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The Troy Record
October 31, 2001

Tenor's Concert in Rhythm With Times

By Phil Drew

It is, says singer John McDermott, the purest coincidence - but a poignant one nevertheless.

The Canadian singer, noted as one of the Irish Tenors made famous on PBS, was plucked five years ago from the mailroom of a Toronto newspaper chain to become an international solo sensation.

Almost from the outset of his career, he has been a favorite of veterans groups especially, and he released an album in the spring of 1999, "Remembrance," that became a favorite of patriotic occasions as varied as the International Tall Ships celebration in Boston, a recent Medal of Honor Winners fete and numerous appearances before veteran's groups.

But while various events following the release of "Remembrance" touched on the music it celebrated, no formal launching tour in support of the CD was initially planned.

But the goodwill generated by the collection of tunes and those special events at which McDermott did perform the material was enough that, over a year ago, plans were mapped out for a 58-stop national swing, to be launched on the West Coast outside of Vancouver and wrap up on the East Coast, including New York, Washington and Boston - in October and November of this year.

That tour includes performances set for Veteran's Day in Washington, DC, on Nov. 11 -- and a stop tonight at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, a venue familiar to McDermott from several previous performances there.

It is the purest of coincidences that the tour happens to fall after Sept. 11.

But that coincidence is not lost on McDermott. "In Boston, a guy I was talking to there after a concert was a Vietnam vet," he says. "His son was just called up to active duty. He said now he understands what his parents went through when he was drafted all those years ago. Suddenly people are a lot more aware of what it means to be called up for duty for one's country."

Not that anything, really, has changed for McDermott. "In recent weeks, we're seeing more of surge of patriotism in this country," he says. "But I always did have it. The audience has changed in that regard, but from day one I've been doing that. I do feel much stronger in it, though.

"What these things have done to us as a people, though, is it's changed our lives forever. It's going to be a different world for a few years. People are focusing much more on home and family and remembrance."

It's a world, as he notes, where he's always been.

"So much of the music I sing speaks to the veteran's experience, and I feel a great deal of respect for these men and women," he says.

McDermott's association with veterans is as old as his singing career. Ever since his early days of relentless touring, he's squeezed time into his schedule for fund-raisers and appearances at veteran's hospitals wherever his schedule permits.

He has raised funds for a shelter for homeless vets in the Boston area through his own Hope McDermott Foundation. Part of the proceeds of the current tour will go to that fund.

And two years ago, he released "Remembrance" as a more direct tribute to his biggest fans, the vets.

It juxtaposes familiar sentimental favorites like "Lily Marlene," "The Green Fields of France," "Roses of Picardy," and the World War II-era "I'll Be Seeing You" with obscurities (Civil War ballads like "The Faded Coat of Blue") and contemporary tunes evoking more recent times of conflict.

"The Wall" is about "the nearly 60,000 names still waiting" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. "One Small Star" is a more general tribute to John's dad and to the many ancestors who have gone this way before him: "But your light still shines/It's one small light to guide me/It helps me hold back the dark/Your light still shining in my heart,"

"Most of these songs are pretty reflective, about very personal moments in time," he says. And he chose them, he says, for their value as "stories and memories."

On several tracks, McDermott sings not at all but lets the music set the tone - a rendition of "Taps," a medley of armed forces march tunes, or a reading of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by a vet to the underscoring of "Amazing Grace."

For a performer who delights in performing audience requests on tour from among his prodigious repertoire, there is plainly nothing new in wearing one's heart on one's sleeve as McDermott does in the open sentimentality of his material. It is this open-heartedness that connects for him with veterans.

"In the show itself, we don't necessarily do everything that's on the album," he says. "But we do respect its spirit" - including a frequently-performed tune, "Legacy," "in recognition of those who've paid the ultimate price," he says.

He released a much more personal collection of tunes, "A Day To Myself," last spring, contemporary things by composers that I like," but his patriotic tour of the present remains front and center for McDermott.

It will be recorded in November for a PBS performance under the auspices of WGBH, Boston, and he will soon be heading for a performance in Tucson to preview the material for public television programmers around the country, aiming it for airing next March.

McDermott also has another recording due out next spring in a very similar vein. Its prospective title: "A Time To Remember."

He remains mindful of audiences' need to remember in the wake of recent events. "This thing touched everyone, all around the world.," he says. "But it hasn't changed my performance any. We just didn't know the atmosphere that would greet us on tour."