McManus and Toaspern

Celtic guitar legend Tony McManus and classically trained Julia Toaspern play at a private show Monday night at Dark Moon Craft Beer on Pearl Street

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The Learning From the Masters Outreach set out on a journey to infuse music into the healing process back in 2018 and it’s been reaching and teaching ever since.

Not only has LMMO brought in two of the most influential Celtic players in the world in Tony McManus and Julia Toaspern for Wednesday night’s show at the Morgan Fine Arts Center, the week-long outreach has showcased their talents to student groups in Cle Elum, Thorp and Ellensburg Christian schools, as well as a local nursing home.

“What I’d really like to do is set the stage for the future,” said LMMO founder Dr. Larry Birger. “Tony McManus, an incredible Celtic guitarist. In fact, Paul Reed with PRS Guitars calls him the Jeff Beck of the acoustic guitar.

“Julia is also incredible. She’s classically trained, toured Europe, North America and Cuba. She’s a natural fit teaming up with Tony. They’ve been great playing for the kids. In fact up at the Cle Elum schools on Monday, they played for their entire school system, K through 12th grade.”

The LMMO has secured a pretty spectacular upcoming talent list coming into town, including deaf, jazz singer Mandy Harvey from “America’s Got Talent” and Irish Celtic guitarist Dirk Freymuth in separate shows in April. Down the road in May, Gospel Music Hall of Famer Phil Keaggy is set to make his Ellensburg debut, joined by the return of Adam Cord. They also have Pierre Bensusan, one of the world’s top fingerstyle guitarists, on the schedule in May,

“Long term, I’d like to host the first annual Central Washington Guitar Festival, including some sort of competition with a cash incentive to recognize up-and-coming guitarists,” Birger said. “We’ve dedicated ourselves to reaching the hearts and relationships of people and communities with the healing power of music.

“I think one of the really cool things about this is that Tony will be putting on a guitar workshop that’s free to anyone that wants to learn from one of the best guitar players in the world.”

As for the show at the Morgan Wednesday night, the Ellensburg audience can expect nothing short of amazing. The duo put on a spectacular two-set show for a limited, audience at the Dark Moon Craft Beer on Pearl Street, dipping into a song list of both traditional and modern Celtic numbers.

McManus is one of the 50 transcendental guitarists of all time, according to Guitar Player Magazine, blending traditional music and acoustic guitar into an mind-boggling approach to an ancient art.

“I find it much more exciting to just play music than to label it,” said McManus, who is one of the most sought after accompanists in the world. “Growing up around the house there was always Irish music playing. Celtic is like traditional music anywhere.

“What attracts me to it is that it’s part of the fabric of every day life. It’s the kind of music you play at the end of a really hard day. It’s the kind of music you play for a celebration. It’s a bit of real life.”

Toaspern looks to be able to play anything with strings, easily transferring from the guitar to the violin. She started out as a classically trained violinist and singer before shifting her focus to jazz-influenced songs on the guitar.

“A lot of what I do is based on what I grew up with,” said Toaspern, who is originally from Berlin. “I wouldn’t say I have any one influence. I mean I grew up in Berlin and now live in the Highlands.”

McManus and Toaspern truly blend the sounds of different worlds into the healing magic, carrying age-old tradition into the 21st century.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at rharwood@kvnews.com

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