The world was introduced to Eimear Quinn as her ethereal voice soared, singing the mystical lyrics of Brendan Graham's "The Voice" at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest. Listening to Eimear Quinn sing is a surreal and breathtaking experience.
When I first heard "The Voice," I was completely in awe of what I was hearing. I found it no wonder that this performance won the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland. Also in 1996, Eimear Quinn released her first solo album, Winter, Fire and Snow. This album features only four songs, "Winter, Fire and Snow," "Black is the Colour," "I Know My Love," and "The Lowlands of Holland."
The title track is a lovely song, also written by Brendan Graham. Eimear Quinn is accompanied by guitar, cello and oboe. The instrumentation adds beautiful texture and character. "Black is the Colour" also features guitar, as well as whistle. It's a slow, sweet song about love. Eimear Quinn sings it with such a passion that you know it comes from deep within. "I Know My Love" picks up the pace on the album. It takes on a more playful demeanor. Featured on this track are claps, bodhrán, and back up vocals. "The Lowlands of Holland" is my favorite track on this album. It is slow, and bittersweet, as it is about departed love. The harmonies are simple and beautiful. "The Lowlands of Holland" is the perfect way to end the album, saving the best for last.
Eimear Quinn's voice is perfect for the styles of music she chose for her solo album. Her voice is soft and pure, yet full and strong. I feel cheated whenever I listen to her CD because it is so short. I will be the first to order her latest solo album as soon as it comes out, and I hope that many others will be as anxious. If you have not yet heard the ethereal voice of Eimear Quinn, you are truly missing out on an indescribable experience.
Q: Where did you grow up? Did your family and location influence your decision to pursue a career in music?
A: I was born and grew up in Dublin. My parents were (& still are!) very interested in music, and I grew up listening to mostly classical music which was to influence me greatly in later years. In addition to this, both of my parents are marvelous singers, and while I am the only one in my family to pursue a professional singing career, I am by no means the only one with the talent to do so. Ever since I expressed an interest in music lessons my family have been nothing but encouraging.
Q: How long have you been singing? What formal music training have you undergone? Do you play other instruments as well?
A: My mother says that I was singing before I could talk! At the age of 4 she enrolled me in the church choir with my older sister, Niamh, and I guess you could say that I continued from there. Music was particularly popular in our school and I got a lot of opportunities to sing and perform. I took piano lessons from the age of 10 & singing lessons from 15. While this is obviously not necessary, I've found that this training has really stood to me through my various experiences in recent years.
Q: Where did you go to college? What did you major in?
A: At 17, when I finished school, my main interest, both academic & professional, was in classical music. However I also had a huge interest in environmental issues. I decided to continue my music study as a part time student and I took a place on an Environmental Resource Management course. I completed this 3 years later and decided to study music full time for a degree at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth. As these Studies were interrupted in 1996 by my schedule after the Eurovision, I still have one year left to complete.
Q: How did you get involved with Anúna? When did you join?
A: I was aware of Anúna for quite some time before I joined, as the music community in Dublin is quite close, and I knew a few singers who were or had been members. I was always very impressed by the music and the mode of performance for a choral group. In 1995, Riverdance went on tour and took 10 of Anúna's members on the road with it full time. This left Michael with a shortage of singers to maintain Anúna's own gigs so, when he had to expand the group, one of the members recommended me to Michael. As I have a clear high voice there was a lot in the repertoire to suit me, and Michael and I really hit it off. I sang as one of the principal soloists for a year and a half and I really loved my time with the group.
Q: What were your favorite moments spent with Anúna?
A: There were a lot of special moments for me in my time with Anúna. We traveled to some wonderful places and performed in wonderful venues. My favourite gig would have to be a midnight outdoor concert in Catalonia for the Troubadour festival in September 1996. It was in a medieval town in the mountains in an ancient Plaza. We were performing "O Viridissima," which is a very atmospheric piece and one of my favourite to perform live. As the lights lifted on me to sing, a bat swooped by and brush off my face! It was a surreal moment! There were many more live performances which I loved, but there were also amazing moments during our recording sessions for Deep Dead Blue and Omnis also around that time. I have sung a lot of choral music but that session was easily the most sublime. Singing in a group requires the performer to listen very closely to every voice around them and to try to sound as one voice. As Anna never perform with sheet music or a conductor, this symbiosis is even more intense. The connection with the other voices and with the music during these sessions was a very deep experience which I will always remember.
Q: What Anúna albums have you appeared on?
A: My first Anúna recording was a descant on "Roisin Dubh." I was with the group for the recording of two albums: Deep Dead Blue and Omnis Special Edition (1996).
Q: What solos did you sing with Anúna?
A: I was lucky to sing quite a lot of solos with the group on both albums: "Gaudete," "Diwanit Bugale," "O Viridissima," "Island," "Green Laurel," "The sea," and lots of beautifully written descants on various songs.
Q: Do you have a favorite song you recorded with Anúna?
A: I have a special fondness for all of them in one shape or form, however I do have two favourites: "Island" (from Deep Dead Blue) and "Diwanit Bugale" (from Omnis). I choose "Island" as I think that is one of Michael's most beautiful and accomplished compositions. As far as I can remember, the composition developed over a period of months. It started off with the choral motif alone which we all found beautiful, but Michael was unsure for a time what it might grow into. With time it took on this personality which is so moving. I was so delighted to be asked to sing it. I also love "Diwanit Bugale" for personal reasons. It was the French entry in the Eurovision Song Contest the same year as I sang there. It is a very melodious song written in Breton by Dan ar Braz. Anúna traveled to Brittany that summer to sing in the festival of Cornuaille and I was asked to sing this song during our concert. It was then that Michael wrote the arrangement that is on Omnis and Imaginaire Irlandaise.
Q: How long did you sing with Anúna? What made you decide to leave the group?
A: I sang with Anúna for a year and a half from the summer of 1995 to my last gig at Christmas 1996. When I released my first solo recording in the winter of 1996 I found it necessary to leave the group.
Q: Do you think you will ever go back to Anúna?
A: I have always maintained a very special connection with Anúna's music and would never miss an opportunity to perform it.
Q: How did you get the opportunity to perform Brendan Graham's "The Voice" at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest?
A: This is one of those stories that help me to realize that everything happens by design. I was performing at one of Anúna's magical Christmas concerts in December, 1995. One of the songs I performed was "Winter Fire and Snow," a song written by Brendan Graham, which Anúna had recorded before my time with the group. Brendan was in the audience and was quite taken with my interpretation of his song. It transpired that he had an entry in the Irish national song contest but hadn't yet found a soloist to perform it, so he asked me if I would like to do it! I was a bit nervous at first about trying something so different, but soon got into the swing of it and the rest you know!!!
Q: What was it like to perform "The Voice" at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest? How did it feel to win for Ireland?
A: The experience of singing in the Eurovision was character building to say the least!! It was wonderful, and scary, and terrifying, and challenging, and glamorous, and hectic, and thrilling, all at the same time. In the auditorium there was an audience of 8,000 and at home, on the other side of the TV cameras, there was an audience of 200 million. Even though all the polls said that the Irish song would win I still didn't believe it until it happened. Although it is just a lot of fun, I did feel a sense of national pride that was very fulfilling. The experience was massively intense and something which I will value all my life. I am very grateful to Brendan for choosing me.
Q: Can "The Voice" still be purchased on CD today?
A: "The Voice" can be found in quite a few forms today. The single is no longer available from Polydor, but it is available on a number of compilations including Virgin's World Greatest Album of Irish Music Ever (or something like that!!) and of course on Eurovision compilations.
Q: You released a four track solo CD, entitled Winter, Fire and Snow in 1996. How long did it take for you to put it together?
A: Winter, Fire and Snow took a couple of months to put together and record. After the Eurovision Song Contest, I was asked by many people to do some recording but felt very intimidated by the whole industry. I like to have a deep understanding of any process I go through, so in order to educate myself, I went about getting my own recording together and getting it to distributors on my own, etc. It was probably a bit of an extreme way to go about things but it worked for me and I had tremendous support from my boyfriend (now husband - happily!). Most people felt that I was a little crazy turning down record companies and doing something small on my own, but it was all on my own terms. Through this process I teamed up with my manager who I still have a wonderful relationship with. The process also took a lot of the mystery out of the recording industry for me which enabled me to trust or dismiss future opportunities.
Q: The title track, "Winter, Fire and Snow," has appeared on Anúna's Invocation. What made you choose to include this song on your CD?
A: I chose "Winter, Fire and Snow" firstly because it is a very beautiful song, and secondly because of my connection to it through my experience above. It is a song that is a pleasure to sing. I wasn't involved in the original Anúna recording, but I did sing it during my time with the group.
Q: As there are only four tracks on your CD, each song must have some meaning to you. What influenced your choice to record "Black is the Colour," "I Know My Love," and "The Lowlands of Holland?"
A: Each song is there for a reason obviously. "Black is the Colour" is a song which I have always loved, and it also happens to be true ( if you know what I mean). "I know my Love" is great fun and had never been recorded in that style before then, to my knowledge, although it kind of has been since. A good friend of mine, Aimee Leonard, plays bodhrán and sings on that track. It was through Aimee's singing that I learned "The Lowlands of Holland".
Q: You also recorded the song "Angel Dream," a Tom Petty song, for "She's the One." How did you get involved with this, and when was this recorded?
A: I recorded the Tom Petty song "Angel Dream" whilst working with a company called Celtic Heartbeat. I was doing some recording sessions in Nashville with a producer who had worked with Tom Petty as an engineer quite a lot. He suggested that we contact Tom Petty to see if he would give us his blessing for us to do a version of his song "Angel Dream". My version is very different to the way that he sings it in the movie, but it was great fun to do and was since released on the Celtic Heartbeat compilation A Winter's Tale.
Q: Another recording you've done is "Creid," a recording made for the Japanese game "Xenogears." What can you tell us about this recording, and what other artists were involved?
A: The song I sang on "Creid" was a very last minute thing that was organized by some colleagues of mine who had worked well with that Japanese production team before. It is a very pretty song, so I am not surprised that it has received all the praise that it has gotten online. The session was great fun. Other musicians involved included Laois Kelly, Davy Spillane and Maire Breathnach.
Q: Will you be recording another solo album anytime soon? When and where will it be released?
A: Yes, I have almost completed an album for Decca International. I've been incredibly privileged to work with Pól Brennan as co-composer. He is also producing the album. It has been quite some time in the making, but the result is very beautiful. I am really proud of it and am looking forward to the international release in Spring.
Stephanie Giamundo conducted the interview with Eimear Quinn, wrote the review, created the web design, and edited the graphics and photos found on this feature. Stephanie is the webmistress of her web site, Rua's Realm. At Rua's Realm you can find information about Celtic Corner and Uisce, as well as other information dealing with Celtic Music. Celtic Corner is Stephanie's mailing list that discusses mainly Celtic Music, as well as Celtic culture and literature. Uisce is Stephanie's Celtic band, a band centered mostly around traditional celtic music. You can find mp3s of Uisce's music at Rua's Realm.