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PostPosted: Fri Feb 12, 2010 1:13 pm    Post subject: When Irish Voices Are Singing Reply with quote

Celtic Woman is on its 10th American tour. From left to right are Lisa Kelly, Chloë Agnew, Alex Sharpe, Máiréad Nesbitt, and Lynn Hilary.

Irish music ensemble Celtic Woman is as lovely to watch as it is to hear.

With its winning combination of traditional and modern songs delivered by a comely quintet of gifted artists, Celtic Woman rivals the popularity of "Riverdance," which inspired music director David Downes to create the ensemble in 2004.

Popularized by PBS television stations that broadcast its filmed concerts as part of fundraising drives and by a performance on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," Celtic Woman has sold more than 4 million copies of its CDs and DVDs.

Now, the group has launched its 10th U.S. tour, "Songs from the Heart," which brings it to the Durham Performing Arts Center on Saturday.

Celtic Woman's popularity owes much to the mystique of the Emerald Isle - an enchanted land of leprechauns and the Blarney Stone, heartbreak and resilience. And, too, America has a long fascination with Irish immigrants who brought their music and dance to these shores in pursuit of hope and dreams.

"I think Irish music and Irish people have always been very warmly accepted by Americans," says soloist Lisa Kelly by phone from her home in Dublin, "going back to the Wolfe Tones and the Dubliners and Sinead O'Connor, and even U2. We're a very musical culture. It's a huge part of our curriculum in school, as well.

"The songs that come from Ireland are all songs that people relate to, like 'Danny Boy.' I think people just embrace Irish culture. The whole Irish thing is a nice fairy tale."

Fairy tale is an apt description of a Celtic Woman performance. Because of its atmospheric set designs, elegant costumes and theatrical choreography, it has been characterized as Riverdance for the voice. The music is a savory blend of traditional Irish and contemporary songs that project the Celtic duality of melancholy and joy.

If Celtic Woman seems more like a Broadway musical than a traditional ceili, it's because its stars are veterans of musical theater. Their experience extends from such popular productions as "Chicago" and "Grease" to "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance," in addition to numerous solo recordings.

The vocalists, Chloë Agnew, Lynn Hilary, Alex Sharpe and Kelly, are trained in traditional Irish and classical singing. And the beautiful, energetic Máiréad Nesbitt is a classically trained violinist, an all-Ireland fiddle champion and former member of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland.

Fan favorites

The group's latest CD and DVD, "Songs from the Heart," was released in January, in time for the tour, which kicked off earlier this week in Roanoke, Va. The 14 tracks include such favorites as "Fields of Gold," "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," "Amazing Grace" and "O, America!"

Musical director David Downes chooses songs that are familiar to Celtic Woman fans while introducing new ones that craft a different personality for each tour. Having worked with the cast for several years, he makes his choices based on his perception of what will work for each singer.

"The songs in 'Songs from the Heart' are ones that mean a lot to us and to people watching the show," Kelly says. "We've got 'Amazing Grace.' It's a huge song worldwide, and everybody has a very special place in their heart for 'Amazing Grace.' I have a song called 'The Moon's a Harsh Mistress' - again, a very heartfelt, emotional kind of song. Chloë sings 'Galway Bay,' which is so renowned in the States and in Ireland. So it's a more emotive kind of show.

"At a show last year, we sang 'Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,'" Kelly says. "It's a song about Annie Moore, the first emigrant from Ireland to hit Ellis Island. There was a very old lady in the front row with tears in her eyes. She came up to us afterward and told us her mother had been through Ellis Island. It was so heartwarming to see someone like that, and the way she responded."

With the "Songs from the Heart" tour presenting 79 shows in 59 cities, Kelly and her co-stars face a grueling schedule. Yet you'll hear no complaints from the quintet.

"We're very lucky to have the success we've had so far," Kelly says. "It's wonderful when you enjoy what you do, and to get out and have a responsive audience - to have people approach you and say that you've touched their lives in so many ways. That's an incredible honor.

"And because it's a touring show, you get to meet different people and see different audiences all the time. So it would be really hard to get tired of it. It's a wonderful job. It's extremely rewarding in so many ways. I couldn't imagine doing anything else now."

BY JACK BERNHARDT - Correspondent
Fri, Feb 12, 2010 02:00 AM
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