Celtic Woman brought their world famous ensemble back to Anchorage Dec. 7-9 at the Atwood Center in Anchorage. It had been since their first visit in the Christmas season of 2014. The cast was largely different, but the show was still just as glorious.
I attended all three shows making for 105 total with the group, including four of their DVD recordings. Yes, you could say I’m a fan. My first show was in Albuquerque in spring 2007. The group began with a DVD recording at The Helix in Dublin in 2004 and has been a phenomenon ever since. They have tour every year in the USA and along the way have done tours in Europe, Japan, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Canada, and China. Along the way the artists have changed for various reasons but the magic is still there with chart topping sales of CDs and DVDs for their entire history.
And so, along with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Celtic Woman brought some seasonal sparkle back to our state. The current lineup are vocalists Eabha (pronounced Eva) McMahon, Mairead (rhymes with parade) Carlin, and Megan Walsh. Also in the front row is fiddler Tara McNeill. Backing them up are Brian Connor on piano, Percussionist Catriona Frost, Bagpiper Anthony Byrne, and on Uilleann pipes and whistles Darragh Murphy. Conductor for this tour is Lloyd Butler.
Music selection varies from secular favorites to more traditional Christian hymns. Group pieces included Ding Dong Merrily On High, Once In Royal David’s City, O Holy Night, Deck The Halls, Carol Of The Bells, The Wexford Carol, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Joy To The World, and Auld Lang Syne. But they also threw in some non-Christmas tunes that showcased the lovely harmonies and ranges of the individual girls. It wouldn’t be an Irish concert without Danny Boy, right? And to that they added Amazing Grace, complete with Anthony on bagpipes. On at least one night I had a neighbor in tears from that. There was also a beautiful duet with Megan and Mairead of Over The Rainbow.
Solo pieces were just as glorious. Mairead is the high end of the vocal spectrum and you get a great taste of that in this show. She does a lovely Ave Maria in the first act, and in act two soars into We Three Kings. It is her on vocals and Anthony on pipes. Hard to tell which one hits higher notes! She also has a very funny part in We Wish You A Merry Christmas that got the audience chuckling. She is the longest serving member of the ensemble now having joined them for the 2013 Christmas symphony tour.
Eabha McMahon is an alto. But she is no ordinary alto and has a haunting beautiful solo voice that is positively ancient in its feel. I had first heard her with another group, Celtic Nights, back in 2014. She was the youngest person ever to join the group, Anuna, having done so in her mid-teens. She sings a very nice Silent Night in the first act, and White Christmas in the second act. But she also leads a rousing session in act two along with Catriona, Darragh, and Tara. It is called Ard Ui Chuain. Don’t ask me to pronounce it and don’t try English phonetics on Irish words! It won’t work. But trust me, it starts out haunting and slow and moves into quite the toe tapper. It was her birthday on Sunday so Mairead instigated a sing along of happy birthday for her.
Megan is the mid-range soprano and is loaded with power. This is her first tour with Celtic Woman but she doesn’t skip a beat and it’s like she’s been there for years. She has a quieter song in the first act, The Christmas Song. In act two she belts out a powerful It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Her voice is full, rich, with good range, and oh so much power.
Tara is the fiddler and has been for a couple of years. She has the look that many think epitomizes an Irish person with fair skin and red hair. Having been over there myself I can tell you there are plenty of dark haired and blond folks so the stereotypes aren’t really true. She has great expression when she plays. Her first act air is called Across The World and begins slow and then turns into a quick tune you clap along with. Her second act air is What Child Is This. It is soulful and leaves a person breathless. She gets quite the applause either way.
Celtic Woman is a rare commodity up here. They generally only come up here for the Christmas symphony shows so they don’t have to tote all the staging for their regular touring shows the rest of the year. They have numerous CD and DVD options you can find at www.celticwoman.com that go back to the original show of 2004 and many since. Some of the previous Celtic Woman artists are out doing their own thing and have CDs of their own. You can go on Youtube and see a great many Celtic Woman videos from over the years. But there is nothing like a live show. And there is nothing like front row either! Yes, there’s a reason I have attended so many shows. They and their music over the years inspired me to write poetry, song lyrics, and a novel. I won a writing contest in Cork Ireland with one poem, and have two songs with my lyrics on an album by an Australia artist. So, you never know where the music will take you. But for three days in December 2018 it took packed houses of happy Alaskans to a joyful and peaceful place. Only each individual knows where it takes them beyond that.