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Raymond McCracken

rayAs a child in Scotland, music and song were an early part of my life, and the love of such was an early gift from my mother. From my mother's crooning to me as a wee wean, to the piano and banjo in our house,  to records and radio, there was always something to listen to or sing along with. It was an essential yet effortless  part of Scottish culture. After emigrating to this country to rejoin the aunts and uncles who had left earlier, this continued with the various parties and gatherings among our family and friends, where instruments were played by those who had them and songs sung by those who didn't. Hogmanay (New Year's Eve) was a particularly popular traditional celebration, especially among children, as that was a night when all would gather together and, no matter the age, any child who had the interest - and stamina! - could stay up through the night as long as they wanted, and when the songs, and music, and dancing were finished, it was just in time for First Mass at 6:30 in the morning. From my childhood, it was always an enjoyable, memorable, and long night!

At the age of eight, my mother started me in formal music lessons with the accordion. Most of those years for me were involved with songs and  genres more commonly associated with the accordion at that time, such as  Ciribiribin, Neapolitan Tarantella, Clarinet Polka, American Patrol, Under the Double Eagle, Hungarian Dance #5, and yes, it's true, even the legendary Lady of Spain and Blue Spanish Eyes. I stopped taking lessons at 14, and though my enjoyment of music continued, for years afterward my accordion only infrequently saw the light of day.  There weren't too many accordion arrangements around for Motown and British Invasion hits (although I must note that I team up with Mike Kowalski on harp on what we think is a rather decent version of Whiter Shade of Pale... but that's another story).

Years later, with children now of my own that I would sing to sleep, I was asked by John O'Gara, Mile Kowalski, and Rene Meldrum - friends and neighbors of mine, by then - if I would be interested in helping them form a group to play at a local pub for St. Patrick's Day, 1991. They had been playing Folk/Country music together at local Open Mike evenings, as well as at playing at Sunday Mass. The chance to play and enjoy the type of music that I had known since childhood sounded very interesting to me, and the rest, as they say, is history. From my background I was able to bring along some Scottish tunes to add to the Irish/Folk list they were starting to work on, and we made our stage debut with little experience, considerable enthusiasm, and a play list of 40 songs. We've had a lot of fun over these years as we've continued to add to and refine our repertoire since then, with an extensive list of  songs and tunes mostly of Scottish and Irish origin. Our experience has increased significantly, and our enthusiasm has at the very least remained "considerable" ... and yes, I've been playing 12:00 Mass every Sunday since then as well!!  (Along with my daughter, who plays the organ - my mother's influence continues!)

In addition to  the various events and gigs we would do, for a number of years we would play at a Rabbie Burns Night, put on by the local library where we would play some of his songs and I would read some selections from his works, including Address to a Haggis. While I play the accordion almost exclusively, I also play the bodhran on some songs, and on a rare occasion have brought out my harmonica. In addition to back-up vocals, I also enjoy introducing a number of the tunes and songs  in order to give some history and context wherever possible. It's an enjoyable time when we get together, whether to play or practice - if the audience has half the fun that we have, then they're doing all right indeed. Just like Hogmanay: good friends, good music, and good fun!

Rene Meldrum

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Rene Meldrum

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Mike Kowalski

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Mike Kowalski

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Susanne Wickstrom

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Susanne Wickstrom

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Raymond McCracken

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Raymond McCracken

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John O'Gara

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John O'Gara

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Band History

Celtic Cross, A History

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