Between the Celtic music revival of the 1980s and the splendor of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, the culture of Irish instrumental music has reached a larger American audience than ever before. Another explosion of popularity has come with the arrival of the Irish Tenors, who bring the art of Irish singing to an American audience that had not been treated to it since the heyday of the Clancy Brothers in the 1960s.
The trio that comprise the Irish Tenors did not intend to make an ongoing act of their collaboration. Each of the three, Anthony Kearns, Ronan Tynan and John McDermott, was enjoying a significant solo career when they joined for an October 1998 concert in Dublin that sold many tickets and was taped for television.
American public television is always looking for enticing programs to encourage viewers during its fund drives, and in March of 1999, the Irish Tenors fit the bill. Given as a premium for a certain level of contribution to the network, the tape of the Tenors' concert fueled demand for recordings and concert appearances.
The CD of the original concert sold so well that the Irish Tenors recorded a 1999 Christmas CD. Soon after, John McDermott left the trio, to be replaced by Finbar Wright. The change did not slow the momentum of the Irish Tenors, who released Live in Belfast in 2000. Subsequent recordings include Ellis Island (2000) and Heritage (2004).
The Irish Tenors have varied backgrounds. Ronan Tynan, from County Kilkenny, was born with underdeveloped legs that he lost in an auto accident when he was 20. With prosthetic legs, Tynan became a distinguished amputee athlete and the holder of several track-and-field world records. He is also a physician specializing in sports injuries. He was 33 when he began to study music seriously, and he has won awards for his traditional singing. He has appeared in a number of operas, including Madame Butterfly, and published an autobiography, Halfway Home, in 2001.
Anthony Kearns, from County Wexford, began his training as a singer when he was ten, and he won awards through his teen years. In 1993, when he was in his early twenties, he won the 'Search for a Tenor' and received enough television exposure to ignite his career. His oratorio singing and performances with orchestras increased his fame, and he appeared in his first opera, Macbeth, in 2001.
Finbar Wright, born in County Cork, took a path to the Irish Tenors as circuitous as Tynan's. A piano student from age six, Wright decided at 16 to become a priest. Ordained at 22, he began to train his voice four years later and gave up the priesthood at age 30. He appeared in the opera Don Giovanni in the late 1980s and began a professional singing career. As host of a television show, Music of the Night, Wright had a top-selling album with Whatever You Believe in 1992. He was invited to be an original Irish Tenor but contractual conflicts kept him out until John McDermott left the trio in 2000.
If you have tickets to see the Irish Tenors, you will notice that the songs don't sound the way they do in an Irish pub. The class and grace with which these singers infuse the songs show the flexibility and deep artistry of the original tunes, and they will resonate in your heart for a long time.