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Enya, Ireland's One Woman Choir

Sep 29, 1998
Kimmy Sophia Brown
Fiona Ritchie, host of NPR's "The Thistle and Shamrock", sums it up when she calls Enya, "Ireland's one woman choir."

Enya, born into the musical Brennan family, from Donegal, Ireland, has been surrounded by music since she was a child. Her father, Leo Brennan, led a show band, and later bought a tavern. Her mother was a music teacher, and her maternal grandparents were school teachers who knew many of the old songs and stories of the area. As the children grew up and learned to play traditional and contemporary music, the family regularly performed in the tavern. Enya's elder brothers and sister, and her twin uncles formed the group, Clannad, (the Gaelic word for 'family') which has enjoyed great fame and success during the past 20 years. (Here's another younger sibling who wasn't stopped by family planning. God bless big families!)

Enya got her start singing harmony and playing keyboards with Clannad, and later struck out on her own in 1982. She has produced four major CD's available in the states: "Enya", (which is the soundtrack from the BBC television production of "The Celts";) "Watermark", "Shepherd's Moon" and "The Memory of Trees." Other CD's produced include a "Best Of" compilation from previous CD's, and an interview.

The first time I heard Enya's music was in Steve Martin's movie, "L.A. Story". There's a scene in the movie where he and his (then) wife, Victoria Tennant, are walking through a beautiful garden. They become children while they're walking, the stone lions turn their heads as they pass, and flower petals fall from the sky. The gorgeous Enya song, "On Your Shore" plays during this scene. At first I thought it might be Judy Collins, but I couldn't place the voice exactly. I rewound the tape several times to hear it again, and searched the credits after the movie. The song is from her "Watermark" CD.

Enya's voice makes me think of a pair of delicate, capable hands cupped around a trembling bird. She conveys the sweet stillness that a baby floating in a warm, dark, watery womb might feel. Utterly soothed, utterly blessed and calm. I imagine her leaning into the microphone, praying as much love, hope and beauty as she possibly can into her voice. The end result is a feminine atmosphere that caresses the soul. People suffering with physical or mental ailments might listen to her and be lifted to a heavenly plane. I think her music should be piped into the cells of hardened criminals. Men lying on iron bunks will find themselves weeping into their pillows like little boys, reaching for the arms of their mothers. Offenders at large or on parole should be required to listen to her music until they go through a personality transformation!

If Enya didn't live in an age with modern recording, mixing and production facilities, she would still be a cut above the average singer, pianist and songwriter. Because she has access to a variety of keyboards, synthesizers, drums and other equipment, she has been able to develop a completely unique sound. The songs are multi-layered with many vocal parts and complex orchestrations. She plays nearly all the instruments herself as well as sings all the vocal parts. This must require a mind which conceives, sees and hears the music in a vast internal tapestry before it is produced. Traditional Celtic and classical music are both influences but the final product is uniquely hers. In a previous century, she might have written symphonies and chorale pieces in a traditionally classic vein.

She spans a wide range of moods in her work, from the very masculine, insistent complexity of "Cursum Perficio", from "Watermark", (a piece which conjures up a vision of marching soldiers on a battlefield;) to a lovely rendition of the traditional song, "Marble Halls" (from "Shepherd Moons".)

Producer, Nicky Ryan, and lyricist, Roma Ryan, complete the Enya team. Roma Ryan's poetic lyrics are in English, Latin and Gaelic, and complement the music perfectly. I love this one:

from the song "Evacuee", ("Shepherd Moons":)

"Each time on my leaving home
I run back to my mother's arms
one last hold and then it's over.

All I am
a child with promises
All I have
are miles full of promises of home"

Enya seems to be a very private person. Her album covers and physical image are rather mystical and otherworldly. She is a dark, Irish beauty, looking like a figure from ancient folklore. She has indisputably been blessed with genius and has fans from all over the world. Her music speaks the language of humanity and doesn't need a translator. I can't wait for the next CD.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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