Ciaran Sheehan says music, particularly Irish music, expresses the inexpressible.
The Dublin-born Irish tenor and some friends are bringing “A Galway to Broadway Christmas” to the Garner Performing Arts Center on Saturday. Similar shows of his have sold out at Carnegie Hall, and he has couple of PBS specials, too, including his “Ciaran Sheehan and Friends,” which included some of the friends appearing in Garner.
Making the trip with Sheehan are acoustical guitarist Gabe Donohue, who has toured with the famed Chieftains and has collaborated with Michael Flatley of Riverdance; classically trained fiddler Heather Martin-Bixler; and Broadway pianist Sue Anderson, who has accompanied performers from Rex Harrison to Kevin Kline.
“I want to be on stage with my friends,” Sheehan said. “We have a lot of fun, and I think that makes it more fun for everybody.”
Irish music is hot in the Triangle this Christmas.
The Irish Tenors, who have sold out Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl , will be at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on Dec. 18.
Sheehan doesn’t really understand why music has the emotional impact that it does, but he has seen the effects over and over again.
“Why can a particular blend of notes bring tears to your eyes and another set have you tapping your toe?” Sheehan said. “It is not always the words or a memory. It is not a conscious decision. Music speaks to us on the subconscious level.”
Sheehan thinks the music of the Irish speaks in its own way and has permeated other genres, including bluegrass, country and cowboy music.
Donohue remembers the Chieftains collaborating with bluegrass stars Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss.
“Like many ancient forms of music, there is a cadence to Irish music that is immediately distinctive,” Donohue said. “People will recognize the roots of bluegrass and old-time music, which the Scots and the Irish brought to Appalachia. ...
“To me, Irish music is about spirit and and music speaking to the spirit. There is something very honest about Irish music. It think it is a little more spiritual than some,” Sheehan said.
Anderson said traditional Irish music reflects a proud heritage.
“The Irish have had such struggles and the Irish people have such depth,” she said. “They bring a sense of reality to their music.”
Donohue’s last concert in the area was with the Chieftains and Jethro Tull at Walnut Creek in 2000. He believes the Irish sound is gaining more fans.
“Irish music is featured on PBS more than any other ethnic music,” Donohue said. “There are Irish competitions in 32 countries now, including Mexico and Russia.”
He and Anderson said Sheehan’s concerts with friends are free-flowing and light-hearted.
“There is no standard show,” Anderson said. “There will be some Irish, some Broadway, some Christmas. To me, Ciaran brings a little something for anyone.”
That’s the way Sheehan wants it. He said he’d rather hear someone sing with feeling than hear the perfect note.
He recalled a concert where he heard an incredible singer knock out song after song. “He had an incredible voice, but he stood with his right hand on the piano the entire time. He never spoke. Never moved,” Sheehan said. “I loved the music, but didn’t love the concert.”
Sheehan may be best known for performing the role of the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” more than 1,000 times on Broadway and in Toronto.
“I would rather sing and touch people and have something resonate within them than to make the most beautiful notes,” he said. “To me, good music speaks to you.”