It is no surprise Irish-born singer Fiona Tyndall makes educating her audience a part of her shows. She is the daughter of two teachers and enjoys sharing the tales behind the tunes as much as she enjoys singing them.
On Saturday, March 2, audiences will have the opportunity to get some of that musical education when Tyndall and her band present “Shamrock and Thistle” at the Hopewell United Methodist Church.
The program includes Scottish poetry and songs from Robert Burns, old Irish folk ballads, and new songs by contemporary Irish singer-songwriters.
“We do a lot of traditional Irish and Scottish music, a lot of reels and jigs,” she says.
Although now living in Belle Mead, Tyndall is carrying on an Irish family tradition.
Her parents, Buadhach and Ida Toibin, were also musicians who taught their three sons and two daughters traditional Irish folk ballads in their home in Ennis, County Clare, not far from the famed Cliffs of Moher.
In addition to his “wonderful” singing and playing the fiddle at family gatherings, Tyndall’s father had another passion.
“When my father was young he fell in love with the Irish language,” she says. The love was so grand she spoke only Gaelic until she was five.
Eventually her father’s proficiency and knowledge were recognized and “he was asked to teach at an Irish college and later was asked to be headmaster,” Tyndall says.
“So every summer we’d pack up the car and go back to the Irish college, Colaiste Eoghain Ui Chomhraidhe, in Carraigaholt (County Clare),” says Tyndall of her father’s 50 years with the summer language residential program for students ages 10 to 15.
Tyndall’s own passion, music, has also seen some packing and unpacking over the years. It was partially put on hold when she went to study nursing in Dublin. But that nonmusical interlude was when she met her future husband, David, now the senior director of research and development for Johnson and Johnson in Skillman.
Then after becoming a registered nurse and taking a regular day job, she enrolled in the Dublin Conservatory of Music, where she studied classical music, sang in the choir, strengthened her sight singing skills, and performed at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.
Tyndall was still in Dublin and in her early 30s and starting a family when she began recording her debut album of Gaelic songs, “Deirin De.”
She says the title “is a children’s lullaby that I learned as a child, and I sing it with my sister on the CD. There is no English translation. The name is actually a traditional Irish game played around a camp fire.”
But the recording was interrupted when her husband was transferred to Medfield, Massachusetts, and the family packed up and moved.
Arriving in the U.S. with her husband and three daughters — Aisling, Caoimhe, and Laoise — she left nursing and focused on raising a family and getting back to her music.
“I put the finishing touches on my album ‘Deirin De’ there in Medfield,” she says. “The jazz musicians I got to know there helped me finish it. And since they were all very good jazz players I decided then and there that was my point of entry and getting my way in to record an album of jazz standards.”
The result was “Moonglow,” featuring spirited takes on familiar jazz fare such as “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Deed I Do,” “Tenderly,” and the title track.
While not using the Gaelic language or traditional Irish songs, “Moonglow” has an Emerald Isle connection through Irish jazz and blues singer Honor Heffernan.
“I was always interested in jazz, and Honor Heffernan is kind of ‘Mrs. Jazz’ in Ireland. I used to follow her to all her gigs. About two years before I moved to the States I was driving down the west of Ireland, and I started seeing signs for a jazz festival. Then I saw signs for her that she was doing vocal camp, so my parents said ‘We’ll take the kids, you go do the vocal camps with her.’”
In addition to Heffernan providing Tyndall with some vocal training, she lends some backing vocals on “Deirin De” and is in consideration for Tyndall’s next recording — Gaelic songs from her father’s collection of music and notes.
Another musical interruption occurred in 2007 when the family moved to the Princeton region, and after unpacking again Tyndall began looking to forge new musical connections.
“I joined the Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative shortly after moving to New Jersey and met and collaborated with many great musicians over the years,” she says. “It was founded by Steven Georges to help musicians find other musicians to collaborate with and to give musicians performance opportunities. I have had the opportunity to explore other genres of music.”
She says she also got involved with local community theaters, including the Sourland Hills Actors Guild. She also performed at Cafe Improv at the Arts Council of Princeton.
Of course there is the current show. “A few years ago Tom McAteer (a Scot) who at the time was the general manager of the Ryland Inn (in White House Station), invited me to perform an evening of music by Robert Burns for a celebration at the Ryland Inn. I put a show together and it grew legs and developed into ‘Shamrock and Thistle,’” she says.
It is a show with flexibility. In January, when the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns is commemorated, she emphasizes the “Thistle.” For March and Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations the emphasis falls on the Shamrock and Irish music.
Lest someone think they will hear very little English at one of Tyndall’s concerts, she is quick to add, “I love all different types of music and singing all types of music.” Her proof is her participation in a group that presents the songs of Burt Bacharach and her past involvement with an 11-piece Princeton group that performed Motown and soul cover songs.
Yet the Irish musical accent will be clear during the upcoming “Shamrock and Thistle” and audibly supported by Judy Minot on piano and keyboards; Wolfgang Hull on fiddle; Rich Miller on guitar; and David Ross on drums and percussion.
Tyndall met Minot, who lives in Asbury Park, and Hull, who lives in Lawrenceville, at the Irish music sessions Minot hosts two Sundays a month at the European Bistro in Hopewell. Hull, incidentally, also hosts a monthly Sunday Celtic music program on WDVR radio. She met Miller, from Manalapan, and Ross, from Princeton, through the Einstein Alley Musicians Collaborative.
Speaking of another change, Tyndall says she and her husband are now empty nesters. This time it was their daughters who did the packing. They are attending or finding their way after just graduating from college — having taken advantage of the family’s second residence in Ireland and attending colleges in Shannon and Dublin.
And, yes, “they are all musical and do musical theater,” says Tyndall. In fact two joined their mother to create a group called the Tyndall Effect.
But Tyndall’s current musical focus is on the show that has her producing, directing, and performing.
She will also be evoking her Gaelic speaking, educator parents when she, as she puts it, “chit-chats away and introduces each tune and explains a bit about the songs and their origins.”
Fiona Tyndall Band’s “Shamrock and Thistle, Hopewell United Methodist Church, 20 Blackwell Avenue, Hopewell. Saturday, March 2, 7 to 9 p.m. $20. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to hold tickets. www.fionatyndall.com