Christmas Music and Eggnog with Patricia O’Callaghan

Q & A with Patricia O’Callaghan

For the past fifteen years, Patricia O'Callaghan’s career has taken her across genres, continents, and a range of disciplines and passions. Last October, she released her first Holiday album called "Deepest December", full of wonderful gems, from 15th century French carols to freshly minted originals. One of Patricia's most unique talents is the ability blend a variety of languages and musical genres seamlessly together in her concerts, and completely embodies whatever style she is singing at any given moment. We had the pleasure of asking a few questions to Patricia about her album and upcoming NAC Presents Christmas concert on December 21 in the Studio. 

1.    How would you describe your latest album, Deepest December?

Not particularly easily! It’s old and new at the same time, with Renaissance carols reminiscent of ancient monasteries and taverns, as well as newly written pop songs.

2.    Is a Christmas album something you’ve wanted to do for a long time? 

It is, yes. I’ve always loved Christmastime and Christmas music, but the record label I was with for a long time didn’t want me to make a Christmas album. As soon as my contract was done, it was the first thing I did!

3.    You’ve picked a wide array of songs, from 15th-century Spanish and French carols to modern holiday songs. How did you go about choosing these songs? 

I’ve never seen musical barriers when it comes to genre, language, or era; it’s all music, and they’re all just songs. I had a long list of tunes that I wanted to include on this album, and that list slowly narrowed itself down: childhood favourites, carols I learned while earning a living as a young soprano in churches, and pop songs not necessarily intended as Christmastime songs, but that I think are perfect for it.

4.    Did you find it challenging to unify them for the album?

I believe the instrumentation, the arrangements, and my voice, all of which are consistent throughout, tie the album together nicely. It’s true, you don’t often hear lap steel on a 16th-century carol, or hurdy-gurdy on a pop song … but you will on this album, and I think it sounds fantastic!

5.    What is it about this kind of music that draws you to it, and how do you share it with the audience at your live shows?

I find a lot of these songs very haunting, heart warming, and also very satisfying to sing. I included a lot of other singers on the album, because it’s so much fun to sing with other people, and because that’s part of what I think Christmas is about: togetherness, fun, harmony. For the live show I can’t bring another five singers with me wherever I go, but I do have everyone in the band singing along at one point or another, and of course the audience as well!

6.    Many instruments can be heard on this album, including violin, hurdy-gurdy, lap steel guitar, harp, nyckelharpa, bass and cello. How did you decide to include all these instruments?

I think I just heard this combination of instruments in my head, and I had great players in mind. My arranger, Andrew Downing, loved the idea and wrote absolutely magical arrangements for them. There is something folky, and dare I say a little harsh, in the sound of a nyckelharpa and hurdy-gurdy, but it really suits Christmas music, I think, and then the cello and violin warm things up a bit. Then add harp and a lap steel guitar on top, and suddenly you’re no longer in medieval Europe, but in some kind of hybrid new/old Game of Thrones world (except we’re all using real instruments instead of synthesized cello and orchestra ).

7.    What song from the album brings back the most Christmas/holiday memories for you?

Well, I grew up in northeastern Ontario, in a community that was about 60/40 French/English, with an Anglican mom and a Catholic dad. We always went to midnight mass at the Catholic church, but I remember also going to carol sing-alongs at the Anglican church where my mom sang in the choir. My sister and brother and I would all be in the congregation, trying our best to make each other laugh, and always succeeding! I have vivid memories of singing both “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Les anges dans nos campagnes” (“Angels We Have Heard on High”) in that context, and the memories come back whenever I sing them.

8.    What are you most excited about for your upcoming performance in the NAC Studio?

Well, this will be my first full Christmas show! I had a lovely launch party in Toronto, but we only performed the songs from the CD, 11 in total … so for the NAC I’m adding a few tunes, and going on the road with the new band. Plus, the concert is on the evening of the winter solstice, and I wrote a song with the wonderful Canadian poet Dennis Lee called “Deepest December,” which is about the longest night of the year … I think it’s an auspicious sign!

The NAC Presents series in partnership with BMO Financial Group welcome Patricia O’Callaghan on December 21, at 8 p.m. in the NAC Studio. She will be joined on stage by Lori Gemmell (harp), Katherine Hill (Nychelharpa, voice) and Andrew Downing (bass, cello). Tickets are $39 and available at the NAC Box Office or on Ticketmaster.ca 

To bring the holiday spirit to her Ottawa fans, Patricia is proposing her favorite variation of the Egg Nog recipe that you can enjoy while listening to her new Christmas album or while getting ready for her NAC concert on December 21!

Patricia’s Eggnog Recipe

There are many variations on this recipe. In fact, the real recipe is just an egg, some milk, and a little vanilla, all thrown into a blender.  My mom used to make it for us if we were sick, or on the odd special occasion, like Christmas! Her mom made it for her as a kid, telling her it made her stronger.  Now of course, eating raw eggs is controversial and my mom no longer makes it, but I often long for it. I’ve tried it without eggs, or with just yolks, heating the milk and yolks to make it safer, and these are all options.  And I don’t use any sugar in mine, but you may wish to add a quarter cup. If so, stir it in after the egg yolks are beaten.  Happy holidays!

Ingredients 
•    6 eggs, separated  
•    1/2 quart whole milk 
•    1/2 quarts heavy cream 
•    1 cups bourbon 
•    1/2 cup dark rum 
•    1 cups cognac 
•    a few dashes of vanilla
•    Freshly grated nutmeg 

Directions 

In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and pale yellow.  With a wire whisk, beat in milk and half of the cream. Add bourbon, rum, cognac, and vanilla, stirring constantly. 

Just before serving, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into mixture. Whip remaining cream until stiff, and fold in. Sprinkle with nutmeg. 

Serves 12

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alexandra.campeau@nac-cna.ca

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