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Celtic Woman brings ‘Magic’ to Youngstown

Celtic Woman is one of the biggest names in world music.

A dozen of its albums have topped the Billboard World Music chart, its songs have been streamed more than a billion times, and the group has sold more than 10 million records.

But the ensemble, which started as a quintet in 2004 and now is a foursome, has featured 15 women over the years. That ethereal approach to Celtic music has endured, but Eabha (pronounced Ava) McMahon, who has the second-longest tenure in the current lineup, said the group’s sound continues to evolve with its members, and that can be heard on “The Magic of Christmas,” its latest album and the basis for the tour that comes to Stambaugh Auditorium on Dec. 19.

“What we really wanted to do this year was make an album that reflected the current lineup, the current sound of Celtic Woman,” McMahon said during a telephone interview from a tour stop in Indiana. “A lot of these are Christmas numbers we’ve done before, but we want to put our own fresh spin on them.”

Songs like “Dia Do Bheatha” are a direct result of McMahon’s involvement. She grew up speaking Irish and singing traditional music. Her professional career started at age 9 when she was asked to record an album to coincide with a children’s book. She won several traditional Irish music competitions and in 2005 at age 15, she became the youngest member of Anuna, the original Riverdance choir.

“Definitely, singing in Irish, that’s where I’m at home,” she said. “I never envisioned myself being a pop singer because I never did that kind of music.”

In fact, the first time she sang many of the carols familiar to American audiences is when she joined Celtic Woman in 2014.

“It sounds so bizarre, but ‘O Holy Night,’ I never really knew,” McMahon said. “The first time I performed it with Celtic Woman, my goodness, it was so powerful.”

“O Holy Night” is one of the songs on “The Magic of Christmas,” which mixes seasonal favorites that are religious (“Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”) with those that are more secular (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride”).

And while there is plenty of Irish influence in the arrangements, the disc closes with Spanish-language holiday favorite “Feliz Navidad.”

The setlist also will include songs from past holiday-themed releases and songs the group performs year round.

“‘Amazing Grace,’ no matter when or where we do it, is one of those songs that touches people,” McMahon said. “Everyone has their own association with that song. When the bagpipes play the first five notes, people start clapping and standing up on their feet. It’s incredible a song can do that.”

McMahon said the Christmas tours are the most demanding to perform because the shows are more vocally driven, but group members also get more off days to rest their voices. The spring tour has fewer off days, but there are bagpipers and dancers that give the vocalits a break within the show.

McMahon is joined in the current lineup by Mairead Carlin, vocals; Tara McNeill, violin, vocals and harp; and Megan Walsh, vocals. The group is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2019 and McMahon believes Celtic Woman will continue, even if its lineup continues to change.

“I’ve always looked at this as not one group of women but a platform for the best of Irish talent,” McMahon said. “There’s been change and there will continue to be change … (But) once you’re a Celtic Woman, you’re always a Celtic Woman. Mairead Carlin had to have her appendix removed. It was an emergency. She felt the pain when we were on stage. We still had seven shows to go (on the tour) so Susan McFadden came back and covered the seven shows. Even if you decide to move on, you can always come back. It’s really kind of a sisterhood, and I think that’s really important.”

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