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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Award-winning Celtic band, RUNA, has roots in Lehigh Valley

Muhlenberg College '03 graduate Shannon Lambert-Ryan has much to be thankful for, having learned that her Philadelphia-based Celtic roots band, RUNA – a popular favorite with Bethlehem's Celtic Fest – just won some international music awards. The band will be back performing in the Philadelphia area this weekend.

RUNA's sound, both mystical and lyrical, is a fusion of music from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the United States. The band was recognized in two categories, top group and top traditional group in a pub, festival, concert, by the Irish Music Association for its Irish Music Awards for 2013. The organization promotes and supports Irish music, and musicians worldwide. The band also won an independent music award for best song in the world/traditional category, capturing both the judges' and the fans' vote, for "Amhrán Mhuighinse" ("Somewhere Along the Road"), from their third album of the same title.

RUNA will be performing on Sunday at 3 p.m., on Stage 2 of the Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Festival in King of Prussia, and on March 9, at 7 p.m., in full concert at the Irish Center (Commodore Barry Club) in Germantown. Their Irish tunes have also been heard at Musikfest, Musikfest Café, Godfrey Daniels, and Allentown's Mayfair Festival of the Arts. 

Lambert-Ryan and Dublin-born husband/RUNA guitarist, musical director and musical engineer, Fionán de Barra, met in 2006 at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. Both were performing with different groups and randomly met at a performers' party. After staying in touch for nearly two years, they recorded together in Dublin. They married in April 2009 at the Markree Castle in County Sligo on the west coast of Ireland.

Lambert-Ryan has been with RUNA as lead vocalist, step-dancer and manager since its formation in May 2008. She learned the art of step-dancing at age 8 while studying at the Irish Center with Pat O'Donnell. While at Muhlenberg, which she called "a phenomenal school," she held a double major in theater and history and a minor in music. She performed in productions of "The Beggar's Opera," "Into the Woods," "Pentecost," and "Wonderful Town." She credits faculty directors Charles Richter and Jim Peck for helping her "find my way and my niche."

She explained how she and de Barra were performing at the rock bar, The Fire, in Philadelphia along with Canada-born percussionist Cheryl Prashker when later that night, they all looked at each other and agreed, "This feels right." In searching for a name for themselves, they referred to the Irish dictionary for one that would be easy to remember and came up with RUNA, defined as "mystery" or "secret." It was a perfect match for their Celtic and Nordic roots. Other RUNA members are fiddle player, Maggie Estes, who hails from Kentucky, and multi-instrumentalist/step-dancer, Dave Curley, from Galway, Ireland.

Members of the band have played with Riverdance, Clannad, Moya Brennan, and Eileen Ivers, to name some.

Lambert-Ryan performed with her husband in Allentown this past November at a sellout concert featuring Christian hymn writers/husband-and-wife duo, Keith and Kristyn Getty, at Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church in Salisbury Twp., Lehigh Co.. De Barra regularly tours with the Getty's as their guitarist and musical director and also writes and arranges many of their hymns. Lambert-Ryan toured with the Getty's on their 2012 Christmas tour and said there's "a strong possibility" she'll be part of their 2014 Christmas tour. She often performs with them as a guest artist on backing vocals, bodhran and step-dancing. Estes also tours with the group.

RUNA was part of the Getty's St. Patrick's Day celebration at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last March, sharing the stage with such music greats as Ricky Scaggs, Ron Block of Union Station, Buddy Greene of Kentucky Thunder, and the Rend Collective Experiment.

"It's been a very exciting, humbling year," Lambert-Ryan said. "As a performer, I hope people hearing our music leave wonderfully energized and having had as great a time as we on stage. We want them to come into our ‘living room'… We want them to feel like they've been a part of it."

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Student jazz musicians from high schools in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be the stars of the third annual SteelStacks High School Jazz Band Showcase from Sunday through March 16, at the ArtsQuest Center's Musikfest Café at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. A music-in-education program of ArtsQuest and the Moravian College music department, the showcase features scholastic jazz groups performing in front of a live audience and a judging panel of music educators.

Fourteen bands are set to take the stage during the following preliminaries: Sunday at 4 p.m.: Boyertown Area High School; Brandywine Heights High School; Fleetwood Area Senior High School; Freedom High School; Kutztown Area High School, and Quakertown Community High School; Feb. 23, noon: North Penn High School; Pocono Mountain East High School, and Warren Hills High School; and Feb. 23, 4 p.m.: Easton Area High School; Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts; Louis E. Dieruff High School; Phillipsburg High School, and Saucon Valley High School.

Winner of the competition will be the opening act for Cherry Poppin' Daddies on May 22, during RiverJazz in Bethlehem (which runs from May 8-30), as well as participate in a workshop with the band that day. Showcase runners-up will share the stage with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on May 8.

Showcase judges are Dr. Neil Wetzel, professor of music and director of jazz studies at Moravian College, Dr. Eddie Severn, music professor at Lock Haven University, and retired music educators Pat Dorian, Chuck Dressler and Dave Kenney.

Students also will be showcased in a one-hour TV special on March 29, at 8 p.m., on 69-WFMZ-TV.

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Act 1 at DeSales University in Center Valley is presenting "The Diary of Anne Frank," by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, beginning Wednesday through March 2. Director is Wayne S. Turney. It's the compelling story of the young Anne Frank, who used her diary to document her deepest feelings while hiding for two years with her family in a small attic home during the Nazi occupation.

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The Pennsylvania Jazz Collective announces a public fund raiser, a jazz version of the popular TV show, "American Idol," on Friday at 8 p.m., at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, 56 River St., Sand Island, Bethlehem. Regional middle and high school and college jazz students have been invited to participate. Winners will receive a cash prize and an invitation to perform at the upcoming PA JAZZ Spring awards dinner in April.

Judges for Friday's event are Neil Wetzel, Wayne "Paco" Maura, Alan Gaumer and Marlene Gilley. Gaumer is artistic director of the Pennsylvania Jazz Collective. All proceeds will benefit the organization's operational fund and education initiatives.

For further info:


Phillipsburg (N.J.) High School graduates/Freddy Award alumni and close friends Kate Cherichello '06 and Hunter Chadeayne '05 "Take on Manhattan" on Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., at Don't Tell Mama, Piano Bar and Cabaret, 343 W. 46th St., New York City. Seth Bisen-Hersh will be the emceeing accompanist.

Cherichello and Chadeayne first came together as the Princess and Prince in Phillipsburg's musical production of "Once Upon A Mattress." According to Cherichello, "We jokingly have been singing/performing together ever since."

Cherichello resides in New York City, where she's been in a number of new works. While continuing theater and pursuing TV/film, she's performed in Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida. Most recently, she was a featured singer in "A Fireside Christmas" at The Fireside Theatre in Wisconsin. She has a passion for fitness, and trains and teaches corporate clients.

Chadeayne is a music teacher and heads choral music at a Belvidere, N.J., church. He also performs in regional theater. He just opened "Legally Blonde: The Musical" as music director at the Shawnee Playhouse in the Poconos.

For further info/reservations: 212-757-0788


Shakuhachi music from ancient Japan to 211st century America will be performed when the Japanese bamboo flute, or shakuhachi, is played by Nora Nohraku Suggs in a concert titled "The Empty Bell." The event takes place Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at Peter Hall at Moravian College, Main and Church streets, Bethlehem. Suggs shares the stage with Rebecca Brown on violin and Deborah Davis on cello.

For more than a thousand years, shakuhachi music has been the sound of Zen meditation, combining breath and silence with rhythm, melody and other elements to create a unique art form of depth and beauty.

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Philadelphia-based artist Kevin Broad has an exhibit of new works including oils and mixed media at the Crayola Gallery of the Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem, through March 9. There will be an Artist's Talk on March 1, at 3 p.m., and a final reception on First Friday, March 7, from 6 to 9 p.m.

According to Broad, the exhibit focuses on the challenges he has faced in creating and applying pigments to develop new avenues of exploration.

Broad resided in the Nazareth area as a youth and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He helped organize exhibits at the Eagle's Nest Gallery at Nazareth Area High School, where he graduated in 1975.

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