Baby's birth a catharsis for composer Feeney

 New mother and opera composer, Julie Feeney, plays at Fuaim, Cork

Life is getting easier, says Julie Feeney.

“A year or two ago I would not have been able to compose and perform in the same time frame,” muses the singer. “Now I can perform one day, return to my compositional work the next. I’m able to mix the two. That’s very new for me.”

She wonders if the birth of her baby daughter may have contributed. Parenthood requires you to keep your head low and get on with things,Feeney believes. With someone depending on you, the luxury of naval gazing is taken away.

“It becomes less complicated in a way,” she says. “You don’t have the choice. You know what you have to do.”

Feeney is working on her first opera, Bird, based on Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince. She is also starting to think about her fourth studio LP, the follow-up to 2012’s Choice Music Prize nominated Clocks (self released with the support of her considerable fan base).

She plans on unveiling Bird to the world in 2015. Unusually, the production was commissioned by four arts festivals, Dublin Theatre Festival, Cork Midsummer Festival, Galway Arts Festival and Kilkenny Arts Festival, as part of a new initiative called ‘Festival Firsts’.

“Bird is a re-imagining of the Happy Prince,” says the Galway native. “At the moment, I am finishing composing. I’m working with people from theatre because I want it to be accessible. One of the goals is for the audience to be able to enjoy it even if they don’t know anything about opera.”

Before all that she returns to her alma mater of UCC for a show at the weekend’s FUAIM festival. A graduate of the School of Music and Theatre, she feels the programme’s championing of eclecticism sets it apart from other institutions, and helped shape her as an artist.

Her most vivid memories are of the huge variety of musical disciplines which the school embraces and celebrates.

“I remember transcribing indian ragas, going into the gamelan [Indonesian orchestral instrument] room for the first time. Never in my life did I think I would end up doing stuff like that. I thought ’you learn your piano; receive your diploma’..the usual kind of music lessons. I did not imagine you could encounter such a breadth of music. It was like being inducted into another world.”

She later studied in the Netherlands and was struck by how much narrower musical education was there. Coming from UCC, her horizons seemed far wider.

“I’m not simply saying this because I went there, but if I was advising anyone to study music I would say Cork. The personalities are great and there isn’t the danger of being ‘rabbit-holed’ about anything and going too far down a path. You don’t compromise on specialisation while coming away with a broad education. I chose UCC on instinct and, as I subsequently learned, it was streets ahead.”

* Julie Feeney performs at FUAIM Festival’s opening concert at Cork Opera House Friday night.


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