Saturday, October 11, 2014

A night with international sensation The Celtic Tenors at the Windham Performing Arts Center - By Michelle Libby

With haunting melodies and cheery ditties, The Celtic Tenors bring their global talent to the stage at the Windham Performing Arts Center this Saturday at 7:45 p.m. 
With songs like Danny Boy and Opera classics like Nessun Dorma, The Celtic Tenors hope to move the audience with their harmonies and sense of fun. 

The trio has been to Maine before, but this will be their first trip to Windham after the persistent invitation from Windham Chamber Singers’ director Dr. Richard Nickerson, who tried for a “long, long time,” said tenor James Nelson. “He’s been a great supporter of us,” Nelson concluded. 

On Saturday night, the concert will consist of two songs with the chamber singers in addition to a full-length show as well. “The set for the show is classical, spiritual, pop, Irish and Celtic songs, a huge mix and a cappella. If you don’t like classical music, they’ll be back to Celtic songs another time,” said Nelson. “We don’t take ourselves seriously.” When they got a review that their jokes were terrible, Nelson shrugged it off. The tenors are having fun and it shows in their performances. 

The tenors have performed all over the world, most recently in Europe and then with the Columbus Symphony in the Ohio Theater, a 2,500 seat venue with red seats and gold trim. The enjoy playing that type of concert, but Nelson said that the group also plays blues and jazz clubs. “We’re very excited to come to Windham.” The Celtic Tenors have been a group for 15 years and have toured in America for 12. They have yet to play Alaska, Hawaii and Alabama. 

The other two tenors that make up The Celtic Tenors are Matthew Gilsenan and Daryl Simpson. All three men are from different areas in Ireland and despite the religious turmoil that has taken place there, the group is made up of one Catholic and two Protestants, according to Nelson. When they travel they also include pianist Henry Colm and sometimes their manager from Fargo, ND.   

They have just been signed by Decca/Universal Records out of Australia and are currently working with award-winning producer Charles Fisher on their 11th album of a four album deal. The untitled album will be released in Australia this February. 

The new album is more “poppy”, according to Nelson, with covers from John Denver, the Bee Gees and Dolly Parton. “We’re very happy with it so far,” said Nelson. 

“The trio has been weaving together an eclectic repertoire of Celtic, operatic and popular songs for audiences worldwide since 2000.” 

“We’re a very harmony based group. None is the high or low harmony. We’re a democracy. We’re all equal,” said Nelson, who added that they often joke about “me and my two backup singers.”  

Each of the artists has a musical background and training. Nelson and Simpson got their start in churches, singing when they were young. They both have degrees in music. Nelson spent 10 years singing opera. Simpson is more “jazzy”. Gilsenan is more “folky”, according to Nelson. 

The Celtic Tenors have traveled all over the world drawing huge crowds especially on the Symphony Tour of China. “There was a culture shock. Anything new excites us,” Nelson said. They do concerts in the Netherlands and Germany a lot, and travel to the Middle East to perform for ex-pats who have moved there.
Outside of the group each is keeps themselves grounded in reality. Gilsenan is married with three children (11, 8, 6) and does some charity work, but mostly, during his free time, he works his farm with his family.
Simpson has a brand new baby with his primary school teacher wife. He runs a peace choir that brings together people of different religions and backgrounds. The group tours around the world. 

Nelson’s passion is “The education and feeding of orphans in Nairobi, Kenya.” He builds orphanages and hope that “With kids like that I can give them proper hope for the future. It’s lovely to see them.” The first group of orphans he worked with is now going into university. He feels a tremendous sense of pride.
This tour is partnered with SOS Children’s Villages, which “wants for the world’s children: That every child belongs to a family and grows with love, respect and security.” Nelson does not want to be pushy, but at every concert someone sponsors a child or a village. 

The Celtic Tenors last CD release, Feels Like Home, celebrated the uplifting music of Ireland , Scotland , England and Wales , while borrowing a few songs from other cultures along the way. 

Nelson said his favorite song is Dutchman, “a beautiful old love song. The man in the song has Alzheimer’s, dementia. My dad had dementia. It’s a special, simple love song. She kisses him on the cheek and puts him to bed. It’s a lovely song with a haunting chorus.”

They have only written one original song, a somewhat controversial song about the death penalty, but the trio arranges their own songs with harmony and piano parts. 

One song that is always on their set list is Caledonia, which they have been singing for at least 14 years.
“The music does come first. We’re not in it to be famous. That’s a recipe for disaster in the long run. We’re in it for the love of music,” Nelson said. 

“It’s very hard to label us. My hobby became my career and I want it to last as long as I can,” he added.
The show in Windham is Saturday. Come out and see The Celtic Tenors at the Windham Performing Arts Center on October 11th at 7:45 p.m. For tickets call 892-1810 x306 or online at For more information on the Celtic Tenors visit,

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