Maidens IV
at the Adams County Irish Festival
in Moose Park, Gettysburg, PA
(19 July 2008)

The sun was beating down on Moose Park, driving temperatures close to 100 degrees and toasting the crowd at the 9th annual Adams County Irish Festival. No one seemed to mind too much, particularly when the occasional cooling breeze came drifting through the trees.

Out in the parking lot reserved for musicians, the Maidens IV -- a quartet of sisters from Hayesville, Ohio -- had found a cool and shady spot under a tree by my car to relax, hydrate, warm up their voices and tune their instruments before taking the main stage that was, at 3:30 p.m., radiating in the full heat of the afternoon sun. The girls were chipper, though, chatting amiably and looking not the least bit overheated as they strolled toward the stage where the Spalpeens, a family band from Baltimore, Md., had just finished their set.

They were decked out in shimmery, bold-colored gowns, hair all in ringlets and ribbons, looking every bit like a pre-Raphaelite painting sprung to life. It says a lot for these young ladies that they looked every bit as comfortable and collected in the baking sun of the stage as they had in the shady glen of the parking lot.

The cooling breeze of early afternoon had apparently vanished, and the few sprinkles of shade from surrounding trees did little to break the heat. But the Justice sisters -- Abigail, Havilah, Heather and Tabitha -- seemed to be having too much fun on stage to be bothered by something so tedious as temperature.

Classically trained and drawing on baroque and classical styles as much as folk and Celtic traditions, Havilah and Heather formed Maidens II in 2003 as a voice and violin duo. Sister Abigail joined them in 2005, adding viola to the mix and changing the name to Maidens III. And, in 2006, the name changed again when Tabitha brought guitar to the ensemble. They are, the sisters noted from the stage, just four of a group of nine siblings.

Heather is the group's lead singer and provides rhythm on her Irish bodhran. Her sisters, besides their instrumental contributions, also add stunning vocal harmonies.

The next hour in Moose Park was filled with instrumental sets and songs -- the latter heavily influenced by a rich madrigal style of harmony singing. The songs included "Jolly Rover," "Whistling Gypsy," "Rocks of Bawn" and "As I was Going to Ballynure," among others, and the tunes drew on a lively collection of jigs, reels and other dance forms.

These were certainly not traditional arrangements; through and through, the Maidens IV put their own stamp on the music to ensure their versions don't sound quite like anyone else's. There were also several original pieces, including the fiddle-led "Four in the Heartland," "Shooting Stars" featuring the viola and even the moving recessional from sister Heather's January wedding.

The young ladies seemed unable to hold back the grins as they performed, as if they'd just found something new in the melody and were swept away by the music. Throughout the show, they tossed the spotlight around, giving each girl and each instrument its due.

Also throughout, Maidens IV made excellent use of some hard-soled dance shoes, the wooden stage and some simple but effective and exquisitely graceful choreography. Like elegant clockwork, their dance steps made the music into a celebration.

Based on the theory that music reflects the energy and enjoyment of the musicians performing it, then this band's Adams County show was a success from start to finish.

by Tom Knapp
9 August 2008

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