Leahy family band performs traditional Christmas songs

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Audience members celebrated the holiday spirit Wednesday night in McCain Auditorium with Leahy, an Irish-Scottish folk group comprised of eight siblings.

For the Leahy family, music began at a very young age. Their mother and father both played musical instruments and were in a band that played on the weekends for a variety of events, such as square dancing and weddings. Living in a musical household in Canada, the Leahys were “genetically forced” to play music, said fiddler Donnell Leahy.

The Leahy siblings visited K-State seven years ago, according to McCain Auditorium director Todd Holmberg, but last time, they simply played their folk music.

“When I heard that they had put together a Christmas tour, I just wanted to repeat that, bringing them back again,” Holmberg said. “It was a wholesome show that appeals to families.”

The band played several Christmas carols, including an impromptu Christmas sing-a-long. Audience members sang with the band as they sang familiar carols, such as “Away in a Manger,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Deck the Halls,” among others.

“We want to share with you the traditions we had during Christmas when we were growing up,” Donnell said. “We wanted to be like our parents and play for an audience. So, every Christmas, we would get the chance to be in the spotlight for once and play for others.”

According to Donnell, many people came to hear the family perform, and not just family members. Other residents from their hometown also came to listen to the family perform in the Leahy home. Oftentimes, Donnell admitted, things would get chaotic, but a Christmas reward motivated the siblings to keep at it.

“But then we would get a sip of soda and it would be worth it,” he said.

Joseph Fedrizzi, freshman in music education, remembers Christmastime at his house.

“We would always open presents on Christmas Eve after going to church,” Fedrizzi said.

A part of the Leahy family tradition was to cut down a tree in the nearby forest — a tree that was usually nine feet tall — and put it up on Dec. 23. The family would also attend a midnight mass, where the siblings often sang in the choir. 

Leahy also performed a Canadian Christmas song called “The Huron Carol.” This song was written in the 1600s when a Jesuit missionary settled near the Leahys’ homestead to minister to the local Huron Indian tribe. The priest decided to write a song for the tribe to tell the story of Jesus’ birth, tweaking the traditional story to present it in familiar terms. For example, instead of giving Jesus gold or myrrh, the wise men gave Jesus beaver skins.

Along with Christmas songs, Leahy also performed several of their own songs, some of which had special meaning to the family. One such song was about their mother’s brother, a priest who died of cancer. Someone had written a song entitled “Memories of Father Angus,” and the Leahy family discovered it later.

“It was really special that we had found this and already liked it before actually finding out the song title,” Donnell said.

The Leahy siblings are not only musically gifted, but they also have some dance training. In accordance with their Irish heritage, the band performed several Irish step dances. Step dance, which has its roots in Scottish and Irish culture, features quickly tapping the feet on the ground while keeping one’s arms close to the body. During some songs that featured a fast-paced fiddle medley, one of the siblings step-danced on a long wooden board stretched across the stage. 

This year, the Leahy siblings let their own children perform as well. Though the children often travel with their parents, they never really get a chance to perform, Leahy said.

“It was truly a magical moment when all the children started dancing and performing,” Holmberg said.

The children’s ages ranged from 5 to 10 and all played the fiddle and step danced. Xavier, son of Frank, also played the accordion in two solo pieces. The youngest, Cecelia, performed a duet with her father, Douglas.

“I can’t tell which was my favorite part,” Fedrizzi said. “It was awesome. They performed well and they had fun on stage. It was all really good.”

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