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CROSSING OVER: Meghan, Susan, Caitlin, and Christopher (clockwise from left).
Photo by Dan Greb
CROSSING OVER: Meghan, Susan, Caitlin, and Christopher (clockwise from left).

Flexible Journey

Music | Celtic Cross interjects new genres into the old Highlands style

Issue: "Inside the wire," March 22, 2014

More than 300 musical genres currently dominate the contemporary recording scene. But one that deserves particular attention is “Celtic fusion,” if only because practitioners such as Celtic Cross communicate so much within its flexible parameters.

Celtic Cross is Susan, Caitlin, Christopher, and Meghan Perdue, a Derwood, Md.–based quartet. The group’s name reflects not only their family’s Christian faith but also its dedication to “crossing” their Celtic musical roots with eclectic influences. Celtic Cross’s new album is called Journey (available via iTunes and CD Baby), and it lives up to its title’s Tolkien-reminiscent “there and back again” implications.

The “there” is the days, according to Susan—the group’s pianist and Caitlin’s, Christopher’s, and Meghan’s mother—when the British were clearing the Scottish highlands and chasing many Scots to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

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“They carried their traditions with them,” she says. “And the combination of fiddle and piano was very much preserved in Cape Breton.” The piano, it turns out, replaced the bagpipes, which the British outlawed because of its martial qualities.

“The Scots were also trying to be more upper class,” adds Christopher, a 21-year-old master’s candidate at Belmont University and the group’s cellist. “They didn’t want everyone to think of them as a low-class rabble that just played bagpipes and marched through the highlands. But they also wanted to keep their tradition alive, so they started bringing piano into the style.”

The Perdues keep the tradition alive by interjecting newer styles. Before Journey returns “back again,” it pays homage to everything from the Celtic-fusion stylings of Hanneke Cassel (whose “Scandalous” and “Dot the Dragon’s Eyes” Celtic Cross covers) and Harald Haugaard (ditto, “Drengen Bag Busken” and “Müller Waltz”) to jazz and Led Zeppelin, whose “Kashmir” inspired a segment of Journey’s “Words with Jess.”

“It’s another example of Celtic fusion,” says Christopher. “Growing up, I listened to a lot of fiddle music and contemporary Christian music. But while studying music at the University of Maryland, where I got my bachelor’s degree, I took classes in popular-music history, which exposed me to a lot of rock.”

Susan’s “Luna” (“inspired by the play of moonlight on the waves” of Florida’s Vero Beach) may be Journey’s most beautiful melody, but “Words with Jess” is the most stylistically ambitious. Composed by Caitlin, 23, whose master’s recital at Johns Hopkins’ Peabody Institute comprised works by Bach, Ernest Bloch, and Rebecca Clarke, it encapsulates in many ways the essence of Celtic Cross.

But what strikes one most about Journey is not so much its historical cross section of melodies, half of which various Perdues composed or co-composed, as the sheer texture of bow on strings. Together with their mother’s piano, the siblings’ violin, viola, and cello mix generates a drone that more than compensates for the absence of bagpipes.

As for Journey’s inclusion of “Amazing Grace” in a concluding medley with “Norwegian Wedding March,” the 18-year-old Belmont commercial-violin major Meghan explains it this way: “There’s a lot of silly stuff that happens in families,” she admits. “And often siblings can’t work it out. So the fact that we can play, record, perform, and still love each other and want to be around each other—that we’ve gone on this musical journey at all—is really the grace of God.”

“The only thing I would add,” says Christopher, “is that it’s only by the grace of God that anything is possible in our lives. I mean, whether you realize it or not, any good things you have in your life are because of God’s grace toward you.”

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