Katie McMahon was the lead singer of Riverdance when the show took the world by storm. She toured with the Lee Company, and is featured on the Riverdance CD as well as the Riverdance in Ireland and Riverdance at Radio City Music Hall videos.
In 1998, Katie McMahon released her first solo CD titled After the Morning. Katie's voice is pure and clear, and adapts easily as she sings different styles of music. Katie's stage presence is incredible. She lures her audience in to be captive of her song until the music has ended.
After the Morning opens with "Caleno," a slow tempo ballad with simple harmonies. "After the Morning" is sung wistfully and a cappella. "'Til the Sun Comes Up (Nil Se'n La)" is very up beat and energetic. It is one of my favorite songs on the album. "Heartland" is a similar version of "Home and the Heartland" from Riverdance. "A Stór Mo Chroi" is a somber and slow song. Katie sings it with so much passion, it's hard not to feel the yearning that the lyrics describe. "Winter, Fire and Snow" appears on Katie's solo CD, as well as on Anúna's Invocation. It is a beautiful piece written by Brendan Graham.
Katie McMahon makes beautiful music and has a lovely voice. She has a great blend of traditional music on her CD, and I urge everyone to get it. You can find more information at Katie McMahon's web site.
Q: Where did you grow up? When did you begin singing? Did your family and location influence your music pursuits in any way?
A: I grew up in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin is a wonderful city steeped in past culture but it also has a very vital music scene today. My mother, who is German, taught me my first song at age 3. It was "Silent Night" in German. I always loved singing and loved listening to choral Christmas music, Ballet music and Early music. I think that the music I loved as a child has really influenced me in the music I sing today. My parents were the most encouraging parents I ever could have hoped for. It felt as if they were always behind my brother (Peter) and I in whatever we chose to do. My mother is very musical and she taught me piano. My father also loves music and up until recently had no formal training. A couple of years ago he started to learn the tuba, of all things! He is a hypnotherapist and has helped me enormously with performing. My brother also ended up pursuing a musical career. He directs the musical "Buddy" in Hamburg and has also directed many Opera productions all over Europe.
Q: What musical training have you received throughout your music career?
A: I studied piano, recorder, voice, harp and theory in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. I also studied harp with Denise Kelly. When I was 15 I became a chorister in Christchurch Cathedral. Anglican choral music is still one of my favorite types of music. I find that having a formal musical education has been a great help to me.
Q: Where did you go to college and what was your major?
A: I went to Trinity College Dublin for 2 years to study Drama Studies and Italian. I never completed my 3rd level education because I wasn't doing very well at the Italian. I decided to take a year off to concentrate on my music and decide what to do next. During that time I sang with the National Chamber Choir and joined Anúna. It seemed as if I had a future in music, so I never went back to college. I would like eventually to study a degree in English, as I love reading.
Q: When did you join Anúna? How did you get involved with the group?
A: I met Michael McGlynn (the director of Anúna) when we were both working in the National Chamber Choir in '91. At the time I was joining lots of different music groups to see where I fitted in. He asked me to join Anúna and I said I'd give it 3 months and that I was most happy singing solos. I ended up singing with the group for 5 years.
Q: How did you become one of the main soloists of Anúna?
A: In some ways I have always been a bit cocky. I believe if you want something you should go after it or ask for it. I remember once I was in this choir and we were singing through a particularly difficult piece. When we came to the soprano solo, I knew no one had been given it, so I just sang it and luckily the conductor liked it. When you see an opportunity I believe you should just go for it. I went into Anúna with this attitude. I loved the music we sang and it suited my voice. Michael started giving me more and more solos. I remember the first time I heard myself recorded I was horrified. I was out of tune and all over the place. I have learned so much from listening to myself on tape. Obviously I worked on the songs. Michael and John (his brother) helped me a lot. Eventually I became pretty good. I love performing and go into a kind of trance when I sing. I came across well on the TV, so I ended up fronting the group a lot.
Q: What were your more memorable experiences with Anúna?
A: When I joined Anúna in '91 it was a pretty normal choir. The only difference being they sang more traditional and early music than other choirs. When Michael's brother John joined things changed a lot. We all started having a lot of social fun together and letting people join who were attractive or who were good fun. If they turned out to be musical it was an added bonus and they stayed. We stopped using sheet music and started moving around the venues. We started getting some very large audiences. Some of the most memorable gigs were in Trinity College or Christchurch cathedral in Dublin. We used to create a very magical atmosphere singing exquisite music and using candles for lighting.
There were also some hilarious concerts where things went wrong. I remember one gig in Galway where the choir all got locked outside the church and I had to just keep singing until they got in. Or there was another time when the choir left the altar and went into the tiny vestry at the side while I sang a solo. While I was singing one of them farted and they went into fits of giggles. One of the guys laughed so hard he fell against the wall and managed to turn off the entire power in the church! I didn't know what was happening. I was singing and suddenly all the lights went off. I just had to keep going! In those days Anúna was a lot less professional than it is now, but it was so much fun. The group was full of eccentric, fun people. We had wonderful parties. The social scene was one of the best things about being in the group.
Q: Do you feel that Anúna has in some way helped you to move forward with your solo career?
A: Because I was enjoying myself so much in Anúna, I decided to make music my career. I learned a lot, singing with Anúna. I have always felt comfortable on stage, but performing in front of hundreds of people on a regular basis improved my singing and the way I presented myself. Anúna gave me the opportunity to see that there was an audience for the type of music I love to sing. Having said that, it was a group and I had always had the urge to be a soloist. There came a time when I felt I had to strike out on my own. I am pretty sure that if I had stayed with Anúna I would never have had a solo career.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with any friends you made in Anúna? Do you miss being involved with the group?
A: I keep in touch with most of the old Anúna gang. Many of them ended up leaving Anúna to be in Riverdance. There are only around 6 people left in Anúna from the days when I joined the group. I don't really miss being in the group that much. It kind of ran its course for me. However I would love to get the old gang together and sing Michael's music again.
Q: What was your favorite solo that you sang with Anúna? Do you have a favorite Anúna album that you appeared on?
A: I loved the music I sang with Anúna, so this is a hard question. I guess my two favorite solos with Anúna were "Sciathliureach Mhuire," an ancient Gaelic song that invoked the protection of Mary before going into battle. I used to start the concerts alone singing this song walking up the isle. My other favorite was "The Blue Bird" which was a beautiful soaring peaceful solo that I found very moving. My favorite album was Invocation. I worked very hard on this album. My favorite song from this recording was "Sleepsong." I think the sound quality is excellent. Recording this album for me was a very intense and emotional experience.
Q: How long did you stay with Anúna? What made you decide to leave Anúna for Riverdance? Was it hard to leave Anúna?
A: I sang with Anúna for 5 years. When we were asked to sing in Riverdance everything started to change. Now there was a chance for everyone to make some money. Once money entered into the equation a lot of the fun went out of the group. Michael McGlynn now had the power to give or take away our jobs in Riverdance. I felt uncomfortable with this. At the beginning I was much more interested in being in Anúna. When Riverdance played London I was essentially replaced in Anúna. I wasn't happy about this. I guess I was unrealistic. I wanted to do both things. I began to realize that Michael would never allow me to be the exclusive lead singer in Anúna, which is what I wanted. It was his group. Unfortunately he also didn't want to let me go. We had huge rows about it at the time. Finally I realized that it would be far better for my career to leave Anúna and tour the world with Riverdance. It was quite traumatic at the time. Luckily a lot of my Anúna friends also remained with Riverdance and Michael and I have since made up.
Q: Did you ever expect to gain so much fame with Riverdance? Did you expect it to be so popular for as long as it has been?
A: We could never have dreamed how successful Riverdance was going to be. When we rehearsed in Dublin with Michael Flatley way back in '94 I had no idea how spectacular the finished piece was going to be. It was hugely exciting. When we hit New York with the show, appeared on PBS and people started recognizing me in Bloomingdales I realized that Riverdance was going to be around for a long time.
Q: How long have you been involved with Riverdance?
A: I was the lead singer in Riverdance from the very first note of the original piece in '94 up until November 1999.
Q: Where have you toured with Riverdance? Do you have a favorite place to perform, of all the places you have been to?
A: I toured England, Australia, Canada and America with the show. It was a wonderful way to see the world and I have favorite cities in each country. I loved LA, Chicago, New York, Washington and of course Minneapolis, where I now live.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a part of Riverdance?
A: I toured with the show for 4 years. During that time the only consistent thing in our ever changing landscape was the show. I was never nervous. Walking out on stage was like walking in my front door. It felt comfortable. My favorite song was "Heartland", which always made me feel happy, as it's about returning home to Ireland. I think that's why I included it on my own CD.
Q: You released your first solo album, After the Morning, in 1998. How did you find the time to record it with your having such a crucial role in Riverdance? How long did it take to record your album?
A: Even when I was in Anúna I had dreamed about releasing my own CD. In '98 I signed a record deal with Paradigm Records. They had a very tight schedule, so I only had 3 months to prepare and 2 weeks to record the album. It was exhausting, sometimes recording from 10-5 and then doing the show from 7-11. It was even harder work promoting the album, as I would often appear on morning TV shows. So I would have to get up at 5am and wouldn't be in bed until midnight. At one point in New York I got ill from exhaustion.
Q: "Winter, Fire and Snow" is a song you were recorded singing with Anúna on the Invocation album. You also recorded this song on your solo album. What is it about this song that draws you to it?
A: "Winter, Fire and Snow" is another of the beautiful songs I used to sing with Anúna. It has a touching haunting quality. I am very good friends with the composer Brendan Graham and will be including another of his songs "Crucan na bPaiste" on my new album.
Q: I find your version of "A Stór Mo Chroí" to be very beautiful and passionate. It seems you put your very soul into this song. Is it one of your favorites on your solo album?
A: I am glad that you enjoy my version of "A Stór mo Chroí" so much. I find this a heart rending and very challenging song to sing. I was actually unhappy with the final mix of this song, but it was too late to change it.
Q: "Ardaigh Cuain" is a famous traditional Irish song. The harp adds a beautiful touch to it. Why did you choose to include this song on your album?
A: I love "Ardaigh Cuain." It was one of the first songs I learned on the harp when I was 12. I have always enjoyed performing it immensely and hoped that my audience would enjoy it as much.
Q: Your album is very stylistically diverse. What influenced your choices of music for it?
A: My album is stylistically diverse, because I enjoy many different styles of music. I love traditional, early music and modern. I also think there are certain similarities between the different genres. I like to explore different styles to keep myself and my audience interested.
Q: What have you been up to since you've left Riverdance?
A: Since I left Riverdance I have been working on my new album and I have bought a house in Minneapolis with my fiancé Ben Craig. I love being in one place at one time for a change. I get so much more work done. It's nice to have an entire room for my office, instead of one side of a suitcase. Minneapolis is a wonderful city too and I have made many friends since I'm here. It made sense for me to settle here. I like America and there is a huge audience already familiar with my singing here. Of course I miss Ireland sometimes. But I get home at least once or twice a year. At the moment I am also busy organizing my wedding which will take place in Killarney, Ireland next September.
Q: When will your next solo album be released? Where will it be recorded? Where will it be released?
A: My next solo album will be released either just before Christmas or around St. Paddy's Day next year. It should be available throughout the States. If anyone has any difficulties finding it they can purchase it directly from amazon.com. I have been recording my album in Studio M in St. Paul. In fact I have only another 4 songs to record. But then I have to mix and design the cover etc. It's been nice taking a little more time with this recording and not being so overworked. There are excellent traditional musicians here in the Twin Cities. Some of the musicians appearing on my album will be Daithi Sproule (Altan) Paddy O'Brien and Laura MacKenzie.
Stephanie Giamundo conducted the interview with Katie McMahon, wrote the review of After the Morning, 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.