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Tenor democracy suits eclectic trio

As the name implies, Celtic music is a big part of the repertoire of the Celtic Tenors, who'll sing tonight in Olympia.

But the name also echoes The Three Tenors — Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras — and it was that operatic trio that inspired this one. The tenors shared a stage before the group was formed — in an opera. But now Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson sing an array of songs.

“As Matthew always says in interviews, we just sing songs we like,” Nelson said in a telephone interview. “We do a bit of everything.”

“Everything” includes arias and Celtic tunes, but it also includes songs from musicals, spiritual songs and what Nelson calls “the big tenor potboilers,” songs such as ‘Funiculi Funicula,” “Granada” and “O Sole Mio.”

The trio’s repertoire also includes songs by The Beatles, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and even Air Supply (“I’m All Out of Love”).

But Wednesday was St. Patrick’s Day, and that will influence tonight’s program. “The show will be heavy on the Irish and Scottish songs,” Nelson said.

The tenors are all Irish. In fact, the group’s original name was “The Three Irish Tenors” (not to be confused with The Irish Tenors, another act inspired by The Three Tenors). Ten years ago, when the group was brought to British music company EMI, the focus shifted.

“They said, ‘This is great, but we have tons of artists who record tenor arias. What would be different would be if you could do that, but also bring some music from your own country,’ ” Nelson said.

And from there, the tenors have gone on to record six albums and perform around the world.

Another distinction between the Celtic Tenors and the other three is that the Celtic Tenors sing harmony.

“There are other tenor groups who would just tend to sing in unison and sing the tune,” Nelson said tactfully, “but we’re very harmony-based. One moment, I’ll be on the bass line and Daryl will be on the top line, and then the next moment, it’s changed.

“It’s a tenor democracy.”

Their teamwork has impressed critics.

“The tenors sing with the practiced ease of singers who know each others’ voices like a comfortable pillow,” Aaron R. Conklin wrote of a 2009 show in the Capital Times of Madison, Wis.

So what is it about tenors? Why aren’t there a bunch of singing groups consisting of, say, a tenor with a baritone, a bass and a soprano?

“The tenor is always the hero,” Nelson said, “and he’s got the high notes. They’re called the money notes, the B flats and B naturals and Cs and even higher.

“There’s something exciting about a tenor singing high and even going a little red in the face. If there are three of them doing it, people are drawn to that.”

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