Continuing the Celtic tradition

Kip Carroll

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 the recently departed violinist, Mairéad Nesbitt.

“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 during a mid-November phone 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-rooted group — which includes the 2015 studio album, Destiny (just nominated for a 2017 Grammy for best world music album) 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 (greatest hits) show, and that went into the Destiny show and then into the symphony (Christmas themed) 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 figures to continue to give her toes a workout as Celtic Woman concludes 2016 and heads into a busy 2017.

The group is now on its 2016 Christmas tour, which finds them performing with local symphonies in each city on the itinerary. So not only is the show itself different from the 2015 edition, there’s the variable of performing with a different symphony from night to night.

Then early next year, Celtic Woman will begin a lengthy tour in support of Voices of Angels.

For now, McMahon finds herself in the Christmas spirit and happy to help bring this year’s Celtic Woman holiday performance to cities across America.

“The show this year, I think, is going to be absolutely fantastic because it’s such a mix of Christmas music and [other] music from the Voices of Angels, and maybe Christmas music that’s been done for years in the show, but now has been arranged differently by [musical director] Gavin Murphy,” she says.

One aspect of the show that is also different is the presence of violinist Tara McNeil, who recently replaced Nesbitt and makes her American debut on the Christmas tour. 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 is accustomed to this sort of change. McMahon became the 11th singer to join the ranks of Celtic Woman when she replaced Lisa Lambe in 2015. By that point, she was joining a group that had gained worldwide popularity for its blend or Irish music and adult contemporary pop, having sold more than 9 million copies of its CDs and DVDs during its first decade.

The Destiny project put McMahon in a comfort zone immediately with Celtic Woman. Created to celebrate this year’s 100th anniversary of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, Destiny leaned toward traditional Irish material. This 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 notably 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 that are on the album.

“I don’t think there could have been a better time for me to join because of this album,” McNeill says. “It made me 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 [piece] called ‘For The Love of a Princess.’ That’s the love theme from the Braveheart movie. So it has a folk song, a Celtic element to it, but I can really be a classical player with it as well.”

On the Bill: Celtic Woman. Tuesday, Dec. 20, Boettcher Concert Hall, 1000 14th St., Denver, 303-623-7876.