A fun-filled, sometimes classical, sometimes Irish pub style hand-clapping evening of Irish cultural music and dance captivated a near capacity audience on Sunday at the “Spirit of Ireland” themed concert in the University of La Verne’s Morgan Auditorium.
The performance, led by Michael Ryan, songwriter and professor of music at ULV, featured a troupe of eight musicians and four dancers. Ryan, as the lead vocal and guitar player and show organizer, performed several solos with his clear, beautiful voice. His supreme talent as a concert acoustic guitar player centered the concert.
The vocal and musical leadership on songs shifted from performer to performer, with classic Irish solos, acapella numbers, ballads and whimsical folk tunes that powered the evening’s performance. Ryan, a ULV Music Department alumnus, said including him, five of the performers attended ULV.
“We like to incorporate a wide variety of tunes into our setlist,” Ryan said. “We play all types of songs in this concert ranging from songs about beer to love songs.”
He said his favorite song of the night was the encore piece, “Black Velvet Band,” which he said is one of Ireland’s most dramatic and popular folk songs.
Featured in many musical numbers and also performing acapella were four members of the Tamora School of Irish Dance in San Dimas. The women, Ryan announced, had just returned from a world competition in Ireland, where they had placed in the top 1% of the competition. They were ready for the professional stage with their impossibly precise and intricate footwork, technical jumps and kicks.
“The Irish dancers really help express the feeling of the tunes, and we are very grateful for them,” Ryan said.
Ryan knows how to share stage leadership, and he was joined by Danny Oberbeck, lead vocal soloist, performer and songwriter for several of the night’s songs. Oberbeck, with his authentic Irish accent, has a knack for singing Irish songs solo, leading audience sing-alongs, playing drums and also for performing the harmonica and mandolin—wowing the audience by playing both at the same time. Occasionally, he played the Penny Whistle flute or just whistled to accompany songs. He led some of the most animated folk songs, including “Bottom of a Guinness,” “Whiskey is the Devil” and “Black Velvet Band.” He often engaged the audience in singing the chorus as he led the main verses.
Hai Muradian, front man for the Ravelers and a ULV alumnus, a popular area classic rock band, was preeminent in his Irish green velvet jacket. The multitalented Muradian sings, composes, and plays flute and guitar at a high level. He also serves as a humorous sidekick to Ryan with his between-song puns.
“I like the mood of the Irish songs and am always smiling from the beginning to the end of the concert,” Muradian said.
“I wrote the song ‘Four Leaf Clover’ that we performed tonight, and it is something special to see the audience sing along to a song I wrote,” Muradian said. “The Irish dancers also bring a lot to this concert, and we are very blessed that they were able to be here with us.”
Ken Soderland led on guitar, the mandolin and vocals, as did Dylan Oberbeck on backing vocals, guitar and the mandolin. Julian Johnson, played his distinctive red stand up bass and performed backing vocals.
New to the program this year were stirring female vocal soloists who individually performed solo on four numbers. Kitty Tereszczuk sang an emotional rendition of “My Heart is Like a Red, Red Rose,” and Anne Johnson captured the audience’s heart with her performance of “Caledonia.”
“I’ve been to this concert in the past, and I just love the fun of it all,” Ariel Pisturino, applied voice and choir director at ULV, said. “I really enjoyed all of the songs tonight, but one of my favorites would have to be ‘Down by the Salley Gardens.’”
The nostalgic, energetic and light-hearted event was full of jokes, clapping and sing-alongs.
“The audience reaction was just awesome,” Steve Collins, ULV music department alumnus, said.
Collins recounted how he was a classmate of Ryan, and as a fellow member of the ULV Chamber Singers, he traveled with him to the Pacific Northwest to perform at various venues.
“I really enjoyed seeing how engaged everyone was with the songs,” Collins said. “A personal favorite of mine from tonight was ‘Black Velvet Band.’”
Throughout the two-hour performance, the group performed a variety of energetic songs, including “Bottom of a Guinness,” “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” “Swallow Tail Jig” and “Head over Heels.” The Spirit of Ireland group performance ended on a high note with an encore of the fan favorite, “Black Velvet Band.”
The performance was part of the ULV Music Department’s “Sundays at the Morgan” series.
The entirety of Ryan’s “Spirit of Ireland” album can be found on various platforms such as Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music.
Ryan, Muradian and Soderland perform weekly on Thursday evenings at Walter’s Restaurant, located in the heart of the Claremont Village. Ryan said that their Thursday night song list includes some of the songs from the “Spirit of Ireland” album.
For more information on upcoming performances, visit Ryan’s website.
Rebecca Keeler can be reached at email@example.com.