Anthony Kearns: Much more than an Irish tenor – The Coastland Times
By Kip Tabb
Anthony Kearns is Irish, he’s a tenor, so by definition he’s an Irish tenor. But expecting Kearns to sing only ballads and songs from the Irish tenor repertoire would be akin to owning a Corvette and never driving faster than 80 km/h. Sure, it can do it, and does it very well, but there’s so much more to the experience.
Presented by the Don and Catharine Bryan Cultural Series, Kearns opened his Sunday afternoon recital at St. Andrew’s by the Sea in Nags Head with My Lagan Lovea very traditional Irish ballad.
From the first note, perfectly tuned with just enough word emphasis to frame what is a beautiful love song, it was obvious this would be a memorable musical afternoon.
What created the magic of the day, however, was more than Kearns’ voice, powerful and subtle as it was. Pianist David George’s mastery of music brought out the richness and complexity of many songs, songs often seen as mere melodies.
More than that, however, was Kearns’ desire to take audiences on a journey with him through a remarkable variety of musical styles and patterns.
The show was framed by classic Irish ballads. My Lagan Love introduced the evening and Kearns ended with Boy Danny, which is perhaps the most well-known Irish ballad ever.
The song is so familiar that it may seem clichéd or outdated because it has been played so many times. Kearns, however, brought the meaning of the words to life. boy Danny is an intensely sad song, because Danny is dead and he only comes home to rest like “…the pipes are calling, From glen to glen and down the mountain…”
Kearns’ interpretation of her performance draws attention to this sense of loss. He draws on a range of vocal dynamics to portray the anguish of a lover who will never see his love again, or of parents who have lost their most precious possessions.
Kearns’ understanding of the Irish musical repertoire is certainly exceptional. when he sings Gracea song telling the true story of Joseph Plunkett before he faced a firing squad for his role in the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, it is raw and moving.
The song focuses on his thoughts as he is cleared by British authorities to marry his fiancée Grace Gifford just hours before his execution.
They’ll take me out at dawn, now I have to die
With all my love, I’ll place this wedding ring on your finger
There will be no time to share our love ’cause we have to say goodbye
Ah, there won’t be time to share our love so we must say goodbye
He announces the lyrics perfectly, imbuing them with a longing for the unattainable that is heartbreaking.
With Island of Hope, Island of Tears it again recreates the emotional meaning of the song, a 15-year-old Irish girl arriving at Ellis Island”. . . The first day of January 1892 . . .”
An Irish ballad, sure, but one that speaks to a much larger truth, to the hope of immigrants – something universal that is a shared experience.
It is his understanding that music can convey a universal feeling that sets Kearns apart. He’s a tenor and he’s Irish, but where he takes his music goes far beyond the Emerald Isle.
In 2015, he performed for Pope Francis I during his visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. One of the songs Kearns performed was Shelter me. Composed by American gospel composer and performer Bruce Carroll, Kearns’ arrangement with George on piano is transformative.
With the soaring eloquence of his voice filling the hall of worship, the song becomes a call to divine strength.
When I can’t close my eyes
And the night goes on
Troubles laugh on all sides
And my doubt is strong
The song may not be part of the classic tenor repertoire, but Kearns throughout his performance made it clear he was willing to take a chance with his musical selections.
This was particularly the case of Life in pinka song that Edith Piaf composed in 1946.
French singer with an assertive style and international renown, Life in pink could be considered Piaf’s flagship song. Often taken up by female artists, the words speak of a woman’s desire to be with a man. “When he takes me in his arms, And speaks softly to me, I see life in rosy hues”, is the translation from French.
But Kearns, singing in French, took the song and transformed it. Instead of a yearning for another’s heart, he has created a declaration of love and the joys it brings.
Life in pink wasn’t the only selection for performance that could be considered surprising. South of the border (Down Mexico Way) has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Patsy Cline and countless other artists. But none of them applied an operatic tenor voice to it – creating a very different way of thinking about the song and frankly, making it fun to listen to.
It was obvious that when he thought about his list of songs for the afternoon, there was an element of storytelling in it. One of the last songs he performed was Somewhere over the rainbow. Interestingly, Kearns placed the song immediately after Island of Hope, Island of Feara song that specifically looks at how our fears create hope for a better life.
What did Somewhere over the rainbow standing out was the choice to include the introductory verse which is hardly ever played: “When everyone is a hopeless mess, And the raindrops are falling all around, The sky is opening a magic way.” . .” This is how lyricist Yip Harburg introduced Harold Arlen’s melody. George and Kearns gave us the full song.
It is important to note how outstanding George’s piano performance was. At their core, the songs Kearns performed are simple, lyrical melodies, but combined with that remarkable, resonant tenor voice and often subtle yet intricate piano accompaniment, the afternoon became something special and memorable. .
Next in the Don and Catharine Bryan cultural series is the 8th Annual Surf and Sounds Chamber Music Series taking place August 22-26, 2022 at venues from Southern Shores to Buxton and Manteo. The series also supports the June 19 “Sounds of Freedom” celebration presented by the Pea Island Preservation Society Inc.
For more information on the Bryan Culture Series and to learn more about the Four Sundays, Four Films event, visit bryanculturalseries.org.
Support for this cultural offering of events is provided by TowneBank of Currituck, OBX Chevrolet Buick, Ramada Plaza Hotel of Kill Devil Hills and Hilton Garden Inn of Kitty Hawk.
The Bryan Cultural Series is a non-profit organization established in 2012. The Board of Directors is made up of nine community leaders dedicated to providing a series of high quality cultural events. These events will include a variety of visual, literary and performing arts. The board strives to glean talent that has achieved regional and national recognition to maintain a high standard.
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