls himself “very much a fiddler, not a violinist,” says his two partners of 13 years, guitarist Matt Jensen and bassist Chris Noyes, “can read each other’s minds and it’s really impressive.” Versed in music theory and having played together since high school, Jensen and Noyes are invaluable collaborators, especially with harmonies, he says. “That’s when I’m most grateful to have them in my band.”

Brown wanted to repeat the collaboration the next year, saying, “It was too good of a partnership, they were too good, too nice and it was…like lightning in a bottle.” But a pandemic rudely interrupted. “Artistically, I had been pulling my punches,” Brown says, “because there’s only so much you can do with a choir that’s masked,” without the normal nuance, blend, subtleties. After a period of rebuilding, the choir is back to “Oh this is what it’s all about,” says Brown, who has directed the group for two decades, has conducted the Hartford Symphony Chorale and sings in the Hartford-based group Voce.

Vernon Chorale Conducting Fellow David Gladstein, a UConn master of music candidate, will direct a few pieces, and Collaborative Pianist Kathleen Bartkowski will perform. Past Assistant Conductor Christopher Wasko has arranged a tight, fast-paced ballad, “The Rising of the Moon,” which Brown calls “an intricate march.” Other selections include “Loch Lomond,” “An Oiche” in Gaelic, “Danny Boy,” and the trio’s version of “Black Velvet Band” with added harmonies Brown wrote. 

It’s a piece that involves the audience and “breaks that fourth wall,” Tirrell-Wysocki says, adding that the late Irish singer Tom Lanigan of Dublin told him, “There are only two songs in Irish music where the woman is always at fault, never the man.” One is “Black Velvet Band,” the other, “Whiskey in the Jar.”

The fiddler cites this piece as an example of traditional Celtic music that may be mournful but never too dark. “You’re taking it in good humor, not as sad as it actually would be.”

Tirrell-Wysocki has been dubbed “Best Fiddler” by New Hampshire Magazine and “Master Artist” by the NH State Council On the Arts. He’s composed music for public radio and Ted Talks, and his trio’s recordings are known by Celtic enthusiasts in New England and the British Isles alike. 

The facile fiddler says his celebrated high-speed playing is “a combination of focus but not thinking about it. That’s what works for me.” 

What lures a New Hampshire man with Irish blood to this music of the people is its history. “A lot of Irish culture was essentially stomped out. The British didn’t go after Irish music, they thought it was beneath them. It’s about the Irish people and their identity. It’s for the masses. It’s not meant to be perfect.”

He’s looking forward to performing again with The Vernon Chorale voices added in. “The three of us in the trio all sing but there’s at most three of us going at the same time,” Tirrell-Wysocki says. “Part of what’s exciting is that we’re getting to work with a whole bunch of people who have made it their goal to become really really talented singers that bring beauty and power to the music that we wouldn’t be able to supply on our own.”  

Tirrell-Wysocki adds, “We make our living performing Celtic music year round and it’s especially nice for us to see audiences and other musicians interested in this music when it’s not St. Patrick’s Day.”

As for his lure to resurrect the 2018 musical merger, Brown says, he thinks of the successful ones The Beatles did for “A Day in the Life” or Metallica did in a symphonic setting. 

“When we’re making music with the trio, I don’t want to drop them into something that seems classical and formal because that’s not their vibe,” he says.

So he wrote more harmonies to their folk arrangement and asked the chorale to sing in more of a solo vocalist style. “When we sing classically, we make beautiful tones but we have to check our egos at the door. If we sang individually, it wouldn’t be the VC sound,” Brown says.

“If you’re talking about the difference between our style and theirs, I love their sound. I love their style. And my first goal is I don’t want them to change. I want us to fit into their sound.”

Stephanie Summers is a former longtime writer and editor at The Hartford Courant.

Hear “Emerald Isle” with The Vernon Chorale, featuring The Jordan TW Trio, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the United Congregational Church of Tolland, 45 Tolland Green, Tolland CT. Purchase tickets online, at Arts Center East, or at the door. Adults $25, seniors and students $20, Under 18 free, no ticket needed.