Solo tenor make U.S.
Kearns brings Irish music, and more, to Worcester
By Frank Magiera
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Where: Mechanics Hall, Worcester
When: 8 p.m. Saturday 15th April 2000
How much: $35 for concert only; $50 for concert and reception
Anthony Kearns has, what they call back home in Ireland, a turn in the voice. Except when Mr. Kearns pronounces it, the Rs tumble fondly over the tip of his tongue and the word sounds like a place in Italy. Teh-rrr-in he says.
However the word is pronounced, the skill comes in very handy for Mr. Kearns in singing oratorio, opera and lovely Irish lullabies with the Three Irish Tenors, who were so ubiquitous on PBS TV stations last month during pledge time.
Mr. Kearns, the tenor in the middle between John McDermott and Ronan Tynan, makes his solo concert debut in the United States Saturday in Mechanics Hall. The concert will help raise money for the free medical clinic sponsored by the Guild of Our Lady of Providence on the lower level of St. Bernard's Church at 228 Lincoln St.
Obviously, I'll do a bit of Irish music, Mr. Kearns said over the telephone recently from a hotel in Cambridge, where he was recovering after a six-week coast to coast tour with the Three Irish Tenors. I'll do lots of what I call evergreen music, like Neapolitan songs, Mario Lanza stuff, some popular arias, but not too many. And, of course, I'll introduce some new material.
The weeks around St. Patrick's Day were understandably the busiest time of the year for singers like Mr. Kearns, who exactly fits the profile of an Irish tenor with his full-throated brogue, a twinkle in his eye and a Web site that looks like page from an Irish tourist brochure. (It shows a picture of his hometown, a small village in County Wexford with one pub, two shops, hectares of rolling green fields and kilometers of ancient dirt roads.)
Some people have traveled over and have called my mother at home, he said with no apparent qualms about making things easy for telemarketers.
Despite doting over his idyllic village and his traditional upbringing with four brothers and a sister (this should have read "four sisters and one brother"), all of whom either sang or played a musical instrument, Mr. Kearns feels that the Irish is finally being removed from Irish music. The genre, he says, is being recognized as mainstream rather than merely ethnic.
People are beginning to see that more and more, he said. I think we're taking the I-R-I-S-H out of the music. We're taking out the paddywackery of some people, who have this notion of the Irish with the corned beef and the cabbage -- I don't know where they got that. We're sending the message out there that this is serious music and stands up along with any other music in the world.
Mr. Kearns said there is more demand for his performances in the United States than in his native Ireland simply because it is so prevalent back home.
When we come over here, I believe we're bringing culture over for those who can't afford to go back to Ireland, who are not familiar with the history and the troubled times and that, he said. It's an educational trip, really. You're singing songs from every county around Ireland and you're giving them stories of 1798 up to the 1916 Rising and the troubles in Belfast in the recent times. So you're covering centuries of music.
Even though much Irish music has its roots in Irish history and traditions, there are contemporary composers like Phil Coulter who write new music in the genre. During the recent tour, the Three Irish Tenors sang some of them, like Coulter's Scorn Not His Simplicity, a song about his late son who suffered from Down's syndrome, and Lift the Wings, a song from the musical Riverdance.
At 28, Mr. Kearns is the youngest of the Three Irish Tenors. He said he was uncertain if the group was inspired by those other three tenors, whose names he could not recall at the moment. He said the Irish group was organized in August 1998 as a PBS show. He auditioned and won one of the slots. That was really nothing new for Mr. Kearns, who had been winning singing competitions since he was about 10.
Without a doubt I always knew I wanted to sing, he said. But it's fair to say that I wasn't sure what line of singing I wanted to go into. I sang in competitions all over the country just looking for the right music that would suit me. His big break a came in 1993 when he entered a nationwide singing competition to promote the new 10-pound currency note and won. Since then he has been in constant demand performing oratorio, opera excerpts, Gilbert and Sullivan productions and cruise concerts. Next season, he plans to fulfill a long held ambition and perform in several full-scale opera productions. He also expects to perform with the Three Irish Tenors for three or four months a year for at least the next decade.