Grammy-winning singer and harpist Moya Brennan is known as the voice of Clannad, credited with helping to spark new interest in traditional Irish music and language. Brennan is about to begin a U.S. tour, with her first stop at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Sunday.

Grammy-winning singer and harpist Moya Brennan is known as the voice of Clannad, credited with helping to spark new interest in traditional Irish music as well as language, which Brennan spoke growing up in Donegal in western Ireland.


Brennan has also enjoyed a long solo career, and recently hosted and interviewed performers from across the spectrum of Irish music for the PBS documentary, “Music of Ireland - Welcome Home.”


Several of them appear with her on a companion CD.


Brennan is about to begin a U.S. tour, with her first stop at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Sunday.


She spoke recently about her journey in Irish music, and keeping Irish traditions alive while promoting Ireland’s role in the modern global community.


Q. What are you planning for this concert and tour?


A. I have a very varied program. I have a lovely band … When everybody comes to hear me, big band or not, because it’s my voice, they go, “Gosh, you could sing by yourself and I can still hear Clannad,” that kind of thing… . that’s my prime thing, no matter what size a band I have, to have that ethereal sound.


Q. Please tell me about the new CD and documentary, “Music of Ireland - Welcome Home.”


A. I was the host of the show, so I interviewed 40 to 45 Irish people, including Liam Clancy [the last surviving member of The Clancy Brothers, who died last December.] I was the last person to interview him, before he passed, so that was a real privilege. … I wouldn’t call them interviews, it was more like, sit and chat, because I know everybody [laughs.] I tried to include as many as possible.


The show is the journey of how Irish music has evolved. Through talking to these people, I really wanted to make an album to share ... I’m on every song. I’m a thread through it.


Q. So in addition to being a performer of Irish music, you got be a chronicler of sorts.


A. It was great to discover certain things. I wanted to find out what people were listening to when they were growing up. You got to hear the difference between people in the city and people in the urban areas. The traditional music was in the countryside – people in the cities wouldn’t listen to it. They listened to the tenors, or the BBC, because it was posh – traditional music was thought of as a poor man’s music.


Then, the Chieftains came along … it was the first time traditional music was played on stage without a [step] dancer … what I found was, no matter what kind of music you are into, people are interested in all the genres of Irish music these days. It’s kind of a big tree, with this really amazing root of traditional Irish music, and loads of branches. If the tree is strong, it’s not going to budge.


Q. Was there anything you learned through doing this documentary and CD that you didn’t realize before?


A. What I didn’t realize was what I’m after saying – how poorly the traditional Irish music was regarded. But, also, how important America was to Irish music and Irish culture. When people immigrated to America, they brought their language, their culture, their music and their faith. People like Francis O’Neill [who died in 1936], who collected music, and who used to people with Irish people all around Chicago. He collected songs, tunes, dances, jigs, reels – it’s like a bible of Irish music and everybody has it. I have it. And he was a policeman in Chicago.


They learned the value of the music when they went away. Some of the great players would have been lost, and we have America to thank.


Q. When did you know you wanted to begin a solo career?


A. I suppose it was a couple things, actually. I got married, and I have a fantastic husband, who is very encouraging. Up to that point, in 1991, I really didn’t do a lot of songwriting. My brothers were the main writers, and I let them do that …I suppose I wanted to see what my influences and abilities were. I went to the record company, and I was surprised that they jumped at it, so I suppose that helped me.


Three of my sisters joined me on the album, which was so much fun.


Q. Are there challenges in being solo, as opposed to being with a group as with Clannad?


A. I suppose, writing it, and getting up and doing it, and hoping people will like it. I love being on stage – I have been on stage since I was very young. I’m touring now for more than 30 years. But, the worst part is, traveling. I don’t have stylists, or makeup people. I’m tuning my own harp. It’s the traveling that gets to me, but it makes you look after yourself.


Q. What are your feelings about your music and Clannad’s often being in the New Age category?


A. I remember first looking at the New Age charts, and it was everything, Miles Davis to Clannad  …it’s only recently that we have a World Music category, and I think Irish music fits more there than in New Age [laughs]. It’s one of those sorts of things you don’t always have a choice in.


But it opened a huge door. I never would have won a Grammy otherwise, that’s for sure!


Q. You sing mainly in Irish, and English. Do you have a preference?


A. I love singing in Irish. The language is so beautiful to sing. When I am writing or singing, I might be thinking in Irish. It’s my first language, and I still speak it with my family, and my kids … when Clannad first started, people were embarrassed to be speaking Irish. There are more people speaking Irish now, and there is a lot more pride in it. It’s a lovely language to sing in, especially with the Donegal accent – I suppose I’m biased.


Q. Do you think Clannad had a hand in the resurgence of a commitment to the Irish language?


A. I’d like to think so. I remember in prisons, would you believe, they were learning Irish through our albums, and I was told that by themselves.


I think we had some sort of effect … [in the 1970s] we wrote to loads of colleges and schools, asking if we could come give concerts of songs in Irish, saying it would be educational … we’d get there, and the nun or priest would say, “I’m sorry, we’ve only got about 40 people.” … but all the girls would be hanging out the windows … I suppose they saw the lads with the long hair. By the time we had our equipment, the whole school would be going … it was great, we’d get them up singing old songs, and it was really great fun.


Nowadays, there are schools teaching in all Irish for eight years. I tried to get my daughter into them, and there was a waiting list.


Q. Are you ever concerned that there is a stereotype about Ireland, as a place of the past – of mist, and castles, and dolmens – rather than as a modern nation?


A. I don’t think so, because you’ve got U2, Bob Geldof, Sinead O’Connor. In a way, we are trying to stop the pace of Ireland, because some people think it is getting too modern. They are putting up pylons for electricity, rather than putting them underground.


It’s important to have the balance of both … I would hate it becoming too modern.


Q. When I was last there, during the height of the economic boom, there was a talk show and some people said that while they were glad that Ireland was finally enjoying prosperity, they were concerned about Ireland losing its soul.


A. Absolutely. The recession has kind of made people think a little. They had built a motorway near Tara [an ancient site that was the traditional seat of the Irish high kings.] People bought land out there, and wanted to get a good price on their houses, so they figured a road going to Dublin would do it.


In the good times, some people didn’t see the value of what Ireland has. You can have good roads without having destruction left, right and center.


Q. You’ve spoken about Celtic spirituality and recorded music about it. Tell me about what it means to you.


A. I did a couple spiritual albums. I think people actually think I became "Holy Mary" and just completely diverged from everything else. Having said that, it’s important to me. The reason I did it was, first of all, I’m very interested in it. I saw so many things about Celtic spirituality by people who had never set foot in Ireland. But in our culture, faith was very much a part of it … if you go back to the fifth and sixth centuries, and even in the Dark Ages, Ireland was called, The Land of Saints and Scholars.


You have to remember -- these monks were in badly lit abbeys and monasteries, with quills, making the most amazing artwork. The Book of Kells is only a part of it.


Q. Do you think the crisis in the Catholic Church, and the revelations of abuse by priests in Ireland, will affect the perception of Irish spirituality?


A. It’s a shame, the way the Catholic Church has gotten itself in a fix in Ireland. I know very dear priests and monks, and it’s a shame that there are those who have made a mess of it.


There will be some loss, but I think that if we look at our history, it will be found again. I used to hate history in school, and now it’s one of my favorite subjects. I think if we look to the early spirituality, which is very close to nature … to the early saints, such as Patrick, Brendan, and Columcille.


For such a small country, there is so much history … it’s not just mountains, and beauty, and greenery. Every stone you turn has a history.


If you go


Moya Brennan in concert


Where Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington


When Sunday, March 28, 8 p.m.


Tickets $28 and $38 with a $5 discount for members.


For more information call 781-646-4849 or visit www.regenttheatre.com.


Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor at GateHouse Media New England. E-mail her at msmith@cnc.com.