Celtic Woman: The women behind the Irish musical phenomenon
Máiréad, Lynn, and Lisa had stints on Michael Flatley’s dance shows, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, while Alex Sharpe began her career playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Chloë Agnew, the youngest member at 20 years old, got her big break when she recorded a single with David Downes shortly after 9/11 to help American and Afghanistani children and raised over 20,000 pounds.
When they aren’t touring or making promotional appearances, the women of Celtic Woman spend time with their families and often work on other interests. Chloë, for instance, completed high school “with flying colors” in the early years of Celtic Woman and is now taking an online college course in child psychology. Lisa, who had her third child, Ellie, in 2008, balances life on tour with family time. “A lot of hard work goes into the balance of it, but I’m very lucky because I have a huge support group [her children] with me on the road.” She humbly added, “But it’s no harder than balancing any other career with three children, it’s just that I have to do it in a hotel room and on a bus. They enjoy it and that’s the main thing. They’re learning and seeing places they might never see again.”
Lynn Hilary released a solo album in 2008 called Take Me With You and Máiréad Nesbitt is currently working on her second solo album.
With lives as full and varied as these, it’s hard to see how five women with different personalities come together to make such harmonious music. The members have resounding praise for David Downes in this respect, who controls the look, sound, and production of Celtic Woman in a way that is extremely polished but allows the musicians’ individuality to come through. “Each of the girls are an entity in themselves and I think that’s what makes it personal for an audience,” said Alex. “The fans have built up a relationship with these girls and they have their own favorites.”
Each member’s singing voice and style is very different, allowing her to put her unique stamp on songs. Despite the predetermined structure, Lynn said that they can’t help but eventually show their personalities a little on stage.
“I know with Máiréad from the beginning she’s always had her style…she has to move with her music and she uses the whole stage. So that’s her being very individual and unique, showing her energy and passion for the music.” Chloë “sparkles…she’s a bubbly person in real life and very funny as well, and she’s smiling the whole time [on stage] because she loves it.” Lynn calls herself “the shy one,” something that she has embraced and that has made her more relaxed on stage.
The girls also have different musical influences – they mentioned everything from the Beach Boys and Michael Jackson to Sinéad O’Connor and Beyoncé – and different styles they enjoy performing, which is often reflected in the selections made by Downes for each album. This time around, the five women are backed up by their usual 6-piece Celtic Woman band and also by a veritable army of collaborators: a 12-member Aontas Choir, 27-piece film orchestra, 20-member Discovery Gospel Choir, 10-member Extreme Rhythm drummers and 11-piece bagpipe ensemble. The result is a beautiful, lush sound that ranges from a roar to a single voice, never losing pace.
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