Deirdre Gilsenan's beautiful voice graces the world as she tours with the Lord of the Dance Troupe 2 as "Erin the Goddess." Here she meets up with Stephanie Giamundo from the Celtic Cafe to tell us about her experiences with both Anúna and Lord of the Dance.
Q: How long have you been singing? What sort of vocal training have you had?
A: I have been singing for as long as I can remember, singing in the local church choir was a great love of mine. It still is. My first formal introduction to music was at the age of nine, when I began learning the piano. I continued learning in secondary school where I also studied music theory for my Leaving Certificate. In 1992, I entered the college of music as a part time student and studied under the vocal trainer Mary Brennan for three years. While there I traveled to Moscow with the Dublin Institute of Technology choir. As part of my studies I played Feurette, a character in the operetta Christopher Columbus and also appeared with Bernadette Greevy, a renowned Irish Mezzo soprano, in the national concert hall. That same year I was accepted into the renowned group Anúna, where I gained invaluable experience in the art of performing and fine tuning. I soon became one their lead soprano soloists. These were extremely active and exciting times performing in venues all over Europe. Anúna's participation at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, London had to have been one of the most special appearances of all. I was one of few chosen to appear on many British and Irish television shows with Anúna.
Q: Has your family influenced your musical career?
A: All of my family enjoy music, my father especially loves to sing and whistle, he has a sweet mellow voice, I like to believe I acquired. My mother has a healthy appreciation for music and hums softly out of key. While growing up both of them encouraged all five of us children to sing at local events, such as weddings, funerals, competitions, concerts and family occasions. They supported us by attending these, I believe this had a profoundly positive effect on my attitude towards music. For years, my mother shuttled us to piano, accordion, guitar and fiddle lessons. Matthew, my brother, trained also in the College of Music. He has always been an inspiration to me. Within the last four years he has taken up a full time singing career and is currently one of the three members of the successful group the Celtic Tenors. In short, yes, my family has greatly influenced my musical career, they do not question me because they know what it's like to hunger to sing.
Q: Who have been your main musical influences?
A: Joan Baez has always been someone I deeply admire, the strength and passion of her voice woven with light musical overtones make that unmistakable rich sound. I remember being so excited discovering her at the age of fifteen, and feeling an empathy like never before. In Irish music circles Mary Black was always reliably easy to listen to. Her earlier music was produced so tastefully I still find it hard to resist. The most innovative musician of all though for me has to be Kate Bush. Her wonderfully high voice coupled with exciting instrumentation are her unique trademarks. In classical circles Kiri Tequanawa and Cecilia Bartoli has deeply influenced me.
Q: What styles of singing do you do? Do you have a preference?
A: I was trained to sing choral, classical, oratorial and operatic music while at college. I was raised singing church music and later performed medieval and Celtic music, and more recently developed an interest in jazz. I like singing in most styles. I think oratorio comes more naturally to me because of my base training in church. Medieval music is an entirely different experience, being part of Anúna my voice was one in many making a channeled sound. Folk and Jazz songs are and area I'm still developing. I love these styles because I can freely improvise. Each style has something special to offer me and it's impossible to say which my preference is.
Q: How did you get involved with Anúna? How did you join?
A: In 1996 John McGlynn was forming a folk group and needed a soprano vocalist, my neighbor Francis, a singer herself, suggested me and so we met. I gave him a rough demo of my voice. While listening to it quite by accident his brother Michael overheard it, the following day I was asked to come to the next Anúna rehearsal. From that day on I became a member of Anúna and never looked back. Subsequently, John's group Céida, formed at that time and partook in that also.
Q: How long were you with Anúna?
A: I performed exclusively with Anúna for a year, then I got the lead singing role in Lord Of The Dance. The opportunity was huge, it was a question of full time work verses part time and it was obvious what I had to do. I was saddened to have to choose between the two. On returning from each leg, I would reunite with Anúna by attending rehearsals and doing the odd concert or recording session.
Q: Were you ever featured as a soloist with Anúna?
A: Yes. On the album, Behind the Closed Eye, I am the soloist on the atmospheric piece "1901." The Ulster orchestra features heavily in this album. O Viridissima Virga opened many concerts. The verses I performed solo have a Medieval Chant feel. The Green Laurel is a fast dainty song backed by intermittent droning over which I feature. Another song Jerusalem, a polyphonic medley of voice has verses performed by chosen soloists. Ardaigh Cuain that timeless Gaelic piece was always a joy to sing. The Sally Gardens was my special song.
Q: Did you tour with Anúna? If so, where?
A: Yes I have toured with Anúna within Ireland, Saint Canices Cathedral Kilkenny, the National Concert Hall, and Pepper Canister Church in Dublin. In Northern Ireland, The Guildhall Derry, in London, Glasgow, Norway and Sweden.
Q: What did you enjoy most about being part of Anúna?
A: For me the essence of Anúna is the graceful harmony and line made by focusing largely on breathing and sound. Of course socially being part of the group was stimulating, meeting every week I developed great friendships there. Also getting the chance to meet and perform with talented musicians such as The Cheiftains, Carlos Nunez, Elvis Costello, Michael Crawford, Iarla O'lionard, Begley and Cooney, Liam O'Flynn and the Celtic group Secret Garden.
Q: Were you a part of Anúna when they were with Riverdance?
A: No, I joined immediately after some of the group left to join Riverdance.
Q: When did you leave Anúna? What made you decide to leave?
A: It's funny but I never considered myself leaving Anúna, I still feel strangely part of the group. Right up until the summer of 1999, I would sing with Anúna whenever I got the chance.
Q: How did you get involved with Lord of the Dance?
A: Mary, my vocal coach informed me that Ronan Hardiman was to audition female singers for the show Lord of the Dance, she felt I would have a good chance at getting the role and also it would suit me quite well to travel a little. This would have been my fifth year studying in Dublin, and it was a good time for a break. I was surprised at how many people auditioned. There was an interview first, I sang the three songs, and then I introduced myself to Michael Flatley via video, the rest unfolded on it's own.
Q: How long have you been touring with Lord of the Dance? Which troupe do you perform with?
A: I can barely believe it, it's been two years and eight months since I first joined troop two LOTD.
Q: What do you love most about being a part of Lord of the Dance?
A: The tour of the Americas has taken me all around the continent, it's been a wonderful opportunity to see parts of the world I would never have seen otherwise. Special places like Hawaii, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Mount Saint Helens, The Canadian Rockies, Chile, Brazil and Argentina are etched in my memory forever. I love the opportunity to sing every night it's such a challenge.
Q: How long do you intend to stay with Lord of the Dance?
A: As long as the opportunity presents itself.
Q: Do you plan on coming out with your own solo CD anytime in the future?
Stephanie Giamundo conducted the interview with Deirdre Gilsenan, created the web design, and edited the graphics and photos found on this feature. Stephanie is the webmistress of her web site, Rua's Realm. At Rua's Realm you can find information about Celtic Corner and Uisce, as well as other information dealing with Celtic Music. Celtic Corner is Stephanie's mailing list that discusses mainly Celtic Music, as well as Celtic culture and literature. Uisce is Stephanie's Celtic band, a band centered mostly around traditional celtic music. You can find mp3s of Uisce's music at Rua's Realm.