Playing for Irida — and William Butler Yeats: Benefit concert of Irish music on tap June 13 in Greenfield

  • Rosemary Caine of Greenfield will host a concert June 13 with musical friends to benefit a Russian woman formerly in sanctuary in Northampton — and to honor the birthday of W.B. Yeats.  Photo by Andy Castillo/Gazette file photo

  • Rosemary Caine of Greenfield will host a concert June 13 with musical friends to benefit a Russian woman formerly in sanctuary in Northampton — and to honor the birthday of W.B. Yeats.  Photo by Andy Castillo/Gazette file photo

  • Rosemary Caine and some of her musical friends: from left, Piper Pichette, Brooke Steinhauser, Caine, Michael Morgan, Cady Coleman, Photo by Ben Goldsher/courtesy of Rosemary Caine

  • William Butler Yeats, seen here in a 1903 photograph, will be honored at the June 13 concert put on by Rosemary Caine and her friends: The famed Irish poet was born June 13, 1865. Photo by Alice Boughton/public domain

  • Irida Kakhtiranova thanks friends in the crowd gathered during a press conference last April announcing the end to Kakhtiranova’s sanctuary in the Unitarian Society in Northampton since April 6, 2018. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 6/8/2021 12:47:28 PM

When Rosemary Caine heard the story of Irida Kakhtiranova in the local media, she felt both a wave of sympathy and a pang of recognition.

Kakhtiranova is the Russian immigrant who married an American man and had three children with him here in the Valley, but who then took sanctuary in the Northampton Unitarian church beginning in 2018 for over three years because she was threatened with deportation during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Caine, a native of Ireland who now lives in Greenfield, recalls that she, as she puts it, was “once an undocumented immigrant myself but not threatened with deportation and the support of three children.” And as a longtime musician, she wanted to do something to help Kakhtiranova and her family.

So Caine, a harpist, singer, songwriter and theatrical producer, will join several other musicians at her home for a benefit concert on Sunday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. Weather permitting, the show will be held outside, but Caine says she can accommodate at least 50 people indoors, with air conditioning; she’s hosted many touring Irish musicians for house concerts over the years, she says.

On tap will be a range of traditional Irish music, including several pieces by Irish Baroque composer Turlough O’ Carolan (1670-1734), and some compositions by Caine in which she’s set poems by William Butler Yeats to music. The concert is free, but donations are strongly encouraged.

The concert had originally been scheduled to be live-streamed from the Unitarian church in Northampton. Unitarian Society member Brit Albritton, who has produced a number of concerts at the church, has also produced a live-streamed music series from there this past year and had initially approached Caine to be part of that.

But Caine says that given the Zoom fatigue many people are likely experiencing at this point, a live show would be better.

June 13 is also the birthday of W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), the legendary Irish poet whose work has inspired Caine to set his words to music. Albritton, who met Caine a few years ago when she played her harp at a service at the church, is also a fan of Yeats, and the two thought a June 13 concert would be a good way to celebrate the poet’s legacy.

As Albritton wrote in an email, “Yeats’ poetry has a rare ability to range across mythic time (‘Who goes with Fergus?’), the past (‘Sailing to Byzantium’), present (‘Easter, 1916’) and possible future (‘The Second Coming’). He seems an apt choice for this strange moment, as we gradually return to our accustomed rhythms.”

In any event, says Caine, the goal remains the same: to help out Kakhtiranova, who returned to her family in April. Her asylum case has since been reopened, allowing her to apply for permanent residency in the U.S.

“I read those stories about her and felt terrible, separated from her children and her husband,” Caine, 76, said in a phone call. “I wanted to do something. I remember being in the U.S. as a younger woman and wondering how I might stay.”

“I was impressed by Rosie’s generosity, talent and spirit,” Albittron said. “She is a lovely human being, the sort of person who inspires people around her to be better.” He adds that Caine has gone to work “with dedication” to make the concert a successful fundraiser for Kakhtiranova and her family (the goal is to help Kakhtiranova buy a used van for her pierogi business).

Calling the Yeats family

Caine, who once ran Rosemary Caine’s Dress Design & Bridal Studio, a boutique in downtown Northampton, studied law for a time at University College of Dublin in the 1960s. But she left during her 20s to become a singer, first in Ireland and later in the U.S., after she was recruited by the late Irish folksinger Tommy Makem to tour in 1972 with the group The Burren Flora.

She’s continued her music career in other ways, such as by taking up the harp in the 1990s during a stay back in Ireland. She also formed the “Wilde Irish Women” ensemble about 20 years ago, a theatrical group that has performed a number of musicals in the region exploring the lives of Irish women throughout history. In addition, she sings with the Young at Heart Chorus.

The June 13 concert will reunite her with a few of the musicians from her past musicals as well as a number of other players. Piper Pichette will play harp alongside her, and the lineup also includes Cady Coleman, flute; Chris Devine, violin; Michael Morgan, guitar; Josh Simpson, spoons; Brooke Steinhauser, lead vocals; and Nicky Whittredge, violin. (Caine also plays the Bodhrán, the Irish drum.)

W.B. Yeats will be part of the performance as well. Caine explains that after she’d been playing the harp for a number of years and had set some Yeats’ poems to music, she got an invitation in 2004 to perform at a theater festival in Ireland. But then she learned that Yeats’ poetry, at least in Ireland, was not in the public domain.

“I discovered the family was pretty notorious for protecting his poetry rights,” said Caine. “That put me in a bit of a dilemma for my show. Those songs I’d written to [Yeats’] poetry were a big part of that.”

So Caine plucked up her courage and called Gráinne Yeats, the daughter-in-law of Yeats and the husband of Yeats’ only son, Michael, then in his 80s. Gráinne Yeats was a renowned harpist and a teacher at the school Caine had attended off and on since the late 1990s, though she’d been too intimidated to take any classes offered by this woman who had “a reputation as a fearsome warrior woman of Irish language, harp heritage and traditional music,” as Caine puts it.

Now, on the phone to Gráinne Yeats, Caine says she somewhat haltingly explained who she was and why she was calling — and Yeats handed the phone to her husband. Caine repeated her story to Michael Yeats, asking if he would be OK with her performing her musical versions of his father’s poems, explaining that they helped illustrate the characters she’d created for her “Wilde Irish Women” musicals.

And Michael Yeats, notes Caine, gave her his blessing: “I put down the phone and almost fell off my chair.”

Rosemary Caine and friends perform at 6:30 p.m. on June 13 at 746 Colrain Road in Greenfield. For reservations, call (413) 522-3636 or email Caine at Rosiecaine@aol.com. The show will also be streamed June 20 via the Unitarian Society in Northampton as part of the church’s online music series, livefromsanctuary.org/.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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