- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Listen to Moya Brennan sing, and you’ll see the rugged hills and open spaces of her home back in Donegal, Ireland.

Note that the operative word here is “see.”

“The music lends itself so well to visual images,” says the silky-voiced singer, who appears at the Birchmere on Sunday. “It’s like taking a big canvas and painting with all the different colors and shades.”

Probably best known as a member of her family’s group, Clannad, Miss Brennan has also recorded five solo albums and duos with a number of popular singers including U2’s Bono and her sister, Enya. After years of being called everything from Mare to Marie, she recently changed her first name to Moya from the original Maire, reflecting its actual pronunciation.

In more than 30 years of recording, her own music has changed, too, reflecting strong Irish roots as well as an expanded musical sensibility that incorporates the rhythms of rock, contemporary instrumentation and New Age sonorities.

Growing up in Donegal as the eldest of nine musical siblings, Miss Brennan always had music in the house. Her father had his own band and toured the country. Her mother was a music teacher in the local schools. But much of the music they played was hardly the kind that is now associated with either Clannad or Miss Brennan.

“My father was playing Nat King Cole, the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley,” Miss Brennan remembers. “Later, we’d get up and play Joni Mitchell or the Mamas and the Papas.”

But a few Irish tunes managed to hold their own against the modern repertoire. By the early ‘70s, the family was touring, singing in Gaelic and reintroducing audiences to a language most had forgotten. Today, their sound is both unique and familiar, thanks to its use on television and film.

“Our sound comes from the Gaelic language,” says Miss Brennan. “But we’ve all developed over the years.”

Her most recent album, “Two Horizons,” is a bit of a departure from earlier works. It’s conceived to be looked at and listened to as a whole piece, with each song a chapter in the story of a quest to find the legendary harp once played at Tara, ancient refuge of Irish kings.

The Irish harp takes a prominent place on the album, despite Miss Brennan’s initial misgivings.

“I was reluctant at first, because the harp is so overexposed in Ireland,” says Miss Brennan. “But as soon as I decided that the story would be based on the harp, everything fell into place.”

Two days after she decided to make the harp the focal point, a book arrived at her front door that she had ordered three years before and had long given up for lost. It was — you guessed it — a history of the Irish harp.

“Lots of little things like this kept happening,” says Miss Brennan. “There were a lot of unexpected connections.”

The result was a process that was, in a word, magical.

“The music is very ethereal,” she says. “I think it’s the finest thing I’ve done.”

• • •

Magic of a slightly different sort can be found at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, when trumpeter Roy Hargrove brings his own version of funk-infused jazz to the Terrace Theater.

Newsweek called him “the hottest trumpet player in the world.” A veteran musician at 33, Mr. Hargrove was already playing with Wynton Marsalis when he was still in high school. Since then, he’s recorded with a number of jazz, hip-hop and rock stars, including Chucho Valdes, D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, with whom he attended Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing Arts in Dallas.

He started listening to jazz as a teenager, but favors a more stripped-down sound that recalls the influence of his father’s extensive record collection, which included the likes of Parliament and the Ohio Players.

“Just go for the root, for the beauty,” he told Down Beat magazine last June. “And sometimes, the ugly is the beauty.”

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