Anthony Kearns, one of the acclaimed Three Irish Tenors, began his musical career humbly
at home. "My family was very musical. I learned to play accordion when I was young
and I sang with the family as well," says the 28 year old tenor. "I also played
trombone and did talent competitions. "I began training professionally in 1993."
Audiences will get the chance to hear Kearns, Finbar Wright and Ronan Tynan tomorrow night, when they perform outdoors at Purchase College's Performing Arts Center as part of the "Music Under the Stars" series. According to project coordinator Stephen Van Ness, "Music Under the Stars" is aimed at creating a new and larger concert series on a par with events in New York City. "We were looking for a new venue for those who live in the Westchester and Connecticut area," he says, "so that people don't have to travel so far for mature, quality entertainment." As a way to help solidify the series, Van Ness leapt at the chance to get the Irish Tenors. "Their appeal is so broad,: he says, "The classical fan will come to this; it appeals to both younger and older people with Irish roots and to music fans in general.
This broad-based appeal was unexpected for Kearns, Tynan and Wright. "Initially we were surprised by the reception in America. A lot has to be said for PBS (where their concerts have been aired) as to why we're popular in the states," he says. "In Ireland, there's more access to the music for the audiences, because they can go to a pub and hear songs like "The Town I Loved so Well" sung with, say, guitar accompaniment."
The Irish Tenors began touring together two years ago making their first US appearance last year. It was PBS that first aired The Three Tenors performance by Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras in 1991. The Three Irish Tenors appeared on PBS in March 1999. For audiences on both sides of the pond, the ballads and folk songs the The Three Irish Tenors perform are now being reinvented. "We're giving the songs a new lease, in that people haven't heard them with a full 68 piece orchestra behind them." Kearns says. "They were parlor songs originally, but now they've a new and interesting mix." For evidence of this new character and appeal, one need only look to the unofficial fan clubs that have sprouted up in the area. Micaela Kelly, vice president at Merrill Lynch in White Plains is the moderator of an e-group devoted to the Tenors. Kelly first saw the trio on PBS and was taken with the music. "I saw them singing beautiful Irish songs with an operatic quality." she says. "Once you see them, you realize they are personable, nice and funny - they joke with each other during performances. People from all walks of life really enjoy the music: the youngest member in our group is 13 and the oldest is 85. We have historians, college students, archaeologists and stockbrokers in the club."
Kearns says the fans offer a supportive energy. "It's amazing to perform in front of a crowd at a place like Madison Square Garden and have so many people enjoy the music," he says. "They are a great bunch of people and will travel any distance, it seems, to see us." Kearns also believes that behind this energy lies an important element: the music's universality. "The songs reach the audience because of the emotion." he says. "These things in the songs really happened. They deal with oppression, history, immigration, famine. You don't have to speak the language or be Irish to associate with feelings in these songs, just as you don't have to be Italian to feel the emotion in an aria by, say, Puccini."
The historical reality of the songs often informs Kearns' performance. "Before you sing," he says, "you start to put yourself in the position of the song. For me, I have a strong connection with 'Boolavogue" (about the 1798 rebellion), since County Wexford, where I lived, was so important in the rebellion. When I sing it, I think about the story and feel the connection." Kearns says such a connection offers a particularly fulfilling perspective. "It really gives us pride to be ambassadors for our country - to walk out on stage and help people hear the history in the music."
Part of Kearns' own history as a singer is bound up with his first classical mentor, the great Irish chanteuse Veronica Dunne. "She really was a tough woman," he says, admiringly. "She'd say, 'Come on, we're going to do it, luvie." And we'd sing together. She used to sing duets with me from 'La Boheme.' She gave me the drive. Because she retired early, Kearns believes that Dunne became more concerned with passing on vocal traditions to the younger generations of Irish singers, and lived the rest of her career through her students.
While tomorrow's performance will primarily feature Irish ballads and songs, there will be classical opera pieces as well. To some extent, Kearns believes this is the direction the tenors would like to take. "It would be nice to show that we are capable of doing operatic works after we have gone through the full Irish repertory," he says. "We can do it, and it's important that we show we have the full-blooded tenor voice." If this reflects Kearns' ambition as the youngest of the tenors, the success he feels as a result of the tenors' popularity is a source of stability and composure. "Security is the probably the nicest thing about this," he says. "It's also great fun and a great opportunity to be heard. It's give a peace of mind - you find that you don't lack confidence in what you're doing."