Celtic songs by candlelight in North Saanich

Musician friends Denis Donnelly and Lanny Pollet are returning to the St. John’s United Church in North Saanich on Sunday (Jan. 18).

Lanny Pollet

Longtime musician friends Denis Donnelly and Lanny Pollet are returning to the St. John’s United Church in North Saanich on Sunday (Jan. 18) to provide musical accompaniment and spoken word for Celtic Vespers, a candlelit evening promising to be inspiring and restorative.

It’s a variation on jazz vespers, a movement that began more than 50 years ago in New York as a way for Rev. John Garcia Gensel, pastor to the jazz community, to accommodate the many musicians who found it difficult to make it to church after a late-night gig. Jazz vespers spread through churches across North America and remained an event known for its informal nature, intimacy and inclusivity, and as a way for the community to come together and enjoy good music, says Eva Kerr, a member of St. John’s for more than 25 years.

“It’s more than a concert, and that’s special for me. It’s spirit and music coming together,” she says.

St. John’s broadened the event to include a quarterly Celtic vespers several years ago.

The evening’s offerings will be traditional songs from Ireland and Scotland, with Donnelly deftly plucking the strings of his Irish harp and Pollet working his magic on flute and recorder.

“I was brought up in the Anglican church and vespers was always a bit subdued and peaceful,” says Donnelly. “It wasn’t like the morning service. It was a restful way to end the evening, at the close of the day. That’s the feel we want to achieve with the music.”

The duo have been friends since they met in university in the mid-1970s, but their musical relationship was thoroughly cemented 15 years ago when they started playing a “musical contemplation” on the steps of the First Metropolitan Church in Victoria every New Year’s Day. They’ve played Celtic vespers a handful of times and are looking forward to doing it again, says Donnelly.

Their pairing is a little more relaxed than some of the other musicians who have played at vespers past, says Kerr, some of which have included high-energy fiddlers and faster-paced folk songs.

“The harp and flute combo is more gentle.”

Donnelly has taught numerous poetry workshops and will be offering some spoken word as well, she says.

The church itself lends a particularly inviting air.

“It’s quite a charming building,” says Kerr. “The acoustics are wonderful, and the musicians always say it’s a lovely place to play. It really feels like a holy space.”

The evening begins at 7 p.m. at St. John’s United Church, 10990 West Saanich Rd., across from Deep Cove School. There is no admission, though an offering is taken to help cover costs.

For details, visit stjohnsunited.net or call 250-655-3043.