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  • Cape Cod Times: Irish Tenor returns for concert of memories

    Ronan Tynan, Cape Cod Times: Irish Tenor returns for concert of memories

    It's been a few years since Ronan Tynan has sung on the Cape, but he's no stranger to the area.
    By Kay Keough Contributing Writer

    The sound of scraping silverware echoes on the other side of the phone as Ronan Tynan says hello. He's eating an avocado as we start our interview, in an effort "to try to gain back the figure I had 30 years ago."

    "Aren't we all?" I ask.

    He laughs and chats in his warm Irish brogue for a few minutes, making a friendly connection before we get down to business. For someone who's had as much success as he has had, the 56-year-old famed Irish tenor sounds very down-to-earth and genuinely excited to perform Sunday at Cape Cod Community College's Tilden Arts Center.

    It's been a few years since he's sung on the Cape, Tynan says, but he's no stranger to the area. He enjoys visiting and readily shares some memories of celebrating his 15th birthday on Nantucket, trying and failing to save the life of a man who was likely having a heart attack while driving near the Cape, and singing for the Kennedy family on Martha's Vineyard.

    If you don't know much about his life, strap in. Tynan is much more than a singer. His is kind of like a superhero origin story, minus the radioactive material.

    Tynan was born in Dublin, Ireland, with a lower limb disability. As a child growing up on a farm, he overcame his limitations and enjoyed riding horses and racing motorcycles. But at the age of 20, he faced another major challenge: a car accident that caused such serious complications, he had to have his legs amputated below the knee.

    Nevertheless, he quickly got back to his daily life and, within a year, started winning gold medals in the Paralympics – 18 of them, plus 14 world records (nine of which still stand) between 1981 and 1984.

    After becoming the first disabled person admitted to the National College of Physical Education, he went on to be a medical doctor, specializing in orthopedic sports injuries, with a degree from Trinity College in Dublin. It wasn't until the age of 33 that he took his first voice lesson, although he and his father often sung together as he was growing up.

    It is the support of his late parents, and the moral standing they gave him, to which Tynan attributes much of his success.

    "I don't have adjectives to describe how great my mother was." he says. "The person I am today really is a tribute to the person she made me into."

    Tynan wrote a song honoring his mother, whom he lost to Alzheimer's disease, called "Passing Through." Though he declines to choose a "favorite" song of his – because that would mean putting more attention on some over others – the song clearly means a great deal to him, as he talks of the difficulty he had editing down something so deeply personal.

    He describes his father, meanwhile, as a "dote of a man" who loved him unconditionally. "Everything I did, he would laud," he says. While his mother thought of Tynan's singing as an avocation, his father was his cheerleader.

    "When I was a junior and an intern in hospital, he used to say, 'you have to do something with the voice, Ro.'"

    Tynan won the BBC equivalent of "American Idol," called "Go For It," less than a year after studying voice at 33, and then the coveted John McCormack Cup for Tenor Voice. After the show, he was recruited as the first member of The Irish Tenors, the acclaimed trio known for numerous TV specials and performances of classical numbers at venues from Radio City Music Hall to the Sydney Opera House.

    Although he took a multi-year break from the group to chase a solo career, he balances both pursuits now and plans to soon release two new albums. In addition to his own concerts, he has several lined up with the Tenors, including a performance in Russia in September. That's a gig that gives him some consternation in the current political climate, but not quite enough to steer the conversation in that direction.

    While reflecting on his background, Tynan draws parallels between his work as a doctor and as a singer, noting that some of the best conductors in the world were doctors before they turned to music.

    "One minute, you're ministering to people with a physical ailment, and then you make the decision to perform in front of thousands and hope you affect them," he says.

    Tynan has displayed his ability to touch people with his vocal performances on stage. He is perhaps most widely known in the U.S. for his stirring renditions of "God Bless America" before major sporting events, his moving performance at the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, and his consoling presence at the memorial for Sept. 11. Since coming to the U.S. 19 years ago, Tynan has become a go-to figure for both moments of sad reflection and joyous celebration.

    At his concert in West Barnstable, he promises "sincerity and truth in the sound," and "the privilege of being nostalgic" as his songs bring memories of people loved and lost.

    His set list as a solo artist is broader than when he performs with the Tenors, and on Sunday will likely include a Broadway showtune and a religious song. (As a Catholic, he also gives much credit for his ongoing success to his faith.)

    As he performs alongside pianist Bill Lewis, with whom he's worked for 17 years, Tynan just wants to provide comfort and connection to his devoted fans.

    "I always like the audience to feel I'm singing to them in their own living room, just for them," he says.

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