Behind the Scenes with an Amazing Celtic Woman

Dreams can come true! Read all about the real life fantasy behind this Celtic Woman's dream! 

If you talked to Tara McNeill ten years ago and asked her to name her dream job, she would pick Celtic Woman. Now, Tara is living that dream as one of the four members of the all-female group that performs Irish classics, contemporary music and original tunes. But, before she joined the award-winning ensemble, she had to start in the background. Tara was asked to be a harpist while the group filmed “Destiny: Live in Concert,” which was later released to DVD in 2016.

“I loved and watched and listened to Celtic Woman for years and I’d always just wanted to be part of the group in some way or another, so I was delighted to be involved,” Tara says. The following year, Tara was asked to audition for the group after a violinist position became available. “There were a number of fiddle players, violin players,” Tara recalls. She nabbed the job. 

Tara’s initial reaction was one of disbelief. She had to pinch herself to make sure the news was real.

“But I was very, very excited,” Tara says. “Honestly, I wanted to be in this group forever.” This coming July will mark Tara’s third anniversary with Celtic Woman. “In one way it feels like no time at all, and in another way it feels like I’ve always been part of the group,” she says.

Celtic Woman will embark on its Ancient Land Tour in February. The tour will travel through both the United States and the United Kingdom before ending in November. Tara is joined by vocalists Mairéad Carlin, who is classically trained in voice, Éabha McMahon, who is trained in the sean nós style (or “the old way”) and Megan Walsh, who is a classically trained soprano.

 Celtic Woman was formed in 2005 during a sold-out concert at the Helix in Dublin, later broadcast in America on PBS. While the concert was originally intended to be a one-time event, the group was so well received that the show was followed by a U.S. tour. Numerous CDs, DVDs, television specials and live performances came not long after. According to Celtic Woman’s website, the group has sold more than eight million CDs and DVDs. It has performed in 23 countries on six continents and has performed for three U.S. presidents.Celtic Woman

While in concert, the ladies are backed by a full band, Celtic instruments and dancers. The group’s membership has evolved since its debut. Members of Celtic Woman are periodically swapped out for new artists, who bring a fresh approach and new take on the music.

Megan is the group’s newest member and is just 21 years old. She made her debut with the group’s “Ancient Land” album, released in September, and the Ancient Land TV Special, broadcast in November.

Audiences may see some similarities between Ancient Land TV Special and the upcoming tour. While the tour will deliver classics, there will be brand new music and arrangements that have not yet been performed by the group. “People coming to the show are going to get a lot of new music,” Tara says. But audience favorites like “Danny Boy” are guaranteed to be included in the line-up. “I don’t think we could do a Celtic Woman tour without all the favorites, so of course we’ll be bringing in ‘Danny Boy,’” Tara says. “No show would be complete without ‘Danny Boy.’”

In addition to playing the violin, Tara also plays the harp and sings with the group. She began playing the violin at the age of eight while attending St. Joseph’s Primary School in Antrim, a town in Northern Ireland. “I was lucky in my school that they actually had some instruments for us to try out,” she says.

While she had been playing the piano for a year or so before she picked up a violin, the violin soon became her main instrument. She went on to earn her degree in violin performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.

Celtic Woman

At St. Joseph’s Primary School, Tara studied Irish Dance until she was about 12 years old. And during the Ancient Land tour, Tara will re-visit those skills and do a bit of dancing. She will perform in some choreographed numbers and move freely on her own. “I always have to make sure the music is the priority,” she says. “The dancing, I just do whatever is comfortable. So, it’s very free, whenever I’m playing and moving by myself. It could be different each night, just depending on the layout of the stage.”

A live show means that mistakes are bound to happen. Tara recalls a time where she spun while playing her violin. But, as she spun, she unintentionally landed on the floor. “But you just have to keep smiling, keep praying to just get back up and keep moving,” Tara says. Touring has taught Tara the show has to go on — even if you land on the floor. Before Celtic Woman, that’s something I wouldn’t have done so much, is move and play the violin at the same time,” she says. “So, it’s something new.” And the audience moves, too. “We all want to tap our feet, clap our hands and move around,” Tara says. “So, it’s a lovely thing.”

 

 

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