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Helicon returns, as dependably as the solstice


Baltimore-based Helicon is back with its 19th annual Winter Solstice Concert. The group no longer tours, so the annual show is a reunion of sorts.

Robin Bullock, Ken Kolodner and Chris Norman make up Helicon, and despite their busy solo careers, they find time to reunite and perform their December show every year. When asked what brings the group together for this one performance, Kolodner says, "People want us to do it, and it's still a lot of fun for us."

Kolodner plays the hammered dulcimer and fiddle, Norman plays the tin whistle and wooden flutes, and Bullock plays guitar, citern and mandolin. Helicon blended the talents of the three musicians to create a folksy and diverse sound and has developed a wide fan base locally and internationally.

The group toured for years but parted ways to pursue solo careers and the three haven't toured together since 1998. Kolodner is now part of the duo Greenfire with Laura Risk and has recorded solo and compilation albums, as well as instructional recordings for the hammered dulcimer. He teaches fiddle and hammered dulcimer locally and performs and teaches at music camps and festivals.

Norman has formed the Chris Norman Ensemble and performs and records with it. His flute-playing is on the Titanic soundtrack. He founded and directs the Boxwood Festival (an annual weeklong summer gathering in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and the Winter Weekend in Eau Claire, Wis.), in addition to teaching numerous master classes. Bullock relocated to France in 2000 and continues to perform. He commutes to the States for various collaborations, and he tours and records on both continents.

Because of their busy solo careers, the guys don't have much rehearsal time for their annual performance. To prepare, Bullock, Kolodner and Norman listen to one another's CDs prior to the few rehearsals they have. Kolodner says, "It's not hugely difficult to get up on stage with limited rehearsal time" because they know each other's playing so well.

The biggest difference between the reunion concert and their prior touring is the level of playing, Kolodner says, because the musicians' solo careers have given each the chance to explore additional musical styles.

Helicon released the CD Winter Solstice Celebration in 1999. The repertoire for the recording was collected during the first 13 years of the winter concert, and it won an Indie for Best Seasonal Recording. Last year's Winter Solstice Concert was recorded and will be broadcast by National Public Radio this month.

During past concerts, the trio has been joined by Doc Watson, the Paul Winter Consort, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jay Ungar and John McCutcheon, among others.

To keep the Winter Solstice Concert fresh, Helicon makes sure to pull music from the musicians' current repertoires, in addition to holiday favorites from Appalachia, Canada, Ireland, continental Europe and elsewhere.

The concert takes place Saturday at Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. Show times are 3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or $22 in advance by visiting www.kenkolodner.com or calling 410-243-7254.

For more theater, classical music and dance events, see Page 34.

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