Pluck of the Irish: Renowned vocalist brings background of determination to concert

World-famous vocalist Ronan Tynan wanted to get one thing straight right at the top.

“I’m the same as anybody else,” he said. “Surely.”

With all due respect, ah, surely not.

The Irish-born tenor recently sang at former President George H.W. Bush’s bedside and his funeral. He began professional voice training in his 30s, which is like preparing for the Olympics a week before the extravaganza. A year after his vocal studies began, he won the John McCormack Cup for Tenor Voice.

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He is a medical doctor, a former polished equestrian and a former Paralympic track and field athlete after having his lower legs amputated at age 20 due to a disability. Many know him as a member of the Irish Tenors, who have graced stages across the globe.

“He is gifted,” said Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Music Director David Bowden, adding that the artist is among the more outstanding artists the ensemble has featured over its 32-year history.

The local professional orchestra’s audience can see Tynan’s gifts in action Saturday when the 58-year-old performer appears as a soloist in the concert titled “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” at Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus. The concert also will feature the McGing Irish Dancers. Tynan will croon the title tune plus others such as “Danny Boy,” “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,” “Grace,” “Will Ye Go, Lassie Go,” and others.

Forget asking about a favorite.

“All of them,” he said, speaking by phone at the University of Kentucky, where he is a visiting professor of an opera theater program that he labels “phenomenal.”

As he spoke, lilting, melodious vocals could clearly be heard in the background. But he knows that the college has long been more widely known for its nationally ranked basketball program, led coach John Calipari, whom Tynan called “a lovely guy” — and one he knows well and respects.

The Boston resident seemed surprised when asked how he can sing Irish works he has performed dozens of time and still keep them fresh and passionate. It was as if someone had asked him something so basic as how he breathes properly through a powerfully held note.

“Look — every time you sing a piece, you simply make it like the first time,” he said. “Besides, you have a new audience each time. And you must know the brightness and the privilege of singing for those people and the emotions that they feel.

“And everyone has these wonderful reflections (about a particular song). And I am in a position each time to give people the privilege to enjoy all that.”

A moment later, with little prodding, he made sure to include background that one can find in nearly every interview with him, including those on “CBS Sunday Morning,” ABC’s “20/20,” People magazine and elsewhere. He regularly speaks of the blessing of his parents.

“They gave me a tremendous grounding,” he said. “And they supported me right through my journey. And I believe that foundation is everything. And I also believe strongly in the spiritual — that the man above has a great control in your life and where you are going. And, as best you can, you do what pleases him.”

Despite his somewhat intimidating and seemingly quick success in so many varied fields, Tynan still feels the hunger for both excellence and discipline.

“You can never become complacent,” he said, his voice turning very serious. “You always have to prepare, polish, and keep preparing. That is what actually gives a freshness to everything that you’re doing.”

He approaches a performance with no thought of what emotional souvenirs an audience should take home with them, or even that he should share his thoughts about a particular song.

“You must allow people their own thoughts about music,” he said.

Yet, Bowden will allow time for Tynan to share general thoughts about his remarkable life. And perhaps relate a few anecdotes, since he is known for making audiences laugh and cry all in the same performance.

“He’s so engaging and such a great storyteller,” Bowden said.

And, as he would tell it, just like anybody else.

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Who: World-renowned tenor Ronan Tynan performing with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. The concert also will feature the McGing Irish Dancers.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Musically speaking: At 6:45 p.m. with David Bowden, the Philharmonic music director, and Tynan, talking about the upcoming concert.

Tickets: $10 to $60, available at 812-376-2638 or