Meav never imagined that music could take her this far. ‘Ireland has changed a lot in the few years since I graduated from university’ she says. ‘There was no sign of the Celtic Tiger and I presumed that music for me would simply be a passionate hobby’.
Instead she has surpassed all of her dreams. Meav has toured the world as sole vocalist with the RTE Concert Orchestra, as a principal soloist with the Celtic Choral group Anuna, as Erin the Goddess in Lord of the Dance, in the London and Dublin productions of Riverdance and as a soloist with the Irish National Chamber Choir. She has headlined a festival as part of the Korean World Cup celebrations, performed at a prestigious Celtic Festival in Tokyo and sang in the Beo Festival of Irish Music at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. She has also recorded two solo albums which have been very successful worldwide and particularly in the USA, Japan and South Korea. In the last twelve months, Meav has also received two gold discs as one of the five featured soloists in ‘Celtic Woman’, who’s highly successful DVD and CD released by EMI topped the World Music Charts for over a year. Meav’s solo compilation album Celtic Journey also debuted in the Billboard World Music top ten on its release in February.
Meav was raised in a home steeped in classical and Irish traditional music and she studied singing, harp and piano from an early age. ‘Music was just a natural part of my life growing up, but I wasn’t always sure I wanted to pursue it as a career’ she says. Meav followed in her brother’s footsteps and went to law school at Trinity College Dublin. The flexible timetable also left a lot of time for singing with various musical groups and ever since graduating from law school, the music has been gradually taking over.
Meav is best known for her classical and traditional singing, but she cites a broad range of musical influences, among them Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. ‘I think they’re amazing,’ she explains, ‘because of how they tell a story.’ As a fluent Gaelic-speaker, Meav’s other major influence has been traditional Gaelic music which she learned from her Gaelic-speaking father and her school where she was educated in Gaelic.
She gained valuable experience while working with Ireland’s two most prestigious choirs, Anuna and the National Chamber Choir ‘ Ireland’s only full-time professional choir. Through Anuna she had the opportunity to perform with a wide variety of performers including Elvis Costello, Brian Kennedy and The Chieftains. ‘There’s always a bit of excitement about working with someone who comes from a different style,’ she says. ‘I suppose you just bring whatever you have to the table and see what comes out of it.
This blending of styles is part of what excites her about the Celtic Woman project. ‘In Ireland, I’m considered between two different styles. There has always been a divide between the traditional and the classical musical scenes but I felt comfortable enough in both because that’s where my family came from. I was delighted when Sharon Browne of Celtic Collections and David Downes came up with the idea of Celtic Woman because it seemed to combine those two elements by taking songs; some traditional and some contemporary, and giving them an orchestral treatment. It sounded like a good fit for me and I was pleased that they brought singers of different styles together.’
Some of the songs that Meav sings in the show are standards, such as ‘Danny Boy’. It can be challenging to perform these standards in a new way. ‘You have to sing it as if you’ve never sung it before and as if the people who are listening have never heard it before,’ Meav explains. ‘I was lucky that our arrangement was deceptively simple which brought out the feeling of the song. You hear a song so often it can switch you off, but I think the melody of Danny Boy is so lovely that it’s worth doing – even though we’ve all heard it a hundred times in Irish bars across the world,’ she laughs. ‘It’s a question of stripping it back to its essence and trying to find what it was that made it appealing to people in the first place.’
One aspect of her career that has surprised Meav has been her success in Asia where her singing falls into a category called ‘Healing Music.’ ‘I suspect that people leading an increasingly urban life want to go back to a simpler style of music. In the States, the romantic idea of Ireland is certainly part of the appeal,’ she continues. ‘Even though the place that they’re thinking of may be fast disappearing in modern Ireland, it’s still part of our folk memory. Everybody has a desire to escape to somewhere in their mind that is simpler and slower-paced. Also, the songs are about universal themes. You don’t have to be Irish to make that connection.’
As she always has, Meav continues to draw on the influences around her as she progresses through her own career. The opportunity to sing with an orchestra in Celtic Woman has made her want to use lusher orchestrations in her solo work and she wants to continue singing a repertoire rich in both contemporary and traditional pieces.
2005 was a momentous year for Meav in more ways than one and she is delighted to be back on tour with Celtic Woman after spending the first year at home with her new baby daughter. ‘Music is part of what I am’ she says ‘and it’s a thrill to be performing again for our loyal fans’.
More information about Meav can be obtained on her website www.meav.com.