Over the past few weeks the world has lost some of the greatest voices in the world, as we know it. I was saddened to hear that during the last week of August the godfather for traditional Celtic music Tommy Makem lost his battle with lung cancer. This month, the world lost arguably, the greatest voice this generation has ever heard. Pavarotti lost his fight with pancreatic cancer 5 am September 6th. These gentlemen have left a lasting impression with me for over 24 years, both were my hero and in one form or another my mentors.
I remember driving home from Sunday morning mass listing to the “potluck show’ on our local radio station during the early eighties. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were a main stay in rural Newfoundland, certainly captivating to a young boy who got lost in the lyrics of the songs of Ireland.
During the late nineties my brother and I teamed up with a talented base player – Ian Chipman of Spaniard’s Bay NL, who was the founding member of our group Erin’s Call and long time musician and song writer Paul Martin (brother of Larry Martin, founding member of the Juno Award winning Irish Descendants) of Winterton NL. During our musical career Tommy’s influence was prevalent in many shanties and ballads we sang.
In 1998, we had our first opportunity to actually meet Tommy during a show in Bay Roberts , it was a humbling experience for us, as he was our idol , a mentor, and soon to be our friend. There were many groups on the roster that evening , including friends from Ireland, Evans and Doherty, who now reside in Nova Scotia. Another person person present that day, who I respected and who passed on during 2007, was Dermot O’Reilly, member of Ryan’s Fancy , Dermot called Newfoundland and Labrador home for years along with Fergus O’Byrne who still continues the legacy of Irish Folk music. Last, but certainly not least, was Gregory Donaghey, former lead singer of the world renowned Carlton Show Band. The evening was amazing; as it was an opportunity for us the merge artistically with some of the greatest Celtic groups of our generation.
Tommy was a gentle soul, one who certainly shared his passion for song and story, he empowered us to continue to write and in time produce our recording Erin’s Call.
My brother and I stopped by the local coffee shop after the show, and to our surprise Tommy was there relaxing before his trip back to his hotel. Long time friend, Leo Puddister, asked us to sit and talk. We were so taken back by his sense of calmness and willingness to share his ideals of folk music, we will never forget it, and certainly we will never forget him.
Pavarotti certainly had the most impact on my life musically. I first listened to classical musical during the 70’s and early 80’s, usually during school choir performances. Being involved with choirs, and subsequently all male choirs, was certainly not a popular move for an adolescent. However, during this time, I took great enjoyment and freedom from expressing myself in something that I was apparently good at.
I enjoyed being a part of the St. Francis Boys’ Choir. We had the opportunity to perform for many prestigious people including the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, in 1983, and Pope John Paul II in 1984.
These experiences were life altering, leaving a lasting impact on me to this day. All of which came from the legacy of Pavarotti. He broke down the barriers of male vocal classical performance. He showed that music and training was a ongoing, progressive process, and was accepted; singing classically was something not to be ashamed of .
Although for me, the days of singing publicly are mostly over, I will always have this undying need to feel free and release the emotions singing allows all to unleash. Pavarotti inspired me and many other young men to perform in choirs and sing classical music with spirit and joy. I will miss the person who I always respected, the person who changed the world of music, and who gave me the confidence to dream.
His voice will live on in his recordings and we can take comfort that we will hear it again, some day when the Lord sees fit to allow it.
I consider both these men my mentors and of course my heroes.