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2002-07-27 Cultivating a voice

from the Irish Farmers Journal
by Joanne Fox


Matthew Gilsenan is the youngest of The Celtic Tenors. He grew up on his family farm in Moynalty, Co. Meath. Matthew has now swapped life on the farm for a life of song - well, at least for the time being. Matthew Gilsenan is the eldest of five children from a mixed farm in north Co. Meath, just outside Moynalty.

He grew up on the family beef and dairy farm, qualified as an engineer and now tours the world as one of the three Celtic Tenors.

"My singing career started in our local primary school in Moynalty with my teacher, Mrs. Merchant. She was extremely aware of all her pupils' talents and encouraged us to fulfil our potential. I had always enjoyed singing, and soon I was singing from the pulpit at mass and entering singing competitions,'' said Matthew.

"My father was always singing at home. We would hear him singing everywhere. I suppose it was his way of passing the time as he worked around the farm,'' said Matthew. "All of my family sing - my sister Deirdre is a professional singer and was the soloist in Michael Flatley's Lord of the Rings for three years. My brothers John and Peter both sing too, as does Fiona,'' he added.

"I love to sing. Initially I sang mainly ballads and did well in competitions.'' Actually, Matthew is one of Ireland's most accomplished tenors and has sung in competitions all over the country. He was a finalist in RTE's Singer of the Future competition in 1998.

Matthew is also very accomplished in other fields. He qualified as an agricultural and food engineer at UCD. "While I was in UCD, I continued singing and worked with Mary Brennan in the College of Music, and before long I was tackling pieces like Handel's Messiah,'' he explained.

"After I qualified in engineering, I went directly into a job in England where I spent four and a half hectic years. I travelled a lot with the job, and my singing took a back seat, although it was still niggling at me. When the project ended, I decided I would take six months off and get the singing bug out of my system,'' he explained. "I actually came straight home to cut silage and help my father with the harvest. That was four years ago and I haven't looked back since,'' he added.
When he returned home, Matthew joined the National Chamber Choir. "I earned a little money from this, and my singing ambitions grew. The choir is the main springboard for singers in Ireland. You have to be extremely self-motivated, and you also need a little luck.''

A piece of luck came Matthew's way while he was singing in Opera Ireland. He was spotted by two of the Celtic Tenors, James Nelson from Sligo and Niall Morris from Dublin. "At the time, the tenors happened to be a member short. They approached me and asked me to sing with them for six months in a summer season at Clontarf Castle with Rebecca Storm. I was extremely nervous and was thrown in at the deep end. We did 137 performances in that period sometimes for 14 days at a time,'' explained Matthew.

"Towards the end of the run, we invited some people in the music business to come and see us. Pat Egan, now our manager, was one. We asked these people for some advice and suggestions as to our future,'' explained Matthew.

Within two months two international labels were prepared to sign the tenors. In the end EMI Classics succeeded. "We signed a three album record deal. Our first album has gone well over platinum in Ireland and is sixth in the classical charts in Germany at the moment. We just finished the second album. We have been really busy and this looks set to continue for a while hopefully.

Three careers - "There have been three distinct stages in my life so far - farming, engineering and singing - and the best and most rewarding has been farming, but they all help each other.

Farming has taught me about hard work and commitment. I have been very fortunate to be raised on a farm with my brothers and sisters and my mum Theresa, dad Sean and granddad Matt". (Matthew's granddad was the captain of the Meath football team in 1939. He was the first captain to bring Meath to an All-Ireland Final).

Matthew is married to Celestine, and they are expecting their first child in early November. "I'm hoping to move back to Meath soon and continue singing and helping on the farm.''