Pipe and Drum Bands Help Celebrate Scottish Culture:Thousands flock to Highland Games at Mt. Hood Campus

by Rob Cullivan
The Gresham Outlook, July 24, 2007

On the entertainment stage, Celtic band Tonn Nua – Irish for “New Wave,” wowed an audience with their youthful exuberance. The band, whose members range in age from 13 to 17, played a lively mix of reels and ballads.

Bandleader Alison Helzer noted the group was from Dexter, a small town outside Eugene.

“It’s got two taverns, one liquor store and three churches, so it kind of evens out,” she said, as the crowd laughed.


Celtic band too young to drink,
but old enough to play

By Rob Cullivan

The Gresham Outlook, July 17, 2007

Tonn Nua, which plays traditional Scottish and Irish music, consists of teenagers from the Eugene area. In its few years together, the band has garnered critical acclaim for its recordings and performances. From left to right, is David Garcia, Ansel Dow, Alison Helzer, Daphne Garcia and Zoe Garcia. The group’s name means “New Wave” in Irish, and the members believe their music can appeal to people of all ages, including their own. The band is one of several Celtic groups set to play at the 55th Annual Portland Highland Games this weekend.

While their peers plow the oft-trod fields of pop, rock and hip hop, Tonn Nua’s members are staking a different bit of musical turf.

“Celtic music could be liked by people of all ages,” says Alison Helzer, the band’s founder. “There’s stuff that’s fast and exciting, and then there’s slow and melancholy kind of tunes.”

There’s also a more practical reason for playing such music, she adds.

“If you only appeal to teenagers, you’re not going to get a lot of gigs.”

Those are pretty good insights coming from any musician. Given that they come from someone all of 15, they’re even more impressive. With her 13-year-old friend Ansel Dow, Alison formed Tonn Nua – Irish for “New Wave” – hoping to attract an audience with a hankering for traditional Irish and Scottish tunes performed by teenagers. It seems to be working, she says, adding that the band has released two CDs.

“We’ve got a lot of gigs at festivals, and some people want us to play parties and coffeehouses,” she says. “We have some weddings coming up.”

The band’s next gig happens to be at Mt. Hood Community College from 2:45-3:30 p.m. Saturday, July 21, at the 55th Annual Portland Highland Games.

The group, formed three years ago, has played throughout Oregon and Washington, members say, and its members have been friends for a while. Alison goes to Pleasant Hill High School outside Eugene along with most of the other members, the Garcia triplets David, Daphne and Zoe, 17. Alison plays tenor banjo, tenor guitar and mandolin; Ansel plays bagpipes, uilleann pipes and fiddle; David plays tin whistle, octave mandolin and saxophone; Daphne plays guitar, bodhran and brass; and Zoe plays upright bass and flute. Alison says the band has received a lot of support from its friends.

“It’s really nice because they come to a lot of our gigs,” she says. “Even if they don’t listen to (Celtic music) they think it’s a neat thing.”

Zoe is convinced her generation would listen to Celtic music if given the chance.

“I think it has a lot of energy to it that’s kind of similar to the whole rock thing,” she says. “I don’t think people in our age group realize that because the media only tells them about pop or rock music, not Celtic or folk music.”

Alison says she likes Celtic music because it’s “sort of laid back.”

“There’s many different versions of one tune,” she says. “There’s many different names for one tune.”

She says she aspires to play classical music someday, but Celtic music offers her a little more improvisational freedom right now.

“It gives me an opportunity to make me part of the music instead of what’s written on the paper,” she says.

For more information on Tonn Nua, visit www.tonnnua.com.


Teen band to play up a storm on coast

By Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

Published: Monday, November 6, 2006

It wasn't quite instant success, but it came pretty quickly for Eugene Celtic band Tonn Nua ("New Wave" in Irish).Violinist Ansel Dow and guitarist Alison Helzer started out just two years ago, playing together at the Wednesday night Irish music sessions at the Perugino coffeehouse in downtown Eugene. Soon they were collecting enough money for Helzer to buy a couple of banjos to add new textures to their feisty sound. Now, with Pleasant Hill triplets David, Daphne and Zoe Garcia rounding out their sound, they've recorded a CD and will be the opening band at the Yachats Celtic Music Festival on Friday.

Oh, and did we mention that Dow is all of 13, Helzer just 14, and the Garcias the group's senior citizens at 17? Close your eyes - or pop in their CD - and you'd never guess as much. The quintet wowed a standing-room-only crowd at a CD release party on Sunday afternoon at Tsunami Books with a performance that was equal parts talent and versatility. Dow turned out everything from fluid, lilting ballads to ferocious fiddling on the likes of century-old "Swallowtail Jig," while Helzer alternated between guitar and banjo to add rhythm and tremolo. Zoe Garcia provided lilting flute (when she wasn't playing bass) while her sister expertly strummed up additional guitar warmth. Their brother sometimes provided plucked texture on his octave mandolin, and other times added piping treble with a tin whistle.

Helzer said Tonn Nua doesn't mind the "for your age" that often follows the "Wow - you guys are really good" raves they typically receive. "I think they're just surprised because we're so young,"' she said. But there's no doubt they're being taken seriously when people are paying $38 a pop to hear them in a Friday midday concert in Yachats that also includes professional Irish musicians Matt & Shannon Heaton, Circled By Hounds and The Black Irish Band. Later in the festival, Celtic performers they consider legends will take the same stage - musicians such as Gerry Carthy and Daithe Sproule. Such musicians are what led them to fall in love with an ancient musical tradition, Helzer said. "It's really driving and pretty and fun to play," she said.


Old Ways Inspire the New Wave:

Celtic festival features established performers along with young acts, like ' Tonn Nua'

By Niki Price Oregon Coast Today

Published November 11, 2006

Pleasant Hill High School students Alison Helzer and David Garcia have a lot in common. First is the Chess Club. Second is their just-released CD of Celtic music they made with their friends and bandmates in Tonn Nua. The name is Celtic for "new wave," and they're part of the next generation of traditional music on display at this weekend's Yachats Celtic Music Festival. In fact, it was the 2003 Yachats festival that first inspired Helzer, an aspiring banjo player, to form the band with fiddle player Ansel Dow.

"I had never heard that many good musicians in concert, so many packed into just three days. It was really great, really amazing," she said.

They love the variety and emotion in Celtic music, and see that it lends itself to many different kinds of arrangements and instrumental configurations. With the addition of the Garcia triplets - David, Zoe and Daphne, who joined the group in 2005 - Tonn Nua's music has more complexity than before, Helzer said. "Zoe's bass gives us a lot of foundation for both slow tunes and fast tunes. And it's fun to play with them, because they're all really good musicians," Helzer said.

David Garcia plays the octave mandolin, the pennywhistle and the flute, while sister Daphne works on the guitar. They're all fairly new to Celtic music, but they're having a great time, he said.

Their festival performances will include traditional tunes like "Morrison's Jig" and "Sean Ryan's Polka," plus "Eye of the Wind," an original piece that Dow wrote in 2005, back when he was just 12. Tonn Nua will play at Friday's 10:30 a.m. concert, along with the Black Irish Band and Circled by Hounds; tickets are $38. The group will also be featured with the Caledonians and Rebecca Lomnicky for a next-generation concert on Sunday. Entrance is by donation.

In all, the 2006 Yachats Celtic Music Festival will be hosting 26 acts from around the country and across the pond. There's something for every interest and budget, from the $38 featured concert tickets to the free sunset bagpipe concerts at the Yachats State Park. The Yachats Presbyterian Church, just a few short blocks away from the Yachats Commons, will serve as the festival's Second Stage, offering bands throughout Saturday. You'll also find Celtic bands at other venues, from the Overleaf Lodge and the Green Salmon Coffee House, and workshops held all over town.



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