hile endeavoring to write about the artist Enya, I first wanted to answer the question, what exactly is "new age music?" I'm not fully certain, nor was I able to pin down one distinct definition when I tried to find out. I found many interpretations, and although some of them are rather diverse in nature they all seem to include words like "relaxation, easy-listening, meditation, poetry, therapy, spiritual, contemplative, visionary, sensual, dreamy, healing, artistic, experimental…" You get the idea, I think.

OK, so "New Age" is characteristically introspective. Well enough. What about the semantics, though? From what I can gather, new age music is a blend of old and new - traditional instruments and musical style enhanced with more "modernized" electronic instruments and a fresh take. Coming right down to the nitty gritty, this means there's a lot of room for crapola out there in the coffeehouses and massage parlors of the world. New age seems to me to be what free verse is to poetry, and like the sci-fi/fantasy and children's literature genres everyone and their uncle seems to think they can compose it.

Now for the good news: for every Stan Rice there's a T.S. Eliot, for every Anne Rice there's a Roger Zelazny, and for every Terry Brooks there's a Barry Hughart. All right, maybe the ratio of garbage to glory isn't that good, but what I'm trying to say is that there are redeeming elements out there. In fact, one might argue that it was the redeeming elements that inspired the pretenders in the first place, which in a way is a tribute in and of itself. This is all just a roundabout way of me saying that Enya is among the cream that has risen to the top of a sea of new age skim milk.

I was already a fan of Clannad thanks to Tim, but had never made the connection between Eithne Brennan and Enya (duh!). Back when we were courtin', Steve gave me the heads up about this artist; after learning that the only song of hers with which I was familiar was "Orinoco Flow," he promptly gave me two of his own albums, declaring that he couldn't abide the thought of me going one more day without Enya's beautiful music in my possession. He couldn't have started me off better: his bequests were Watermark and Shepherd Moons (the latter won Best New Age Album at the 35th annual Grammy Awards).

Clannad was a family affair (as you can read in Tim's article), but in 1982 Eithne (or "Enya" as it is pronounced in English) decided to give it a go on her own with Nicky and Roma Ryan. A competent keyboardist, Enya moved up from backing vocals to take the lead microphone. It was five years, however, before her first album, Enya, was released to somewhat unenthusiastic reviews. Up to that point Enya had been developing a sturdy reputation through the composition of songs for the 1985 movie The Frog Prince and the BBC TV documentary entitled The Celts. However, it was not until the release of the album Watermark, featuring the hit "Orinoco Flow" (Sail Away) that Enya's career truly took off. It's been pretty much smooth sailing ever since.

Enya's music is usually keyboard-heavy and somewhat light on the drums, with a lot of intricate vocal work. It also features such instruments as the uillean pipes and the violin as well as electric guitar. Although it is less obvious with her albums than with those of Clannad, Enya's music does carry the distinctive influence of traditional Irish folk music. Besides English and Irish (Gaelic), some lyrics (composed by Roma Ryan) are written in Latin, Welsh, and Spanish as well. In several of the album jackets along with the lyrics can be found poetry or short legends or tales. The artwork (which usually features photographs of Enya both within and without) is heavily detailed with a uniform color theme and a Renaissance influence.

The melodies are haunting and memorable. I find that it's good music to unwind with, nor is it hard work to listen to. Soothing, yes, distracting, no - proof to me of this is the fact that I can write while playing it, and it neither distracts me nor forces me to tune it out. It's a comfortable listen - if you don't believe me, ask my Mom! She's heard me play several different albums, and pronounced Enya to be "nice" (as opposed to Clannad, which she said gave her a headache!). A good place to start, I think, is Shepherd Moons. This was where I began, and from there I was hooked.

Jenn Eagen
December, 1999

Enya - Magic and Melody
A comprehensive Enya fan page. Very complete, including lyrics, discography, midi compositions, pictures, and so on.

Enya - Translations and Lyrics.
Very nice site giving translations to those lyrics not written in English.