Why queen of harps Lucy is finding life just delightful
An Ulster Log
Harpist Lucy Kerr, who will be the guest musician at the Christmas concert of King's Chorale next Saturday will tell you she is Delighted with Life this festive season.
And not just because that is the name of a song by Fionnuala Fagan, for which she wrote the music.
You see, Lucy (30), who teaches music at Limavady High School, is full of the joys of the season, because she has just set the date of her wedding to Brian Birch from Armagh, who works in computers.
The couple, who met when they were students in Belfast, will marry at Iniskeel Parish Church in Donegal's Portnoo next June 30.
After the ceremony, which will be performed by the Rev Andrew Watson, Lucy and Brian will honeymoon in Vancouver.
Delighted with Life, the song, is one of five written by Fionnuala, inspired by a conversation with her grandmother and recorded by the folk group Sheelin. Lucy sings on the backing tracks. At the King's Chorale event, in Fisherwick Presbyterian Church on Belfast's Malone Road, Lucy, who is from Garvagh, will play the harp version of The Snowman. The choir will be conducted by Mark Spratt and the accompanist will be Gillian Pitt.
And Lucy will accompany the Chorale in favourite hymns from their new CD, Worthy of Praise, which they have just recorded in time for Christmas and which will be available to purchase at the concert.
Lucy, a pupil of Janet Harbison, who founded the Belfast Harp Orchestra, is one of the young musicians who have revived the popularity of the harp, which was in decline.
Her performances around the province - both solo and in groups such as Sheelin - have stimulated new interest in the instrument.
The beneficiaries from the Chorale's annual charity event will be the UN Earthquake Appeal and the Irish Christian Endeavour Union.
The Chorale's new album of favourite hymns will be available at the concert.
Hope springs Eternal for Strictly's Louise
Demure Louise Redknapp has emerged as my favourite to win Strictly Come Dancing. The shy television presenter and former pop singer has been quietly catching the eye of the voting viewers with her dancing partner, Kevin Clifton.
Of course, after singling out this wife of television sports pundit and former England international footballer Jamie Redknapp for victory, this lovely lady could be counted out tonight - so fickle is the viewing public.
Another football star, Jamie's cousin Frank Lampard, and his Belfast-born wife, Christine Bleakley, who are over in New York where Frank played, will be following developments closely as the number of dancers dwindles to a precious few.
Louise (41) was a member of the group Eternal, which once upon a time had a hit with the album Always and Forever. As a solo artist, she had success with albums Naked and Woman in Me.
Aside from music, she has presented several television shows and was a judge on the UK version of So You Think You Can Dance.
Religion going from bard to verse
I have no notion who wrote this mournful poem and called it Ancient and Modern, but I'm certain the author is no longer a regular churchgoer - like too many who appear to be turning from worship for the reasons stated in these lyrics:
They have brought you up to date Lord, down at St Cecilia's,
They have pensioned off the organ and are praising with guitars.
They have done it for the young ones - we want to draw them in.
But I do wish they could worship without making such a din.
They have written brand new hymns Lord, with tunes that I don't know.
So I hardly ever sing now, though I did love singing so.
They have modernised the Bible and the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, When the old words were so perfect and they filled my every need.
It's very clear to me, Lord, I've overstayed my time,
I don't take change so kindly as I did when in my prime.
But it can't be very long now before I'm called above,
And I know I'll find you there Lord and glory in your love.
Amazing story of Christmas hymn
On the subject of hymns, one always played at the Yule season is Amazing Grace - even though it has no direct link with December 25 and all that.
However, Amazing Grace's popularity at this time of the year is appropriate, because former ship's captain John Newton (right), who wrote the hymn after turning away from his evil ways as a slave trader, died at Christmas 1807, at the age of 82.
His funeral service took place on New Year's Eve in London's St Mary Woolnoth Parish Church, where he was rector.
Naturally, Amazing Grace was sung at the service.
Newton saw the error of his ways during a violent storm in the English Channel, in which his vessel threatened to break up, and he started to pray.
The winds and the tide abated and he was convinced God had spared him.
Afterwards, Newton entered the Church of England ministry and wrote many hymns, of which Amazing Grace is still the best known.
In the 2006 film Amazing Grace, Newton was played by Albert Finney.
Singing Seahorses promise a magical festive experience
Choir lady Judith Watson will have the Lagan Seahorses as her guests next Thursday evening.
In case you're wondering, these Seahorses are in fact the 30 voices who make up a curiously titled male choir with a name that is a wee bit different.
They will be singing at Judith's Choirs for Christmas concert in the East Belfast Mission on the Newtownards Road, Belfast, on December 1 (7.45pm). On the stage, too, will be the Una Voce and Lagan Camerata outfits, which Judith conducts, and she promises it will be a special Yule occasion, and I'll be there.
Choirs at Christmas, along with a dander I'm planning to take in a magical Wonderland Wood which opens on Thursday, December 8, in Antrim Castle Gardens (4pm-8pm) and remains there until Sunday, December 18, will make it a happy season for me.
The wood will be part of an Enchanted Winter Garden made up of a Forest of Fire, a Yule train, a reindeer trail and Santa's Grotto, which is being run by the Cancer Fund for Children.
Young accordion star's first NI tour has support of country legends
Accordion ace Brandon McPhee (19) will be sure to treat his audiences to the Bluebell Polka when he is here on tour.
For this favourite melody was the signature tune of his hero, the legendary Scottish accordionist Jimmy Shand, the 16th anniversary of whose death in 2000, at 92, is on December 23.
"He loved this polka, which was associated with barn dances," says Brandon. "And he always played it at home matches of Dunfermline Athletic, the football team he supported. But the claim that Jimmy wrote this tune is wrong. Nobody knows who wrote it."
Brandon, from Fife, also loves country music and on this, his first visit here, he and his band will be supported by Philomena Begley, Crawford Bell and Mick Foster at McNeill Theatre, Larne (Wednesday, November 30), Millbrook Lodge, Ballynahinch (Thursday, December 1), Strule Arts Centre, Omagh (Friday, December2) and the Forum, Londonderry (Saturday, December 3).
Could Tyrone be the centre of all things supernatural?
Is Tyrone really the most haunted county in all of Ireland? Folklorist Doreen McBride maintains that it is.
"I was told so many ghost stories when I was researching my book, Tyrone Folk Tales," she tells me.
To find out on what Doreen bases this claim about things that go bump in the night, you'll have to read this new work (History Press, £9.99) from a born yarn-spinner.
In the volume, too, you'll find references to Half-Hung MacNaughton, Dixon of Dungannon and the feats of Finn MacCool.
They'll certainly keep you awake at night.