For Irish tenor Emmet Cahill, the distance between Ireland and Oregon isn’t much further than the distance between his usual performances of Irish classics and liturgical music.
“Religious music has had a great impact on my life,” says Cahill, who is both a solo performer and a lead singer with Celtic Thunder. “No hymn is out of place in an Irish music concert in my book.”
That includes Latin hymns, like “Panis Angelicus,” written by St. Thomas Aquinas, and universally loved hymns like “How Great Thou Art,” which Cahill describes as an eternal piece of music. “I always like to finish a concert on that note,” he says.
The rest of his playlist also is unabashedly traditional, including standards like “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and “Danny Boy.”
“Tradition is synonymous with Irish culture,” he says. “And the Irish brought their traditions with them when they came to America.”
Cahill, 26, practically grew up in a Catholic church — specifically Christ the King Cathedral in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland. His dad was the organist at the cathedral, and his mother the cantor. Cahill, along with his older sister and younger brother, sang in the choir at the cathedral and also sang at funerals and weddings. “It was always part of our family life,” Cahill says.
When Cahill was 4, his father began teaching him how to play the piano, and at age 7 Cahill took his first voice lesson. He earned a Schola Cantorum scholarship to study organ, piano, violin and voice, and then went on to receive classical training in opera at the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.
After winning a number of awards at the academy, Cahill joined the group Celtic Thunder and began touring.
Even then, however, when he was home in Mullingar, he continued as cantor at Christ the King. On the road, he would reach out to sing in churches in communities where Celtic Thunder was playing. At the end of one Celtic Thunder tour, Cahill did his own 12-city church tour in North and South Carolina, singing at a different church every Sunday.
He’s still on the roster of Celtic Thunder, but also is debuting his solo album later this month. Its release date is just a couple days before his next Portland performance, Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Old Church in Portland.
Cahill says he loves singing at Portland’s historic Old Church venue, describing it as “beautifully reverent.”
Cahill doesn’t just sing at his concerts; he also shares stories of his life in Ireland.
“It transports people to Ireland for a while,” he says. “It’s all about passing on tradition.”