Emily Magner Hurley: "I Like The Idea Of Transporting People To Peaceful & Calm Places"
Enter the world of Emily Magner Hurley, an Irish musician, stuttering advocate, and educator, as she unveils "Orainn (Us)," a musical journey blending traditional Irish folk with acapella, jazz fusion, and classical styles.
The album, born from Emily's role in Stuttering Awareness Mental Wellbeing Ireland (SAMWI), is a carefully crafted soundscape, echoing messages of hope and support. "Orainn (Us)" pays homage to the Sean-Nós style with Emily's unique twist, adding harmonies and motifs inspired by lyrics. A track dedicated to White House Chief of Staff Jen O'Malley-Dillon highlights SAMWI's impact, reaching even the Oval Office, accompanied by Emily's music. A coloratura soprano and University College Cork graduate, Emily's compositions, housed in her 1970s Petrof Baby Grand, follow the success of her 2020 debut, "Airs & Graces. Now, with "Orainn (Us)," she continues to offer a musical escape, a refuge from the turbulence of our times, echoing tradition with innovation. Indie Boulevard is fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with Emily and gain insight into her ambitious project.
Hello Emily, it's a pleasure to see you here, on Indie Boulevard. Many have described your music as having a deeply spiritual and meditative quality that really speaks to the soul. Could you share some insights into how you manage to infuse your compositions with such a unique and enchanting atmosphere?
Thank you so much for inviting me here and for those kind words. When I compose, I compose intuitively. I am an emotional person, and the music that I create is usually very reflective of what is going on in my head, or sometimes, what I want to feel. I think about the listener as well. I like the idea of transporting people to places that are peaceful, calm, comforting and magical. I do this through the use of high pitches, slow beats, gentle timbres, transformed chords, sweet jazz chords and polyphonic textures that together soothe your mind, keep you present in that moment and distract you from the world. Some music just automatically evokes a mood – just by suggestion – it is very powerful.
Stuttering Awareness Mental Wellbeing Ireland (SAMWI) aims to provide hope and support to those who stutter. How has your involvement with SAMWI influenced your music and your creative process?
To be honest, working with SAMWI hasn’t impacted on my creative process. My steps in creating a soundscape are still the same. What I would say is that working with SAMWI has only served to heighten my awareness of the potential of certain textures, tempi, rhythmic features and chord progressions to create spaces to escape, regulate and to replenish the energy that the world demands. As for the influence it has had on my music? It has encouraged me to work even harder to seek out music with emotive lyrics, rich in the imagery of the natural world. These act as a constant source of inspiration as I set about creating expressive arrangements.
Your debut album, "Airs & Graces," received strong reviews and helped many through a difficult period. How do you see "Orainn (Us)" continuing that mission in the context of the challenging times we live in?
Airs & Graces was gentle and escapist and made a difference to so many people. For example, Ceo an Chnoic (Hill Mist) and To A Clearing allowed the listener to drift away. I wanted Orainn to do so much more than that. I have always been drawn to polyphony with its myriad of complimentary melodies that not only work horizontally (melodically) but vertically (harmonically). I have always found that polyphony left me with the feeling of being surrounded by warmth, of being on the receiving end of an auditory hug. I suppose that is what I wanted for the listener, to drift away enveloped in a warm auditory hug.
Your musical style combines acapella, jazz fusion, and classical elements. How do you find harmony in blending these diverse influences into your compositions?
These influences are indeed diverse but they also have common denominators. When it comes to jazz, a great deal of the ornamentation used is similar to ornamentation used in the singing of Sean Nós. The presence of slides and turns, for example. Harmonically, jazz and traditional Irish music can use similar scales and modes. The use of the flattened 7th comes immediately to mind. With regard to the classical elements in my work, so much of its style and structure compliments that of the native Irish repertoire. The work of Ó Carolan from as early as the 17th century is a perfect example of that. My work is another iteration of that same process.
The track dedicated to Jen O'Malley-Dillon highlights the support SAMWI has received from influential figures. How do you see your music and SAMWI's message continuing to reach and impact a global audience, including those who may be struggling with stuttering or mental health issues?
So often organisations and movements are run by individuals with hidden agendas. Everyone knows someone who stutters and when people come across an organisation or a movement that is open about its aims, that is apolitical, that wants to look after a neglected section of our population, they have little difficulty coming on board. We fund our work out of our own resources, putting our time, money and energy where our mouth is. As well as acting as a potential refuge, my music now accompanies SAMWI’s messages and as for our reach, that is limited only by our imagination. Who would have thought that some of our group would find themselves in The White House last St Patrick’s Day as guests of President Biden? We have found a willing ally in The World Stuttering Network and with them we are reaching more and more individuals who stutter, establishing even more support groups, working to upskill even more teachers and bringing together international experts in the field of speech and language pathology.
You mentioned that you've added your own twist to the traditional Irish singing style called Sean-Nós. Could you share more about this twist and the creative choices you made?
Each of the songs I selected for Orainn are usually sung either monophonically or homophonically, perhaps with accompaniment from a chordal instrument such as piano or guitar. My first twist is to sing these pieces polyphonically, layering the original melody line with a multitude of complimentary harmony lines and motifs. A second twist is to introduce a strong element of word painting. For example, in An Mhaighdean Mhara, (The Mermaid) I reflected the movement of the waves in the punctuation between the verses and in Na Gleannta I mirrored the undulation of the glens of Cork and Kerry in the movement of the accompaniment.
You were trained by the renowned soprano Majella Cullagh. How has her mentorship influenced your approach to music and composition?
Majella was an amazing teacher. My voice is my first instrument and she taught me how to trust it and let it work for itself rather than trying to force it. My voice is no longer strained or tired after a performance and that made the creation of this album so much easier. The regular eight-hour studio sessions would have been unsustainable without the techniques she taught me. Interestingly, when she was training me to sing classical ornaments and intricate passages, such as those from Mozart’s repertoire, she advised me to approach them from a relaxed traditional Irish perspective.
The album "Orainn (Us)" features both original and traditional Irish folk songs. How do you strike a balance between preserving the tradition and adding your personal touch to the music?
My adherence to the traditional is to be found, for example, in my use of ornamentation and the sensitivity I have shown to the vowel structure of the language. My personal touch is to be found the chromaticism that I have added to the melodies, including those in the new compositions, Orainn and Is Í Bláth Geal na Sméar Í.
Your album was composed on a Petrof Baby Grand piano from the 1970s. Can you tell us about the significance of this instrument in your creative journey?
Everything happens at the Petrof. It was a present from my husband shortly after we got married. It is where I compose and arrange. Airs & Graces and Orainn were all born at its keyboard. It has the sweetest sound and I’m so aware of its past life. Eminent Irish pianists such as John O’Connor and Charles.