By Sara Bruestle / Special to The Herald
The Gothard Sisters are back home in Edmonds for their annual Celtic-inspired Christmas concert — this time with a new Christmas album.
Sisters Greta, 36, Willow, 34, and Solana, 28, are award-winning singer-songwriters, talented multi-instrumentalists and championship Irish dancers with an international following.
The world-traveling trio has played over 2,000 live shows around the globe, including performing aboard seven Disney cruises and two tours in Japan.
Today, they perform three annual U.S. tours: a St. Patrick’s Day tour, a summer tour and a Christmas tour.
The Gothard Sisters will play their not-to-be-missed Christmas show Dec. 7 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.
The threesome play a festive mix of Christmas carols and Celtic tunes, both originals and covers. They switch instruments often, break out into Irish dance and even have the audience do a sing-along or two. As is tradition, they’ll invite a local Irish dance school to perform with them on stage.
“We love Christmas,” Greta Gothard said. “We love all the traditions that go along with it, the festive spirit in the wintertime, that the holiday is just so full of joy and light.”
“A Celtic Christmas,” to be released on Nov. 10, is a 12-track recording featuring “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “Away in a Manger” and “Deck the Halls.”
The Gothard Sisters have put out 10 albums in all — including three other Christmas recordings — in their 14 years performing, touring and writing as a Celtic-folk trio. “A Celtic Christmas” is the first Christmas album they’ve recorded and produced on their own.
“We’ve had more modern Christmas songs on our previous albums — this one is entirely much older,” Willow Gothard said, adding that some of the carols are literally ancient. “Except for one original tune. It’s instrumental and is called ‘Winterberry Set.’’’
This new recording is their take on Christmas carols that were penned hundreds if not thousands of years ago, many of them from the Celtic nations: Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.
“We picked 12 tunes from those regions from a long time ago and reinvented them in Gothard Sisters’ style,” Greta Gothard said, adding that their family heritage is “a little bit” Irish and Scottish. “We want them to sound new and fresh, like you’re hearing them again for the first time.”
The sisters say that the tracks on “A Celtic Christmas” are both festive and restful.
Some songs are cheerful, great to play while you’re shopping or decorating, while others are cozy, meant to be listened to as you wrap presents or sit by the window with a warm cup.
“When I turn on music during the holidays, it’s like I want something to just center me,” Solana Gothard said. “It’s like a little oasis in the middle of all the crazy busyness going on. I can focus on this magical moment right here, right now. We want our music to help with that.”
Layers of sound
The Gothard Sisters fell in love with Celtic music while listening to National Public Radio’s “The Thistle and Shamrock” on family road trips over Snoqualmie Pass. The popular Sunday radio program, named after the national emblems of Scotland and Ireland, specializes in Celtic music.
The trio also danced to Celtic music competitively for many years. They competed in the World Irish Dancing Championships four times. Of note, Greta and Willow placed second with Seattle’s Comerford School of Irish Dance team in 2007.
All three sisters play the violin. Greta asked for lessons when she was 5 because a concert violinist had brought her to tears. After that, Willow and Solana both wanted to learn violin, too. Willow picked it up at 5; Solana couldn’t wait that long, so she started when she was 3.
The Gothards began their careers by playing classical violin for tips at the Edmonds Farmers Market.
Three years later, they traded classical for Celtic. Studying Irish dance, performing to Celtic tunes and watching shows like “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” had them thinking that they should play it too.
After forming their Celtic band in 2009, the sisters started adding layers to their sound. All together, they now play seven different instruments: violin, guitar, mandolin, bodhran, ukulele, djembe and the penny whistle. Greta and Willow sing backup vocals, while Solana is the lead singer.
(In “A Celtic Christmas,” they also added cello to six of the new album’s songs thanks to Willie Braun of the Seattle-based Skyros Quartet.)
The sisters divvy up the behind-the-scenes work, too: Greta does interviews, books gigs and writes their blog; Willow records songs, produces their albums and works with sound techs; Solana monitors emails, posts to Instagram and makes playlists to share with fans.
An agent who had seen one of their local shows soon booked them gigs all over the U.S. and recommended they write their own songs. In 2013, the Gothard Sisters were named “Best New Irish Artists” by the Irish Music Awards. They had made it.
Three of their albums have since charted: “Falling Snow” reached No. 13 on Billboard’s world music chart, “Midnight Sun” reached No. 6 on Billboard and “Dragonfly” reached No. 1 on the iTunes world music chart.
“‘Dragonfly’ didn’t chart on the Billboard world music chart this last time,” Solana Gothard said. “It’s pretty hard for independent groups to show up on there anymore as Korean pop is now on the world chart instead of the pop chart.”
The sisters plan to submit their new Christmas album under Billboard’s new age chart to see how it will fare there.
But the Gothards say tracking their listener numbers has become more meaningful to them because they represent their fans, whereas awards and charts are essentially popularity contests between artists.
Their music has been streamed 28 million times around the globe on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. On Spotify alone, their “Dragonfly” album has been streamed 5 million times.
The Gothard Sisters were also the most played artists three years in a row on Mark Dunn’s “Irish & Celtic Music” podcast — in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
‘See what happens’
While the Gothards have written their fair share of originals, most of those songs are instrumental. Writing lyrics for every song on their album is still relatively new to them. Just two of the Gothard Sisters’ 10 albums are 100% their own — “Midnight Sun” and “Dragonfly.”
“I’d ask artists I respected, ‘What do you think we should do?’” Greta Gothard said. “They would say, ‘Write your own words. You can be a cover band forever, or you could try writing your own words and see what happens.’”
The trio listen to a lot of Celtic music when picking cover songs for their albums. If a track resonates with them, so much that they want to share it, they’ll rearrange it and see how it sounds with Solana’s voice.
When they write their own songs, Solana comes up with the rhythm, Greta writes the lyrics and Willow provides the melody. The sisters give each other feedback and tweak their work as they go.
The Gothards plan to send “Thistle & Shamrock” host Fiona Ritchie their new Christmas album in hopes that she will play it on the radio, bringing the band’s origin story full circle. Five Gothard Sisters songs have been featured on the NPR program so far.
“It was definitely a childhood dream of ours to get played on that show,” Willow Gothard said. “The artists featured there are still so inspiring to us.”
On Dec. 1, the Gothard Sisters will kick off a Northwest tour to promote their new album. They’ll play Portland, Lincoln City and Corvallis in Oregon, Edmonds and Leavenworth in Washington and Sandpoint in Idaho.
Of all the shows, the sisters look forward to their annual hometown concert the most. After traveling the world, they long to return to the Edmonds Center for the Arts to play for audiences who are like friends and family.
“Nine years in, it’s really becoming an annual tradition for families in Edmonds,” Willow Gothard said. “Some kids play the violin now because they grew up seeing our concerts. It’s just really lovely to see.”
Where to hear the Gothard Sisters
The Gothard Sisters’ new album, “A Celtic Christmas,” is available at gothardsisters.com.
The band returns home for their annual “Celtic Christmas with the Gothard Sisters” concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 Fourth Ave. N., Edmonds. Tickets are $27-$42. Visit edmondscenterforthearts.org for more information.
Ancient Songs from “A Celtic Christmas”
Just how old are the carols in the Gothard Sisters’ newest Christmas album? Here are five of the older ones.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was written in Latin about 1,200 years ago by Catholic monasteries for Advent, though some of the verses may date back to the 8th or 9th century. The Latin hymn had seven verses, but only five were translated into English in 1851 by Angelican priest John Mason Neale.
“Deck The Halls” was authored in English and Welsh more than 150 years ago. The Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant wrote the verses in English and poet John Johns, known by his bardic name Talhaiarn, translated them into Welsh in 1862.
“Christ Child Lullaby” was written by Catholic priest Ranald Rankin for Midnight Mass almost 200 years ago. The song from 1855 had 29 verses in Scottish, but the popular English translation by Scottish singer Marjory Kennedy-Fraser from the 20th century is limited to five.
“The Wexford Carol,” also known by its first verse “Good people all this Christmas time,” was penned in Irish at least 500 years ago, with some verses dating back to the 15th or 16th century. Irish composer William Grattan Flood transcribed the carol into English in 1928.
“Adeste Fideles,” also known as “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” was written in Latin and is at least 250 years old. It has been attributed to various authors spanning the 13th and 17th centuries, including King John IV of Portugal, English composer John Reading or English hymnist John Francis Wade. The original four verses of the hymn were extended to eight.
Sound & Summit
This article is featured in the winter issue of Sound & Summit, a supplement of The Daily Herald. Explore Snohomish and Island counties with each quarterly magazine. Each issue is $4.99. Subscribe to receive all four editions for $18 per year. Call 425-339-3200 or go to soundsummitmagazine.com for more information.