What has 16 legs, 80 fingers and sings, dances, and plays music, all at the same time?
The answer used to be Leahy, the Canadian Celtic powerhouse group consisting of eight siblings. But with one sister off to have a baby, and a number of the group’s other children set to join them on stage during the evening, the numbers are a bit off. Be that as it may, the Dec. 1 show at the City Opera House will feature the group performing its unique Cape Breton take on Celtic music, with a holiday twist. That’s according to Siobheann Leahy, caught between appointments on a busy day. A typically busy day in the life of one of the group members, whose debut CD came out in 1996, but who have been playing music and performing virtually all their lives.
“We do so much together, we know how to make it work,” said Siobheann.
The Leahys grew up in a musical environment, one filled with love but also a competitive spirit. With one piano and an ever-increasing number of people who wanted to play it, Siobheann says there were often two or three people hanging on her mom while she played and taught them: a couple following her hands, and maybe another on the floor watching her feet.
That led to the brothers and sisters—there eventually were four of each—having to make way for each other. “We all had to fight to get our chance,” she said with a laugh. While there may have only been one piano, there were plenty of fiddles, guitars and other instruments around the house, and everyone took turns.
That’s led to a family where everyone can play just about anything, but they have their specialties. Siobheann, for example, most often holds down the bottom end of the music as the group’s bassist, while Donnell is celebrated as one of the most exciting fiddlers on the music scene today. But wait, there’s more. Everyone in the group sings at one point or another, and step-dances as well. If it makes for a somewhat schizophrenic recording career—the group’s CDs veer between traditional Celtic and a more pop-oriented sound—then the live performances make it all make sense. Add in the spice of a holiday-themed concert and there’s sure to be something for everyone.
“There are a lot of Christmas songs you’ll hear in church, and good, fun songs too,” said Siobheann, That means the audience will hear familiar fare such as “The Christmas Song” and “Silent Night.” But not necessarily the way it is used to hearing them.
“You will have heard many of the tunes, but they’ll be done our way,” Siobheann said. “We’ll bring that French side Quebecois side of playing.”
And if that isn’t enough, she says the group will also be performing some new music from an upcoming CD release. And even with sister Agnes off this tour (she’s expecting her eighth child in early January), the influx of the next generation means there will be plenty of Leahys to perform for the Opera House crowd.
“There are 31 grandchildren now, and two on the way. That we know of,” Siobheann said with a laugh. “Family is just part of what we do. We’ll have several little ones with us, and they must be a part of it. They’ll join us on stage.”
Siobheann and the rest of Leahy – Donnell, Maria, Angus, Frank, Doug, and Erin, and the little ones – will perform at the City Opera House Sunday, Dec. 2. Tickets start at $30. Contact the box office at 231.941.8082 or go online to CityOperaHouse.org.