Seán Heely is Top Fiddle at Celtic Christmas
Rising star is first AIR alum to headline a Music Center show
by Barbara Ruben
Seán Heely, a US National Scottish Fiddle Champion, has bowed breakneck reels during his Artist in Residence (AIR) concert in the Mansion at Strathmore and played ancient Gaelic carols at AMP by Strathmore. But when he takes the stage in the Music Center at Strathmore for Seán Heely’s Celtic Christmas on December 8, he will be playing to his largest audience ever—and will have one of his largest ensembles, with about 25 other musicians and dancers.
Heely is the first of more than 100 AIR alum to headline a show in the Concert Hall. Each year, Strathmore mentors six musicians, ages 16 to 32, in a program that offers professional development seminars and high-visibility performance and collaboration opportunities.
“One of the things that AIR gives rising artists is the space to become the performer they’re capable of being. It’s really fun and inspiring to see someone progress from the AIR program to the Concert Hall stage,” says Joi Brown, Strathmore’s artistic director and vice president of programming.
Heely brought a smaller version of his Celtic Christmas show to AMP in 2019 and 2021. He performed a full version last year at Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, which seats approximately 1,100.
As for Strathmore’s 2,000-seat Concert Hall, “It’s a big room and quite an honor,” says Heely. “For a show like this we’re pulling out all the stops, with an eight-piece group plus dancers and the MacMillan [Bag] Pipe Band.”
Scottish fiddling virtuoso Bonnie Rideout served as Heely’s mentor while in the AIR program. “She had an incredibly successful Scottish Christmas tour and is a real pinnacle of achievement—a model for how to do it. It’s wonderful to see him picking this up as the next generation,” Brown says.
In addition to Rideout’s support, Heely says, “AIR introduced us to a lot of people who represent high-profile venues. All of us who are part of the Strathmore family still get gigs in part because of that network.”
Heely hopes to take the Celtic Christmas show on a nationwide tour and release an album of Christmas music at some point. He credits the AIR program for helping launch the show onto a bigger stage and for preparing him to tour around the country, as well as in Scotland.
“I’m always shooting for the stars. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be this early,” Heely says of next month’s show. “I’m really pleased, chuffed as they say.”
Strathmore extends its gratitude to the many generous donors who invest in the AIR program and help to nurture the potential of these talented artists.
Photo by Jordan Koepke Photography