Celtic Woman embraces change

Irish singing group invigorated by new faces, original member says

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If you go:

• What: Celtic Woman, in concert.

• When: 8 p.m. April 21.

• Where: Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay, Portland.

• Cost: $50.85-$88.30 through Ticketmaster, 503-248-4335 or http://ticketmaster.com.

• Information: http://www.celticwoman.com.

In much of the music world, personnel changes can spell the end of a band’s career. Even if a group survives a change in a key member, there’s no guarantee fans will accept the new edition of the group. Just ask Van Halen about Gary Cherone as that group’s singer.

But in the world of Celtic Woman, which this winter welcomed Susan McFadden as the ninth singer to join its ranks, change may actually be an asset for the group.

At least that’s how Chloe Agnew, one of two remaining original members of the Irish-accented vocal group, sees it.

“I think when people come along to see us, they know that Celtic Woman has new faces all the time,” Agnew said in a recent phone interview. “It’s ever-changing, it’s ever-fresh, it’s ever-new. And I think some people are still glad to see that there are still two originals left there, myself and (violinist) Mairead (Nesbitt). We love it. We stuck it out, and we’re so happy to be here. I think that a huge part of Celtic Woman is embracing the new combined with the old.”

In fact, Agnew said, being able to change and evolve as new members come and go may be the thing that enables Celtic Woman to have a far longer life than the usual music group.

“I hope in that way, with that in mind, that will allow Celtic Woman to live on for many years,” she said. “It’s about four Irish women, it’s about feeling kind of self-empowered and about bringing that to people all over the world. I hope -- because people are aware that it is always changing and it is always new and there are always new faces coming into it -- that that will allow it to live on for many years.”

Certainly, the evolving lineup hasn’t hindered Celtic Woman so far.

Originally, Celtic Woman was created for a one-off television special filmed in Ireland, and musical director David Downes and producer Sharon Bowne essentially recruited the four singers -- Orla Fallon, Agnew, Lisa Kelly and Meav Ni Mhaolchatha, along with fiddle player Nesbitt -- to perform that single concert.

Instead, PBS picked up the film of that performance, and it became a popular fundraising program for PBS in spring and summer 2005. That paved the way for the release of the show as a concert DVD that sold more than a million copies. Meanwhile, the group’s self-titled first studio album topped Billboard magazine’s world music chart for a record-setting 68 consecutive weeks.

Since then, the group has released two more CD/DVD packages of new material, as well as a 2008 best-of CD and DVD, both titled “The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection.” In all, the group has sold more than 6 million copies of its CDs and DVDs and has topped 2 million in ticket sales for its tours.

The success has been sustained as the lineup has seen Fallon and Mhaolchatha leave, and singers Alex Sharpe, Lynn Hilary and Haley Westenra arrive and then depart. Now Kelly, who is expecting a child, has stepped away, and McFadden has joined Agnew and Lisa Lambe (who joined Celtic Woman last year) as the singers in the group.

Kelly, though, was still on board for the newest Celtic Woman project, “Believe,” which was released on Jan. 24. It’s a dual release, with a concert DVD capturing the live debut of the “Believe” material when it was performed last fall at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, and a CD featuring studio versions of the new songs.

Agnew feels the “Believe” project offers something fresh for Celtic Woman fans.

“I think with this particular studio album, when you compare it to our last studio album, (2010’s) ‘Songs From The Heart,’ a lot of the material that was chosen for ‘Songs From The Heart’ were songs that were very special to us and they were songs that came from the heart,” she said. “I think with ‘Believe,’ we decided to choose music that would inspire. It can be a very stressful and troubled world we live in right now, and I think the idea behind ‘Believe’ was choosing music that would inspire a little bit of hope and a bit of faith in these troubled times.”

Audiences can expect the show Celtic Woman is taking on tour this year to feature many elements of the concert that was filmed for the “Believe” DVD.

“The set is quite similar, the lights, the costumes, it’s all pretty similar to what you see on the DVD,” Agnew said. “So it’s great to have those elements that people know.

“We’ve taken a lot of the music we’ve recorded, and we’re going to be performing all of that new music live,” she said. “Of course, we’re going to be mixing it up with some of our fan favorites and some of the old classic Celtic Woman songs that people love to hear.”