Fionnuala Sherry is the celebrated violinist and fairer side of the music duo Secret Garden, along with becoming the most current artist to be featured by a musician interview at New Age Music World. While Fionnuala’s fame and success as a music partner with Norwegian composer and pianist Rolf Løvland of Secret Garden has earned them both admiration by millions as a team, Fionnuala Sherry who resides in Ireland, can claim a brilliant success of her own by the release of her first solo album entitled Songs From Before.
Songs From Before is Fionnuala Sherry’s unique and personal revision on some of the most beloved melodies of Irish heritage. In addition, her contemporary instrumental album with 10 songs total also includes some unreleased original compositions that beautifully highlight her expertise as a violinist and vocalist.
Her instrumental CD in entirety is a moving experience and inspirational beacon showing her in a new light, yet her solo release continues the true to character tradition, in regards to the fine violin melodies for which she is famous.
Fionnuala Sherry’s solo album Songs From Before also happens to be a very popular album that had risen to the number 2 position of the Top 25 for June on Echoes radio program within days of the release. Her solo release was also awarded Echoes CD of the Month for July on Echoes radio, a popular online radio program that is broadcast on 130 radio stations in North America.
Review publicist, and New Age Music World host John Olsen recently had the opportunity to interview the internationally renowned violinist Fionnuala Sherry, so today we are pleased to present their conversation to her fans and to our site visitors.
Interview with Fionnuala Sherry in 2011.
John Olsen: Let me begin by expressing my gratitude for approving of my interview request on short notice Fionnuala. Your first solo album is now available in North American markets after a successful earlier release in Europe.
I have read Songs From Before was a project in the planning stages for many years, and you have wanted to introduce your contemporary revision on traditional Irish classics for some time now. Why did this album become such an important artistic statement you wanted to express musically?
Fionnuala Sherry: I am so happy now to have produced this CD as I have lived with these old Irish tunes for all my life and the strange thing is that as a professional violinist I never had the opportunity to perform them.
I think they have always influenced me as these beautiful airs have been a musical backdrop to my growing up and it felt just right for me to revisit them. I felt I had now learned so much over the years that I could this time hopefully bring all I have learned to the table and give them a new and contemporary edge.
John: What were the circumstances that led you to produce Songs From Before at this point in time?
Fionnuala Sherry: The timing was right. I had taken some down time away from Secret Garden in fact I stopped playing for nearly 2 years. I guess I was just burned out. Slowly the passion returned and I felt if ever I was going to record these beloved songs it was the perfect time.
John: Songs From Before is an album comprised of mostly traditional melodies of Ireland, which is somewhat in contrast to your Secret Garden arrangements. Did you find performing modern revisions of familiar Irish melodies more of a challenge or merely a variation in how you regularly compose music?
Fionnuala Sherry: I approached this CD with the same discipline as to other Secret Garden albums. The key for me in producing the right kind of sound was teaming up with Kjetil Bjekestrand. A wonderful Norwegian composer and programmer who “got” what I was trying to do. He also came with fresh and innocent ears to these tunes having no earlier knowledge of them. Through him he helped to give me the freedom to write around the airs and to approach them in a new way.
John: I have to admit I am less familiar with traditional Irish melodies so wondered if you give everyone some historical context of the songs you have re-created. Are they primarily hymns or ballads?
Fionnuala Sherry: They are really neither, Irish airs were just that they could be sung with sometimes added lyrics, or they were simply played on a fiddle, or whistle or harp etc. When these tunes were handed down from generation to generation they were in the form of verse only which was repeated and repeated.
We are more familiar nowadays with songs having the form of verse, chorus, maybe bridge chorus etc. So the challenge for me to work these simple (one verse only) airs into a more substantial composition was with the additional writing and arrangement which Kjetil and I worked on together.
John: Do you plan to release another solo album someday Fionnuala?
Fionnuala Sherry: Yes I would love to and hope that will happen.
John: I understand you were raised at home with a family of musicians. Could you tell us about some of your early experiences growing up in a house full of musicians?
Fionnuala Sherry: It was great fun most of the time as there was always something going on and my parents gave loads of parties and in true Irish form everybody always had a party piece, so there was lots of singing and playing.
But like all kids there were also times when I was very envious of my friends out on the road when they were out playing and kicking a ball etc. when I was stuck in rehearsing. Many are a time I would have loved to have swopped places!
John: With your Secret Garden album Inside I’m Singing being your second most current release, I am sure everyone would like to know if you and Rolf Løvland have another Secret Garden project planned in the future?
Fionnuala Sherry: We are about to release our latest CD which is due out on November 7th. It’s called “Winter Poem.”
John: This is great news your new Secret Garden CD is nearing the release date! The title Winter Poem has a very nice ring to it. Even before your celebrity prominence with Secret Garden you had projects with music superstars including Bono of U2, Chris de Burgh, Sinéad O’Connor, The Chieftains, and many more popular artists. Would you tell us about your associations with these great artists?
Fionnuala Sherry: The good thing about growing up and working in Ireland is how small the country is and so it’s easy to get to know everybody. I was lucky that when I turned pro I began to work a lot in the different studios as a backing musician to these amazing artists and it was a wonderful time as there was such a dynamic feeling everywhere with fantastic people producing brilliant music. I am still amazed that when I tour all over the world as we have been fortunate enough to do so how many Irish acts appears in the charts! For such a small country the output is incredible!
John: Along with the respect people have of you for being one of Ireland’s most successful songwriting musicians, you have also had stars like Barbra Streisand, Josh Groban, Westlife, 11 Divo and Celtic Woman making popular hits with your song compositions. I imagine this must be pretty gratifying to you and Rolf Løvland?
Fionnuala Sherry: Rolf is the master of the writing; I am there as his guiding hand and co-producer, but it has been an incredible journey for us and especially with the song “You Raise Me Up.” It feels like only yesterday when we first began teasing out the melody to that song and now 10 years have passed! But even back then we knew it had something magical – and it has been a rollercoaster all the way.
John: Speaking of your Secret Garden arrangements, I truly enjoyed watching numerous music videos of your concert performances including the orchestral DVD titled; A Night With Secret Garden. During these concerts you seem so energetic yet relaxed and poised, all in one motion. I take it you are quite comfortable performing live on stage in front of a large audience?
Fionnuala Sherry: I suffer from the worst stage fright you can imagine, every night is as terrifying as the previous one and there are nights I don’t think I will make it. For me it’s like doing an enormous bungee to get out on that stage! But then something special always happens with the audience and once I relax it becomes magical. I wish it could be easier for me but accept now that I will always be nervous.
John: I read your concert and studio instrument of choice is an English John Edward Betts violin from 1790 time period. When did you acquire this violin, and can you tell us some of the history behind your vintage instrument?
Fionnuala Sherry: When I got my first full time pro job in the RTE Concert Orchestra, the first thing the principal conductor said to me was to get a better instrument! He hated the sound of what I had. So my eldest brother kindly lent me the money as I was broke and a wonderful old German violin dealer I knew helped to locate this instrument for me.
It was instant love as it is smaller in size than normal which suits my small hands. It didn’t sound very good at first as there were a lot of dead spots as they reckoned it had not been played for nearly a 100 years before me! So I had to work very hard with this instrument which still gets better and better, I love it.
John: You have so many achievements for you to choose from on this question Fionnuala, but I would like to know what you find most rewarding as a professional musician?
Fionnuala Sherry: I think it’s been able to communicate through the language of music which is just about emotions and feelings and when I see the effect it has on people, and if it helps them get away from all their daily grind for even a moment – that is the most satisfying thing.
John: Thank you again for giving me this opportunity to present our interview together as a feature Music World publication. I look forward to providing more news coverage about you in the days ahead. Before we close for now, is there anything you would like to tell your friends and fans that have supported you over the years?
Fionnuala Sherry: I am so grateful to everybody that has supported me over these last years. Without you, I or Secret Garden would not exist, so from the bottom of my heart a thousand thanks and hope you will all continue to enjoy this musical journey with me.
Visit the fionnualasherry.com homepage and valley-entertainment.com music store to sample or purchase her solo album – Songs From Before. You may also find her music at Amazon.com or iTunes. Then visit Fionnuala Sherry and Rolf Løvland at the secretgarden.no homepage and web shop page. You can read more on our pages dedicated to Fionnuala Sherry.
Photography courtesy Andreas Pettersson – FionnualaSherry.com – SecretGarden.no.