"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Music Tuesday: A Tribute to Enya

I have to thank Jan, one of my frequent readers, for turning me on to Enya.  I really was clueless to Enya’s music.  It all started with one of Jan’s blogs where she complained about people making fun of her daughter because her daughters pronounces the Enya as “Auy-na” and they got ridiculed at school for it.  Her daughters picked up from her mother who has pronounced it so since she was in school.

I told her I pronounced it “N-ya” but I had no idea what the proper pronunciation was.  I mentioned how in college I had a friend who liked Enya and suggested I listen but it wasn’t my cup of tea at the time.  I was into rock and Enya was far afield from that.  I told Jan then later in life when I got to appreciate religious music I was under the assumption Enya was New Age, and so I as a Catholic felt that New Age was some sort of dumbed down religion, for those people who claim they’re spiritual but not religious.  Jan assured me that she didn’t think Enya was New Age, and then she posted a song, Orinoco Flow (Sail Away), for me to sample.

Wow, was that pretty and evocative.  I decided I had to give Enya a chance, so I bought her greatest hits, The Very Best of EnyaThe Amazon exclusive digital version has a couple extra songs, so get that one if you’re going to buy it.

So I listened to the music and went on the internet to learn what I can about Enya.  I really enjoyed listening to this and am grateful to Jan for pointing it out for me.  I do have some good news and bad news for Jan, though.  The good news is that Enya is indeed pronounced “Ahn-ya” as it is shown here, though I have to say that I found a number of interviews where the interviewer called her "N-ya" and she didn't correct them.  The bad news is that according to Wikipedia, Enya has four times won the Grammy Award for the best New Age Album of the year.  So yes, Enya’s music is New Age.  However, in listening to Enya’s music I’ve come to realize that New Age music does not necessarily promote New Age religion.  The can be quite separate.  Though Enya’s songs do sometimes touch on New Age religious motifs (nature, cosmic, mystical) I have not found anything that would suggest a New Age theology.  In fact she is a fairly devout Catholic (still occasionally singing at the parish of her youth) and has some decidedly Catholic songs, which I’ll get to.

I also asked Jan her favorite Enya songs and she put a post on that.  I’ll just list them, but you can go read about why.

  1. Caribbean Blue
  2. Ebudea
  3. Amarantine
  4. Anywhere Is
  5. It’s in the Rain
I have not heard “Ebudea” and “It’s in the Rain.”  They were not included in the album I bought but the other three were and I agree they are wonderful pieces.  Look them up on youtube for a listen.  I’m going to pick four different songs, and so provide my five of my favorites not including Orinoco Flow

The first song that intrigued me was Trains and Winter Rains and I think this provides a good example of her style.

And what is that style?  It doesn’t strike me that she writes songs to make statements, but creates a mood, a feeling, an evocative sense.  In Trains and Winter Rains, she captures a journey home.  She seems to like to use rain and water in her songs.  Musically Wikipedia summarizes her style in this way:

As a musical group Enya represents a partnership between three people: Enya herself, who composes and performs the music; Nicky Ryan, who produces the albums; and Roma Ryan, who writes the lyrics in various languages, except Irish, in which Enya will render the lyrics herself. Enya performs all instruments and vocals in her pieces unless specified. Although there are certain pieces where acoustic instruments are featured, almost all sounds of her pieces are created by a synthesiser. Her signature sound uses simple arrangements with extensive multi-tracking vocals. The vocals are performed individually and are then layered together to form a virtual choir. According to Enya, Angeles, the fifth track on her album Shepherd Moons has about 500 layered vocal tracks.

I have to say that the use of synthesizers and multi-track layering is not well received by the musical purists.  However, Enya uses these to fully express herself to what she wants convey.  It is not a covering up due to a lack of virtuosity but an attempt to construct a sound that creates meaning.  I think her work is aesthetically sound.

I should also point out the international flavor of her work, and not surprising, her international appeal.  She’s extremely popular in countries that do not use English as a first language, and in some cases more so than native English speaking countries.  Just look at how her songs fared on the national charts of various countries.  She sings in several languages.  Most of her non-English songs are in Gaelic which Wikipedia identifies as the Irish language.  There are also songs in Latin and made up languages such as the Elvin language of Lord of the Rings.  In Sumiregusa (Wild Violet) she sings in Japanese.

Again the crux of the song is an evocative feeling.  Here is the first verse, translated.  (Use the azlyrics site for Enya because they provide translations alongside the non English lyrics.)

The poignancy of things
A purple flower
The blossoms of spring
And the light snow of winter
How they fall

It’s not exactly saying anything except the images are beautifully rendered by the music.  In classical music, such evocative rendering is called program music.  

Enya does religious music extraordinarily well.  I wish she would do an entire album of Christian songs because she really captures the heart of Christian feeling, and she does it in an original way.  Her version of O Come Immanuel is top notch as is her Gailic version of Silent Night, titled Oíche Chiúin (Chorale).  But I really loved this song, Pax Deorum, sung in Latin.

What an ominous sound she creates at the beginning which builds in intensity but then suddenly at mid way the tension breaks into a peaceful harmony.  The translated lyrics are quite simple.  They are repeated over and over in a sort of muttering prayer.

Father in Heaven, God bless us..
Father in Heaven, God bless me

Believe that each day
which breaks is your last.
Believe that each day
which breaks is your last.

Isn’t that powerful?

Enya is not all strange sounding music.  She is quite capable of constructing a pop lyric.  Her songs such as My! My! Time Flies! and Wild Child are just such songs.  Here’s Wild Child.

Finally Only Time has to be one of the most beautiful songs ever.  This might be my favorite of her songs.

I thank Jan for introducing me to Enya.  I’m really captivated by her music.


  1. You're welcome. Lovely post! I love it when people mention me :) I linked those two that you mentioned, so no more excuses. Go listen.

    I think Enya's music gets labeled "new age" because it rather defies being labeled anything else. When I hear "new age," I think of the stuff on Sirius XM radio Spa channels. Her music is not like that. It is unique and lovely.

    Trains and Winter Rains is from her Christmas album "And Winter Came." It's pretty awesome. I'm glad you like her:)

    1. I haven't been able to stop singing her songs all week."Sail away, sail away, sail away." LOL. I did listen to your links and they were pretty songs too. Thanks.