Celtic Woman “You might not understand Gaelic, but you understand the story”


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When Máiréad Carlin left home at 18, she was eager to explore the world beyond her homeland of Derry, Northern Ireland. A classically trained singer, she moved to London to pursue her passion for performing. Carlin landed her dream job with the internationally renowned ensemble Celtic Woman at 24, returning to Ireland with a different perspective on the country, its rich history and her own heritage.

“It really opened my eyes to what it means to be Irish,” she says. “Aren’t I so lucky to be from here? It’s a very precious thing.”

Celtic Woman featuring vocalists Carlin, Susan McFadden, Éabha McMahon and new Celtic violinist Tara McNeill, brings its “massive production” to Jacksonville March 10 at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts (www.artistseries jax.com).

The tours supports the new album, Voices of Angels with a dazzling array of music and dancing with bagpipes, drums and storytelling delivered as only Celtic Woman can. Their repertoire encompasses traditional Irish classics, contemporary songs, classical favorites and originals.

Voices of Angels contains many favorite songs from the Celtic Woman repertoire including “Amazing Grace,” “Mo Ghile Mear,” and “Ave Maria.” The album also features several previously unrecorded well-known film scores such as “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic), “For The Love of a Princess” (Braveheart) and “A Time For Us” (Romeo and Juliet).

“Celtic Woman is known for our storytelling so the last thing we’d want is for the music to overtake that. Storytelling is a universal language.”

There is an electric excitement about the show rippling through the group, says Carlin. Voices of Angels marks the first time recording with the Orchestra of Ireland. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard World charts and the momentum has continued since its November, 2016 release.

“It’s the first time we’ve had an album go to number one in the classical crossover charts and world charts consecutively,” she says. “It’s been such a mad time but it’s been really lovely.”

Recording with the 72-piece Orchestra of Ireland brought new, ethereal dimension to the mesmerizing artistry of the individual members of Celtic Woman. Carlin says working with the orchestra was such a positive experience, largely because of the mastery of the arrangement done by Gavin Murphy.

“The orchestra is there to be the foundation. We kind of think of them as our fifth member,” she says, noting that despite the sheer volume of the orchestra, it never overshadowed the music or the message. “Celtic Woman is known for our storytelling so the last thing we’d want is for the music to overtake that. Storytelling is a universal language. You might not understand Gaelic, but you understand the story. That’s the most fundamental part of Celtic Woman. I love that we can share our culture with the rest of the world. It’s a great honor for us and we don’t take it lightly.”

Life on the road with four women could get tricky without the perfect alchemy of personalities.

Born in Derry, in the north of Ireland, Carlin’s grew up in a musical family. She studied at Trinity College of Music in London and recorded her debut album, ‘Songbook’ released on Decca Records in 2014. Carlin is excited to performing two solos in the show including her favorite Ave Maria. “I love that I get to sing in the way that I was trained,” she says.

Susan McFadden moved from her birthplace in Dublin to London to follow her dream of performing in the West End. After winning the reality ITV show Grease Is the Word, McFadden was cast in the role of “Sandy” in the West End production of Grease. She has also played “Serena” in the original cast for the UK premiere of Legally Blonde the Musical and subsequently took over the lead of “Elle Woods” earning a nomination for the prestigious ‘What’s on Stage Award’ for “Best Take Over.”

Éabha McMahon began her singing career at 9, when she was chosen by Veritas to record an album for the children’s book, Beo go Deo. She began singing in the traditional sean nós style, taught by famous singers such as Máire Ní Choilm, Séamus Mac Mathúna, Moya Brennan and Íde Mac Mathúna. McMahon went on to win the under-18 All Ireland Oireachtais final at the age of 15, and was approached to audition for the original Riverdance choir Anúna. In 2005, McMahon became the youngest member to join Anúna.

Violinist Tara McNeill became the newest member in August, 2016. She is only the second violinist to ever join Celtic Woman. McNeill graduated with First class honours in the BA in Music Performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music under the tuition of Michael D’Arcy. She has toured China, Argentina, Chile and Mexico with Camerata Ireland and world renowned pianist, Barry Douglas, performed with the RTE Concert Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra, led the Ulster Youth Orchestra and both the RIAM Chamber and Symphony Orchestras.

“These girls are like my sisters. We’re on the road at least eight months out of the year. When things get hard, we are there for each other,” says Carlin. “When a new person is chosen, personality is a major factor. Talent is important, yes, but so is being a nice person. We all may come from very different backgrounds but together, we just blend.”

About Liza Mitchell