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2007-03-08 Dad's influence provides vocation and avocation

by Monica Orosz for Charleston Daily Mail
Daily Mail staff

 

Matthew Gilsenan is talking by cell phone after paying for items in a Schenectady, N.Y., Wal-Mart, where his singing partners and his manager also have picked up a few necessities.

 

Talk about a long way from his roots.

 

Not too many years ago, Gilsenan spent his days on his family's farm in rural Ireland, where he and his siblings helped his father feed cattle, milk cows and drive tractors.

 

"The nearest town was two miles away. For us, it was quite isolated," he said. Yet in Ireland, the musical culture stretches to every corner, and it was no different in North Meath.

 

"Dad was the greatest influence. You'd hear him singing while he was working the loader, feeding the cattle."

 

As a child, Gilsenan recalled, "If you could sing, you were immediately whisked into singing in church. It was a big thing when we were growing up, (the idea) to get out of this place and become a famous singer and have a better life. You were very encouraged to get your voice trained."

 

They must be going nuts in North Meath these days, following Gilsenan's career, which has landed him solidly in the three-member Celtic Tenors, a group that tours worldwide, has a recording contract and appears Friday and Saturday with the West Virginia Symphony and soprano Deirdre Shannon.

 

When his talent was discovered, Gilsenan was sent up the road to the Sisters of Mercy Convent for training. At 10, he recalls working with Sister Dominic, who taught him to use his then high soprano to its fullest advantage.

 

Yet when he went to university, it was to study engineering, with music as a sideline.

 

"My dad is an engineer and I absolutely idolize my dad," Gilsenan explained. "He's an amazing influence in my life. And I love engineering. I love creating -- it tickles my creative side."

 

He became further convinced it was the right career path during the music classes he took in addition to the engineering curriculum.

 

"Loads and loads of people get their voices trained. I thought, 'There's no way on Earth I'm going to be able to make a living at this.' "

 

He actually moved to the United States and worked for Pepperidge Farms and Nabisco, where he helped design machines to improve the production of Girl Scout cookies.

 

But the singing bug wouldn't go away, so five years into his engineering career, Gilsenan decided to take six months off, return home and sing.

 

He soon met up with two men in Dublin who were part of what was then known as the Three Irish Tenors, and they had lost a member. And he decided to extend his break from engineering.

 

They began a 137-performance tour in which Gilsenan was surprised to earn more than he did as an engineer.

 

Immediately after, they were signed to a record deal, changed their name to the Celtic Tenors -- and a new career was born.

 

The group now is composed of Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson and they've become great friends.

 

"That's a key thing, really, to working on the road because of our schedule -- we're all over the place," Gilsenan said. They just completed a tour in Holland and are touring the United States through May.

 

Hectic, yes. But mostly, says Gilsenan, "It's amazing. And really humbling."