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05 Dec 2021

Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Emer Barry: Longford soprano believes we'll see gender parity long before next century

International Women’s Day - Monday, March 8,  2021 #IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge

Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Emer Barry: Longford soprano  believes we'll see gender parity long before next century

Internationally renowned Longford soprano Emer Barry

Internationally renowned Longford soprano Emer Barry believes gender parity will be achieved long before the next century.

According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity will not be attained for almost a century. Emer pointed out, “I think the fact that people are talking about the bias, and being heard, is a great step forward and that fighting spirit that existed so many years ago hasn't gone anywhere! 

Also read: Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Michelle Farrell: Sport has played a huge role in Michelle’s life

“There was a campaign launched last year called WhyNotHer after statistics showed that 85% of the top 100 played artists on Irish radio were male. The campaign was led by an Irish lady called Linda Coogan-Byrne and I still see articles popping up calling for more air time for women. I think we'll get there long before the next century!”

Also read: Celebrating Longford's Inspiring Women #IWD2021 - Colette Reynolds: Sisters of the world, never let anyone put you down

Emer performed on the RTE One programme Shine in 2020. “It was so poignant to be preparing for a TV event full of music and poetry from Irish artists during a time when our industry had suffered so much, as many others did due to the pandemic. But it felt great to perform again and be part of something so beautiful. I performed alongside Irish soprano Celine Byrne who I admire hugely also so it's a great memory to have of an otherwise difficult year.”

Emer’s group Affiniti (with Mary McCague - Violinist and Aisling Ennis - Harpist) are planning a St Patricks Day show for their YouTube channel (Emer Barry and Affiniti). 

“Everything was recorded remotely and we are editing the video together ourselves. We're also working on an album so follow myself or Affiniti on Social Media or join my mailing list to find out about all the exciting things that will be released soon on www.emerbarry.com.”

How will you mark International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8?

I usually pop up a post on social media naming the women in music who have inspired me. Luckily there have been many women who have paved the way for female artists. A few years ago I released a version of Wuthering Heights to celebrate the joint birthday of Emily Bronte and Kate Bush (both born on July 30, 140 years apart!). Both are an inspiration to many.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

I think IWD is a testament to the kind of determination, passion and resilience people only find when challenged. There was a time when women had to fight to be heard at all. Even Emily Bronte had to write under the pseudonym of a man to get published. I am so grateful for that fight as it has meant more opportunities available to me in my lifetime.

#ChooseToChallenge is the theme for International Women’s Day - applying the theme to your own life and career, what might it mean to you and what is your view or interpretation on the theme?

The decision to stand up and challenge inequality is always the catalyst for great change. Luckily, I haven't come across much inequality in my own career - it's hard to cast a man in a role written for a woman! But I have experienced some bullying behaviour in situations where I was considered an easy target because I'm a woman. Thankfully I was well able to stand up to myself, which is the best way of teaching bullies to behave better.

According to the World Economic Forum, gender parity will not be attained for almost a century. Do you agree? Could it be attained sooner? Have you ever suffered at the hands of or know of a family member or friend that has suffered due gender bias?

I think the fact that people are talking about the bias, and being heard, is a great step forward and that fighting spirit that existed so many years ago hasn't gone anywhere! There was a campaign launched last year called WhyNotHer after statistics showed that 85% of the top 100 played artists on Irish radio were male. The campaign was led by an Irish lady called Linda Coogan-Byrne and I still see articles popping up calling for more air time for women. I think we'll get there long before the next century!

Two ladies that have inspired you in your own life and explain why ?

My Mum, Imelda, is one for sure. She's incredibly resilient. No matter what life throws at her, she always rises above it with good humour and gratitude. I don't think you have to fight big fights to be an inspiration. Choosing to live your life with gratitude and consideration for other people despite your own hardships is hugely admirable to me. 

In terms of musical inspiration, I really admire Sarah Brightman. She has managed to cultivate a career that has spanned over four decades and her music has continued to evolve all that time. She's one of the most original artists in my genre and she seems to be the boss of all of it - I don't imagine anybody tells Sarah Brightman what to do or how to do it! Always evolving and always original. Hugely inspirational.

Top three career highlights?

1. The first time I performed in the USA was the first time I had ever visited the USA! I was invited to perform at an event in the Ross Perot Museum of Nature and Science where the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in attendance as well as Ross Perot himself. Myself and my group Affiniti have such fond memories of our first US performance - 8 years of touring later and the USA now feels like a second home!

2. Playing Audrey Hepburn in a show about her life in the National Concert Hall in 2019. I am a lifelong Audrey Hepburn fan and I decided to create a show to celebrate what would have been her 90th birthday. It was the first time I was the producer, writer, editor and performer of a show. It was also the first time I sold out a show in the NCH so all in all this event has a special place in my heart.

3. Performing on the RTE One programme Shine in 2020. It was so poignant to be preparing for a TV event full of music and poetry from Irish artists during a time when our industry had suffered so much, as many others did due to the pandemic. But it felt great to perform again and be part of something so beautiful. I performed alongside Irish soprano Celine Byrne who I admire hugely also so it's a great memory to have of an otherwise difficult year

Your top three favourite songs to perform and why the significance?

1. The Town I loved so well - this was my Dad’s (the late John) song so I always think of him when I sing it.

2. Wuthering Heights - I had a new version of this arranged for orchestra a few years ago and it's so exciting singing with the orchestra, knowing that nobody else sings my version!

3. Habanera from Carmen. This is my Mums favourite as it's just full of fun! When I perform this for an audience I leave the stage and act out the character by handing out roses to the men in the audience. It's all very tongue-in-cheek but I feel it shows how much fun classical music can be and I love making people laugh. I think laughter is an important thing to nurture in your life.

Covid-19 pandemic - how has it affected you and how are you and your family coping?

I really miss live performances. I miss touring and I miss meeting the audience afterwards. Apart from missing it on an emotional level, live performance was where 90% of my income came from so this year has been about trying to cultivate more of an online presence and finding viable ways to adapt my performing to an online platform. I've managed! And I've had amazing support from people so i can't complain. Many people are much worse off.

Plans for when lockdown restrictions are lifted?

I actually started writing music while in lockdown which is something I never ever thought I'd do! But funny things happen when boredom and creative deprivation collide! So when lockdown lifts I plan to meet up with musicians and tease out some of the songs I've been working on with a view to releasing an album next year that features some original material. 

Any projects you are currently working on?

Affiniti (my group with Mary McCague - Violinist and Aisling Ennis - Harpist) are planning a St Patricks Day show for our YouTube channel (Emer Barry and Affiniti). Everything was recorded remotely and we are editing the video together ourselves - another skill unlocked by lockdown! We're also working on an album so follow myself or Affiniti on Social Media or join my mailing list to find out about all the exciting things that will be released soon: www.emerbarry.com  

And a little curve ball…The time you greeted American President, Donald Trump, at Shannon Airport in 2015...Now he has left office, and knowing what you know now about his Presidency, would you have welcomed Trump?

Being honest, I try to keep my personal views separate to my profession. I don't judge anybody in my audience. Saying that, I may be busy washing my hair next time Trump visits Ireland!

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