Emer Barry is a well-deserved national treasure, her celestial vocals having enchanted audiences both here and abroad. The internationally acclaimed soprano chatted to Galway Pulse’s Aoife Burke about her glittering career to date and all things music.
Emer is doing well, she tells Galway Pulse, and is back in her happy place after a long two years of Covid-19 lockdown. She is full of positivity and likes to look on the bright side of everything – in a glass-half-full way.
She explains that her singing began before her speaking; her parents can recall her standing up in her cot as a child and just starting to sing. Noticing her talent early on, they brought seven-year-old Emer to music classes where she fell more and more in love with music.
When it came time to attend university, Emer did consider other options. She expressed interest in achieving a degree in psychology in University College Dublin; she even took it as a module along with music. However, she was bitten by the music bug, and, in her second year, chose to study Italian and music to degree level. Her journey to a livelihood in music had already begun.
Following from UCD, the multitalented Emer did a masters in Music Performance at Dublin Institute of Technology and was successful in her application for a course with the English National Opera in London, where she trained for a year. She says: “This was amazing. It was mostly focused on finding the ‘character’ and evoking the emotion, not just with the voice but by allowing the body, intention, and voice all inform and inspire each other – making singing holistic, I suppose. The priority was always making the performance as authentic as possible which was so inspiring.”
Emer started young in music and sang “Pie Jesu” at the age of 11, recordings of which can be found online. She says she was a very shy and quiet child, however she loved to get up on stage. Hoping to help her overcome her nerves, her parents enrolled her in ballet, tennis, choir, and voice training. Nowadays, Emer says, her confidence has grown massively, and she loves to perform.
Emer has toured all over the United States, has performed with the National Concert Orchestra and worked with Lyric FM. There aren’t any other musicians in her family, but her father had a lovely voice, Emer reveals, and her mum has grown to completely love opera since Emer entered that world as a professional artist. To relax on her days off, she loves to meet up with her family and friends and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, going to the cinema, or having a “spa day”.
SILENT NIGHT SUPPORTING LAURA LYNN
Emer recorded the Christmas classic “Silent Night” in 2018, which went on to achieve phenomenal success, gaining over one million views on YouTube. She explains: “I recorded Silent Night as a charity project in 2018. I had an amazing team around me, and the plan was to create something that would evoke that special lullaby feeling of this Christmas carol and raise money for a children’s charity. It seems to have struck a chord with people and I’m so grateful for that.”
“Thanks to its success on YouTube, each year I’m able to make a donation to the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice and this amount increases every year. It’s not always the case that a charity project continues to bring in money year after year so I’m proud of that!”
Along with her other accomplishments, Emer has worked alongside soprano Celine Byrne, performed at the National Concert Hall, and played the role of Audrey Hepburn.
“Like most people I have days where all I can see is what I wanted to achieve and haven’t…yet!” Emer explains. “But I’ve learned that happiness comes from patting yourself on the back every once in a while and being grateful for what ‘is’. I do love the feeling of striving toward something though. If I didn’t have that fire in my belly, I think I’d miss it! It’s ultimately about striking a balance between pushing yourself and allowing yourself to say, ‘yeah I’m doing good!’ and learning when to alternate them! The Audrey Hepburn show was my first time as a writer, producer, and performer so when that show sold out in 2019, it was a really proud moment.”
THE HAPPY BUBBLE
During the pandemic, Emer noticed a lot of negativity online. To battle this, she created the “Happy Bubble” on her social media; each week, Emer would pick a theme related to happiness and encourage other people to share quotes, photos, and stories related to that theme. She wanted to get people to bring their focus back to the bright side of life. At the end of each week, she would share a song she had recorded from home that was in some way “happy.” When the series drew to a close, “Happy Bubble” merchandise was released to share with people a little ode to happiness. There are “Happy Bubble” tote bags, reusable straws, and USB sticks still available from the shop on her website.
THE 2021 AGILITY AWARD
In 2021, the Irish Arts Council awarded Emer the Agility Award. “It was such an honour”, says Emer. “I mentioned earlier that there were some unexpected, good things that came out of the pandemic and one of them was that I started composing original music. I had never written so much as a lyric before, so I saw myself entirely as a performer. When the pandemic hit and all my performance work was cancelled and I couldn’t leave the house, I just found myself writing lyrics and playing with melodies. I applied to the Arts Council for funding to develop my songwriting alongside my good friend and collaborator Mary McCague and with the funding, we have been able to write a number of songs together. Before Covid, I could never have imagined that I’d record my own songs, but I’m now planning an album that will feature some of my original music, and that’s very exciting!”
Emer reveals she is working on new music, and also has a number of other projects in the works. In December of this year, Emer will travel with Mary McCague to the USA, to tour with harpist Teresa O’Donnel as ‘Everdream’. The stage name was borne out of the idea that they should strive to keep their dreams ‘evergreen’. According to Emer, life without something to strive for would be very dull! The trio are also recording a Christmas album to bring on the tour with them.
As a soloist, Emer is working towards releasing her second album in the autumn of next year. It will be her first album featuring original music, made up of some covers that you may not expect from a classical singer, as well as original songs that were inspired by living through the pandemic. It’s a project very close to her heart, says Emer, so she can’t wait to share it!