Celtic Woman treads new, classic territory at the Schuster
By Alan Sculley
Photo: Celtic Woman’s (l-r) Tara McNeill, Susan McFadden, Máiréad Carlin, and Éabha McMahon perform Friday, April 21 at the Schuster; photo: Naomi Gaffey
Being a singer in Celtic Woman had been a long-held dream for Éabha McMahon. Now, after more than a year in the group, she feels the reality of being a Celtic Woman has exceeded how she envisioned life in the group.
One reason has been the camaraderie she has shared with fellow singers Susan McFadden and Mairéad Carlin, and violinist Mairéad Nesbitt who recently left the group.
“It’s so rewarding being on stage as a team with the girls, and we’re all equals, and we all get on so well,” McMahon says in a recent interview. “If there’s ever a night where you’re feeling unwell or have a cold or something, they’re always there to lean on. They always lift you up. I can’t explain it. It’s like a force… I mean, I’ve definitely made friends for life.”
The music she has recorded for the popular Irish group—which includes the 2015 studio album, Destiny, and the newly released Voices of Angels—and the different shows she has performed on tour also gave McMahon more than she anticipated.
“The show, when I joined, was the 10th anniversary show, and that went into the Destiny show and then into the symphony show and now into the Voices of Angels,” she says. “So I’ve been fortunate to be part of all of those different shows in such a small space of time, like a year and a half…You’re just constantly on your toes, and I love that. I don’t like getting too comfortable. I like challenge, and I like when things are switched up a little bit.”
McMahon will continue to give her toes a workout when Celtic Woman performs Friday, April 21, at the Schuster Center.
The group began its 2017 tour in support of Voices of Angels in early March. It figures to be a very different show from last year’s Destiny tour, which was meant in part to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, a failed uprising against the British Empire that triggered the Irish War of Independence and was followed by a truce in 1921, establishing Ireland as an independent state.
For most cities, the Voices of Angels show features a new member, violinist Tara McNeill. She recently replaced Nesbitt, who was the last remaining original member of Celtic Woman and made her American debut with the group on its 2016 Christmas tour. For McNeill, the Voices of Angels tour will be her first visit with Celtic Woman to many of the American cities.
In a separate phone interview, the violinist (who also plays harp and sings) says she has made a smooth transition into Celtic Woman.
“The girls have been, you wouldn’t believe how welcoming and comfortable they’ve made me feel,” McNeill says.
Perhaps one reason McNeill has quickly settled into Celtic Woman is the group’s adaptability.
When she replaced Lisa Lambe in 2015, McMahon became the 11th singer to join the ranks of Celtic Woman. At that point, she was joining a group that had gained worldwide popularity for its blend of Irish music and adult contemporary pop, having sold more than 9 million copies of CDs and DVDs during its first decade.
The Destiny project immediately put McMahon in a comfort zone with Celtic Woman. The album leaned toward traditional Irish material, which was perfect for McMahon, a native of Dublin who grew up focusing on traditional Irish singing and won a number of notable singing competitions in Ireland.
Voices of Angels, though, is noticeably different than Destiny. For one thing, it features a fuller sound, thanks to the liberal use of orchestration in the arrangements. It also features a unique mix of material, with five new songs, new recordings of several fan favorites from the Celtic Woman catalog, and a trio of Christmas songs.
For McNeill, the musical direction of Voices of Angels complemented her background in classical violin and traditional Irish music, particularly on a pair of instrumental pieces from the album.
“I don’t think there could have been a better time for me to join because of this album,” she says. “It made my slotting into the group that much easier and more comfortable because on the album we have ‘Across The World,’ which is very traditional. Then also I have another solo called ‘For The Love of a Princess’—that’s the love theme from the ‘Braveheart’ movie.”
Though the songs on Voices of Angels have a Celtic element, the group chose to mix classical arrangements with folk songs for a new take on the material.
“In one of the songs (‘Teir Abhaile Riu’), I sing totally in the Irish, in the ‘sean-nós’ style, which is like Ireland’s earliest form of music, totally sung in Irish with ornamentation and stuff, but it’s with a classical arrangement,” McMahon says. “And I don’t think that’s really been done that much. It’s very interesting. It’s very appealing to your ears.”
Celtic Woman performs Friday, April 21 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. in downtown Dayton. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $42 and are available through Ticket Center Stage at 937.228.3630. For more information, please visit CelticWoman.com.