The Celtic Tenors Make Secular Music Spiritual

Review of Meaford Hall concert, Dec. 1, 2016, by Bill Monahan

World travellers, The Celtic Tenors, included Meaford on the Canadian leg of their current tour, playing the Opera House last night to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the hall’s renovation.  While they are clearly secular performers, with a sense of fun that overrides any solemnity, there is a something very spiritual about their performance, perhaps inevitable when three Irish tenor voices combine in transcendent harmony.

They dressed formally, in identical three piece suits, and began in a respectfully formal manner, lined up at three microphones at the front of the stage, each introducing himself with a brief comment about being in Meaford, and where he comes from in Ireland.  They introduced their musical director Brian McGrane, who accompanied them on piano for most of the first set and on guitar for a large part of the second set.  Through the two sets, their repertoire ranged all over the place, from a Dolly Parton cover to Italian opera, represented by Giuseppe Verdi (or as they jokingly called him, Joe Green), and a fair sampling of Christmas carols.

Every song was elevated by their performance.  The lead vocal would pass from one to the other and, if you closed your eyes, it was barely evident that the singer had changed.  At some points two of them would provide backing vocals that were choir-like “oooh’s” while the other carried the lead, and with a great sense of dynamics the song would progress through one, two or three voices with each verse.  When they sang in three part harmony, the hall reverberated with overtones.

Audience participation was a big part of The Celtic Tenors’ performance and they urged the audience to sing along with several songs.  The audience seemed a little reticent, perhaps hesitating to raise their own voices when the sound from the three singers was so complete.  But that didn’t mean the audience didn’t appreciate them. It showed at the end when the entire audience immediately jumped to its feet for a standing ovation before the last note had faded away.

Most of the acts booked at Meaford Hall are Canadian, so this was an anomaly to have a performance by an Irish band.  There’s something about bringing us Canadian music which, to me at least, is particularly satisfying, and I was reminded of that when the tenors did their version of “Four Strong Winds”.  They will be heading to Alberta tomorrow for their next concert (they hear the weather’s good there in the fall).

With a smattering of Irish songs, and many pop numbers, they held the audience captive, yet it was their brief samplings of opera that were the most stirring, probably because it showcased the splendour of their vocal talents.  Their version of “Silent Night” was also a moving moment.  They sang it three times: once in English, once in Irish, and once in the original German.  It was, as they noted, the quintessential Christmas song.

Another highlight was a very spiritual rendering of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”, a song addressed to someone who still has the energies of youth but reached out to touch the more mature Opera House audience with lines like “May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you.”

To properly present a very old medieval composition, they put down their microphones and stood at the front of the stage, performing the song a capella and unamplified to give a chance for the acoustics of that beautiful auditorium to shine.  To me the unamplified natural human voice always conveys something special and when it is three perfected tenor voices it is breathtaking.

After their encore they jumped down from the stage and hurried down the aisles between the standing applauding crowd, exiting out the back of the hall.  And the best moment of the night came twenty minutes later in the gallery.  They had been signing CDs and chatting with patrons when someone put Mayor Clumpus in the middle of them for a photo op.  As they sang Danny Boy, the room fell hushed and our tiny perfect mayor gazed up at them enraptured.

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