Hear the Water

Naomi Berrill

Hear the Water

Naomi Berrill's new album is an ode to sea, using cello and vocals to conjure up its sounds. Julie Seagrave – in her second review as part of the Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme – hears undercurrents, unexpected pulls and more.

To the Sky is the second album from Galway cellist and vocalist Naomi Berrill, following on from 2014’s From the Ground. Now based in Florence, Berrill has played in various ensembles from the New York City Ballet to the Royal Scottish Academy Orchestra, and appears regularly in chamber ensembles across Italy.

With artists such as Berrill who freelance and perform the work of others, it can feel like an intimate reflection of their creative mind when original solo work is produced. Her sound is delicate and deliberate, her cello occupying an otherwise sparse soundscape, mainly met by her airy soprano vocals. In the ten original compositions of To the Sky, Berrill enlists the talent of family members and friends, with Peter and Matthew Berrill providing trumpet and clarinet respectively, and Simone Graxiano on piano. Berrill not only sings and plays cello on the album, but guitar and concertina also. 

Unexpected pulls
To The Sky, contrary to its name, is an ode to the sea and seems like a personal quest to translate the sounds of the sea into music. Several tracks carry a paragraph of maritime related thoughts. 
The opening track, ‘Lady Lighthouse’, sets the mood, and with lines such as ‘wild birds fly, and the waves of the sea fall and crash’ you can sense the sea air. Berrill sings from the point of view of the lighthouse, with her cello figurations in a minor key emulating potentially treacherous waters. 

She regularly uses arpeggios in the cello line to create a sense of buoyancy, particularly on ‘Ogni Cosa’ and ‘Journey’. Berill not only captures the waves that make boats bob, but the undercurrent and unexpected pulls under the surface by surprising us with quicker rhythmic turns. 

Word painting is also a go-to technique for Berrill. In ‘Still Life Snow’, the piano line echoes her lyrics in a simplistic, almost juvenile manner. Cold and crisp to begin, it descends into a quicker pattern as we are engulfed in a flurry of snow – ‘Now it falls faster down, twirling and whirling round’. The trumpet line, as in other tracks, transforms the piece by acting as an unexpected character on the winter walk Berrill takes us on.

Calm of the sea
The images of Berrill with a cello by the water on the album artwork verges on the surreal and you can feel the silkiness of the water in which she wades. A poem inside reflects the pensive tone of the album, making the reader slow down to appreciate the rhyming couplets with their calming message: 

Hear the water
By the Sea
Salty Wind
Thoughts blow free   

The sun will warm
In good time
Water evaporates
All will be fine

Berrill captures the calm of the sea with her meditative style. While some tracks sound similar to those on From the Ground (such as ‘Lullaby’), To the Sky can perhaps been seen as a continuation, part two of a compositional exploration.

Naomi Berrill’s To The Sky is available on Spotify and iTunes, and on CD at concerts or by email order. For more details, see naomiberrill.org

This review is published as part of a new scheme for music writers in Galway City. The Journal of Music/Galway City Council Music Writer Mentoring Scheme is supported by Galway City Council Arts Service and was launched in March 2017. Over 12 months, the editorial team of The Journal of Music will work with five new writers – Vincent Hughes, Shannon McNamee, Jake Morgan, Dylan Murphy and Julie Seagrave  – to expand the magazine’s coverage of musical life in the city. The first reviews from the Galway scheme include Vincent Hughes on Overhead, the Albatross and TalosJake Morgan on the RTÉ Concert OrchestraDylan Murphy on Brian Wilson, Shannon McNamee on Lankum and Julie Seagrave on Loah

This is one of three schemes currently underway. A second – supported by Clare County Council  – supports four new writers to cover musical life in County Clare. The eight reviews focussed on the Riches of Clare concert series and Floriane Blancke (Ian Bascombe), Paul Brady at Glór and the Martin Hayes Quartet (Deirdre Clare), Lisa Hannigan and An Tara (Ruth Smith), and The Boruma Trio and Florence Fahy (Alan Reid).

A third scheme, for writers in Northern Ireland, is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. For more, visit https://goo.gl/hVPVr5

For further details on the background to the schemes, please visit https://goo.gl/QY83ga.

Published on 7 March 2018

Julie Seagrave has been actively involved in music all her life, from playing piano and guitar through her formative years and at university. In 2012 she graduated with a BA from UCD, and in 2014 obtained a BMus from the same college with an undergraduate thesis on feminist representations in popular music. Julie continued her academic career with an MA in Music and Cultural History in UCC. She completed her master's thesis on the music of the Native Tongues, an early 90s hip-hop collective from New York.

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