The Kennebeck Trio

From the moment John Powel Walsh's fingers struck the ebonies and ivories in jig-like fashion, immediately joined by Scott Kennebeck's bold and quick-spirited brogue and daughter Emily's soprano voice shining overhead, audiences at the Blue Strawberry became instantly enthralled with a bit o' Ireland at the St. Patrick's celebration at the Blue Strawberry in the Central West End.

Music defines a culture, particularly folk music that emanates from the hearts of its people. Ireland has bestowed a plethora of jolly tunes and deeply emotional ballads that uncannily take up residence in listeners' heads, regardless of personal DNA. Interestingly, peoples who have experienced a broad diaspora in their histories--such as the Irish, the Scots, Jews, Africans and, increasingly, Asian nationalities--seem to have developed an ever stronger musical heritage and have impacted greatly the music of their host countries.

The trio's repertoire encompassed all the traditional favorites--including, of course, such obligatory favorites as "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," "My Wild Irish Rose" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"--but also some newer songs destined for popularity, such as "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears" by Brendan Graham (who also penned the music of "You Raise Me Up"). Featured also was a tuneful setting of an Irish blessing by local composer (and performer, artist and writer) Tom Kavanaugh.

Scott Kennebeck sings with a remarkable fullness and deep resonance, combined with immaculate diction and careful inflection--and it is important to keep in mind that resonance and clear diction do not always walk hand in hand. It is a great joy to hear a powerful singer who performs with both clarity and a broad range of expression. Scott has developed a solid reputation as a performer always knows the score and performs with accuracy and depth, which has netted him the distinction of being designated Artist in Residence at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Similarly, John Powel Walsh has long brought his expertise as both organist and pianist to a wide variety of secular and liturgical settings. One of the great strengths John brings to bear is his ability to adapt to any genre or sub-genre. He was equally at home with an Irish romantic ballad or a table-pounding pub song. One of the challenges--and joys--for keyboard artists is to breathe life into the workings of the noble machine that lies at their fingertips. Throughout his life, John has honed that skill.

Following in the footsteps of her father, soprano Emily Kennebeck already displays a vibrantly strong voice. Her keen intonation and wide range, in particular, remarkably belie her youth. She received a rousing and well-deserved ovation for her rendition of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" from "Finian's Rainbow." Emily also demonstrated the ability to sing not only as a soloist, but as a team member. The three performers blended as a tight ensemble, yet each could function independently as a soloist or spokesperson for the group.

The venue of the Blue Strawberry offers audiences a valuable opportunity to sit in close proximity to performers, thus adding a dimension to the performance that is sometimes lost in larger venues. Such an experience can be particularly stimulating for younger audiences, or to anyone discovering the pleasure of live music. The ready availability of fine dining and casual seating add an additional layer to the entire experience. Under the vision of owner Jim Dolan, the Blue Strawberry has provided an important new contribution to the musical life of our region by placing quality performances of all genres within easy reach.

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