Web posted Friday, October 17, 2003

Keith Murphy (center) --Special to the Savannah Morning News

An interview with Keith Murphy of Nightingale

By John Stoehr

Savannah Morning News Music Critic

Multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy has been involved in the musics of Scotland, Ireland and France since was a young boy.

His mother was from Scotland and though there was only a small Scottish population in her new home of Newfoundland, Canada, she prospered as an instructor of traditional Scottish dancing.

Dancing and music go hand-in-hand and it was in this climate that young Keith -- now leader of the traditional music trio Nightingale -- began learning the subtle differences between musics that can seem all of a piece to the untrained ear.

"If you're not accustomed to these styles of music then they can seem to be one and the same," says Murphy. "But once you develop a familiarity with them, they become vastly different and, therefore, more satisfying. Styles tend to overlap, this is true. But there are distinctions between styles of music."


Who: Nightingale at the Old Time Country Dance, Savannah Folk Festival

When: Saturday, 8-11 p.m.

Where: Notre Dame Academy, 1709 Bull St.

Info:, Nightingale's, indeed, finds its roots in French Canada, Newfoundland, Ireland, Southern France, Scandinavia and Scotland.

But each region had its own telltale signs -- like the less symmetrical rhythmic character of French Canadian reels, often called "crooked tunes." They are similar to Appalachian music, but only similar, not the same.

The traditional Scottish dance scene eventually led Murphy to what's called contra dancing. This involvement led him to cross paths with Becky Tracy and Jeremiah McLane 10 years ago. With Murphy (vocals, piano, guitar and percussion), Tracy (fiddle) and McLane (accordion), Nightingale was born.

Contemporary contra dancing comes from an old New England style of dance begun in the Colonial era as a mix of English, Irish and Scottish styles. It had long died out until the early 1970s when "hippies," as Murphy puts it, revived interest in the lost folk art. Since then, the activity has grown beyond fad, exploding across the country in the form of festivals and workshops.

"Traditional music is more prevalent here," Murphy says from his current home in Vermont, "Everyone here has heard this kind of music."

Murphy points out that Nightingale does more than provide accompaniment to dancers. It's natural for them to be involved in the contra dance movement. (In fact, Tracy's family invests time and money in organizing and calling contra dances.)

But they also appeal to the concert-going crowd. Their live performance features a mix of traditional music and creative originals that re-tooled the buoyant spirit of the Old Country.

The trio had recorded two records, the first called "The Coming Dawn" and the second "Sometime When the Moon Is High." A third album is in the works, starting this January.

And the three participate in side projects and other groups. (For instance, Murphy plays in Assembly, a jazzier contemporary approach to trad music that's been featured on the soundtrack to "American Wake.")

Tomorrow night's event is the first time Nightingale has appeared in Savannah. Savannah Folk Festival organizer Hank Weisman has tried to book the trio and finally gets to see years of labor come to fruition as they headline the "Old Time Country Dance."

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