Taranai Celtic Blues Performs At Local Rotary Club Meeting

Taranai Celtic Blues – Jonathan and Tessa Dowell perform for local Rotarians March 14 at Cottonwood on the Greens. Photo by Linda Hull

Vice President
Rotary Club of Los Alamos

Taranai Celtic Blues, the husband and wife duet of Jonathan and Tessa Dowell, performed for the Rotary Club of Los Alamos on March 14, bringing music from “Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Appalachia and the Ozarks” to the lunchtime meeting with dulcimer, penny whistle, bodhrán, and jig doll.  Taranai “interprets traditional Celtic music using techniques from modern blues.”

Jonathan, who is an award-winning mountain dulcimer player, explained that this stringed Celtic instrument was invented in the United States by the Scottish and Irish families who settled in the mountains of Appalachia, which stretch through 13 states from southern New York to northern Mississippi, and the Ozarks, a mountainous region that extends through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and the southeast corner of Kansas.  It is a completely different instrument from the hammered dulcimer, which originated in Persia (now Iran), a percussion-stringed instrument played with mallets called hammers.

Tessa began playing the mountain dulcimer with encouragement from her mother-in-law, an accomplished dulcimer player, and soon Jonathan and his father took up dulcimers as well, if only to “keep abreast of the family decisions” that were being made by the two women as they practiced and chatted in long sessions together.

In addition to playing the mountain dulcimer, Taranai incorporates the penny whistle and the bodhrán into their performances of jigs, reels, and Celtic airs.  The penny whistle, which is also called the tin whistle, is a simple woodwind instrument with six holes.  Also closely associated with Celtic music and traditional Irish music is the bodhrán, a round drum built on a frame with animal skin as the head and struck with the bare hand or with a beater of lathe-turned wood.

As entertaining as both Jonathan and Tessa were, it was “Patrick O’Malley O’Neill O’Shaughnessy” who stole the show.  Patrick is a traditional wooden jig doll with loose arms that whirl and feet that dance on the end of a vibrating board kept in rhythm by the percussionist, in this case, Tessa.

Jonathan and Tessa’s concerts have included the Ozark Folk Center where they won the Southern Regional Mountain Dulcimer Ensemble Championship four times, and the famous Ceilidh on the Wharf in Cape Breton Nova Scotia. 

Jonathan won the Southern Regional Mountain Dulcimer Solo Championship in 2007, was the US National Silver Medalist in 2009, and has given a few solo concerts, including one at the Railyard Performance Center in Santa Fe and on Emon Beach at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. 

On St. Patrick’s Day, Jonathan and Tessa performed at The Tub (Bathtub Row Brewing Co-Op) with their trio band Brónach, which added guitarist David Sarnowski to the lively mix of festive music.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos, through its 1312 Club Foundation, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and one of over 34,000 clubs worldwide.  Rotary, which now has 1.5 million members, was founded in 1905; the local Club was chartered in 1966.  Rotary areas of focus include promoting peace; fighting disease, particularly polio; providing clean water, sanitation, and hygiene; supporting education; saving and enhancing the lives of mothers and children; growing economies; and protecting the environment.

The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course.  A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950.  Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.  The community is invited to attend meetings and become members.