by Alfredo De Pietra
The Celtic Cafe
is grateful to Keltika Magazine of Italy for sharing some of the work of
Alfredo De Pietra, its Music Column Editor, translated into English.
Click here for Alfredo's bio
page at the Celtic Cafe, with links to his other features available here at CelticCafe.com.
Christopher Dean - The Gael
America comes a sensitive, passionate and precise musician who possesses a repertoire
of Celtic song and ballad for the solo acoustic guitar.
The topic of the
guitar in Celtic music becomes richer with a new person. An artist with a diversified
musical background and philosophy, who breaks away from the stereotype of a Celtic
guitarist. We speak about the American, of Scottish heritage, Christopher Dean.
He is introduced to us on this months Keltica music sampler with two selections
from his last album, "The Gael".
On many occasions we have listened
to the "Celtic Guitarist" who prefers to play at supersonic speed, is
able to impress us, but, because of a preference for that technique, does not
hit the listener's imagination, to the detriment of emotional communication. Above
all, with this kind of traditional music of Celtic origin, the result of this
type of perspective does not allow the listener the important contemplative aspects
associated with the interpretation of the melody. Obviously, reels, jigs and fiddle
tunes (dance music) demand a dynamic approach, but many guitarists seem to concentrate
on playing the instrument rather than the music. The music of Dean is exactly
the opposite of this position. Very rarely have we heard a more sensitive and
expressive guitarist who communicates through his Taylor guitar.
At a first
listening, you might even think that he could be an instrumentalist playing with
a simplistic technique, but this is not the point: it would be unfair to name
other guitarists, but rather than many guitarists with a muscular approach to
the guitar fret board, he is a musician who succeeds to render, in a subline way,
the expressiveness of the music, transposed on a difficult instrument, like the
The relationship between Christopher Dean and the guitar began at
an early age. At the age of five he received his first guitar from his grandfather,
and was taught the rudimentary principals. It was an encounter that would mark
his life in a definitive way, until today. The fifty-five year old musician began
to perform professionally in 1966 in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 18. His band,
the Night Sounds, was a quartet specializing in rock and R&B, who toured the
southern states of the U.S.A. (they were also the opening act for The Doors).
After some years we find the guitarist in the Rick Durham Band, touring the Los
Angeles area. Following, an artistic interval that coincides with military service.
his return to Tucson, Dean begins to study fingerpicking, and, after seven years
(and moving to Southern California) he returns to public performance, but playing
the banjo with a repertoire oriented towards bluegrass. From 1980 to 1986 it was
the banjo that was mainly performed by Dean. During that time, he performed in
a series of competitions in the category of bluegrass banjo. For the next 10 years
(1986-1996) he stopped performing on a professional level in order to deepen the
study of the history and characteristics of Scottish and Irish music. In 1996
he returns to public performance, and this time with a repertoire formed exclusively
from traditional and contemporary folk music, arranged for fingerstyle guitar.
the course of the last years, his popularity has quickly grown, and the presence
of Dean is now a consistent on the American Celtic folk music scene. The American
guitarist traveled to Scotland in search of his own roots and family ties to the
clan MacKay. His first album represents a superimposed image of a photograph he
took on that trip. The panoramic photo of Ruthven, in the Highlands, was the scene
of a battle when the English Queen sent her army to destroy the society of the
As a result of the encouragement of the popular Scottish artist,
Dougie MacLean, Dean decided to record his first album, "Highland Heritage",
which was published in the autumn of 2000. With the success of that Celtic guitar
album , he released his second album, "The Gael", two years later. We
introduce the readers of Keltika to the title track, "The Gael", and
the evocative "Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon".
"I have known Chris for several years both as a friend and a musician. He
is an accomplished guitarist and is conscientious and committed about the style
of music he chooses, to the extent that he has set up his own record label and
released a fine, well researched album of Scottish and Irish tunes. He has a long
association with the music business, having started as a teenager, to the present
where he has recently performed with several notable figures in the Celtic arena,
and which I feel is just recognition for his effort and ability. I also know he
has been getting an excellent response at his gigs and I am sure this will continue
to be the case. I am happy to support Chris in his efforts and to recommend him
The two pieces drawn from "The Gael" on Keltika's
sampler CD clearly introduce us to the artistic philosophy of this guitarist.
His music is more relaxed and calm than the average of his colleagues (who rely
on a typical repertoire of dance music). The beauty of the lyrics are transposed
into his arrangements. It's not by chance that slow airs and ballads predominate
on this album which seem to communicate to us the importance of the melody in
the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland.
"The Gael" is,
perhaps, one of the most famous pieces of contemporary Celtic music. The tune
was written by MacLean in 1990, and originates from his album "The Search".
Two years after the release of that album the tune was chosen by 20th Century
Fox for the movie soundtrack "The Last of the Mohicans". in 1995 MacLean
was awarded a gold record for that contribution. In the last several years "The
Gael" has been recorded by several musicians (in Italy it continues to be
used in the spot advertising for a brand of whisky...), but we are proud to announce
that Dean's arrangement is the first version for guitar.
and Braes O' Bonnie Doon" is a song written by Robert Burns. As in many cases,
he wrote the lyrics and adapted them to a pre-existing fiddle tune, "The
Caldonian Hunts Delight". In this version, Dean celebrates the arrangement
of Tony McManus. The Gael can be acquired directly from the record
label Cairney Hill Music: telephone 001-619-258-2699; Web: Cairneyhill.com;
or e-mail for information by clicking
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