Bláthnaid Conroy Murphy

Freelance Musician
Self Employed
Ireland
Music
Bachelor of Music
2009

I learned a lot about what I was and wasn't good at in terms of subject choice, and I think that's important to know in life.

In terms of musicality, the best learning I did was in John O'Keefe's Plain Chant Performance module. He taught me how to really learn a song, how to get to the essence of the meanings of the words, and how to embody them in performance. It was quite peculiar and profound, but it really has had an impact on me to this day.
 

My career path has been a long one, beginning when I was just two years old.

When I was a baby and young child, I went to a minders' house, as both my parents worked. My minders' daughter, Katherine, at the time was studying for her performance diploma in piano and my cot was located in the piano room, so I spent many hours listening to her practicing. Story has it, that as soon as I could reach the keys, I began playing one of her pieces at pitch by ear. Thankfully, she recognised my talent and began giving me piano lessons from the age of two.

At the age of five, my parents sent me to the Conservatory of Music and Drama, DIT, where I began studying piano with Darina Gibson, and some years later, Pádhraic Ó Cuinneagáin. Along with instrumental lessons in DIT, we attended musicianship classes, which I believe are essential for a proper education in music. I am extremely grateful for the education I received through DIT, as it laid the foundation of my knowledge for my B.Mus degree and my career as a professional musician.

For four years I was a member of Cór na nÓg, RTÉ, under the directorship of Blánaid Murphy, my almost namesake! I learned a lot about choral singing, harmonies, performance, and of course sight reading during my time with them; skills that have all been essential to my career.

Throughout school, I was involved in a lot of musical activity; playing the piano for musicals, accompanying, arranging songs and harmonies for the folk group, performing solo piano and singing. I also learned guitar, self taught with help from my Dad and from other friends that played.

During my first year of college at Maynooth (2007), I auditioned for and joined the professional vocal ensemble, Anúna. Apart from playing piano at weddings and accompanying people, this was my first ongoing involvement in a professional group. I was employed as a professional singer, and toured with the group across the Netherlands, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Japan, China, Belgium, and Germany. I also have recorded several albums with the group and filmed for DVDs.

After I graduated college in 2009, I taught piano for a year at the Churchtown School of Music. I also undertook freelance work around Dublin and Ireland, as a professional pianist, singer, and choral singer.

In 2010, I met The Wiggles, the Australian children's music group, whilst filming with Anúna for one of The Wiggles' Christmas DVDs. The Wiggles saw the necessary spark of creativity within me and asked me to join them as a singer, musician and performer for their Big Show Christmas tour around Australia in November and December of that year (2010). I got myself an Australian working visa and moved to Sydney, Australia. For the next two years, I toured internationally as a musician, dancer and performer in The Wiggles cast, travelling around Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the USA. I also did a lot of recording and filming work with The Wiggles, and wrote and arranged songs and music for their albums. One of the highlights of my time with The Wiggles was performing live at the 'Carols in the Domain' in Sydney. I got to sing a top D live in front of 80,000 people!

In 2013, I moved back to Dublin and took some time off then to do some inter-railing around Europe. There's nothing like living in Australia to give you an appreciation of how close everything is in Europe! Since then, I have been back in Ireland working as a professional singer and pianist.

In 2015 I joined 'Lassus', a professional choir specialising in Lassus music. We have recorded our debut album, which is to be released in 2016.

My current role, as a freelance musician in Ireland, involves also having a part time day job as a barista. I decided it would be wise for me to have another skill where I could pick up part time work, possibly also in different countries. I also enjoy interacting with people at the cafe. People are usually quite happy that you're serving them coffee, so it can be a lot of fun! I like the physicality of the work, it literally keeps you on your feet. I had a great cafe boss once that said we were 'serving joy to people', not unlike what I do as a musician as well. 

A typical day for me involves beginning with an hour of 'promotion' work. This could be writing biographies about myself for different forums; connecting with people via emails, updating my website, using social media, researching what's going on in Dublin, etc.

Next I like to spend maybe half an hour replying to emails, paying bills, sending invoices, etc.  - stuff that is essential to my work but not directly self promotion.

Then I do some practice, usually singing first, then piano. Depending on what gigs or performances I have coming up I will do more of one than the other. This can be quite intense work, especially when I'm learning new piano music, so it's nice to go outside for a walk or run in the park after my practice session.

It's also important to be physically fit for singing and playing piano, so I try to get outside or do some yoga or ballet indoors if it's raining. I also cycle everywhere (although not that fast!), which I find quite relaxing and enjoyable.

In terms of performances, I do a range of things. I sing in many beautiful venues around Ireland with Anúna Corporate. I do session work, recording vocals/instruments in the studio. I accompany instrumentalists and singers for grade exams, and also accompany various choirs for competitions and events. I sing with professional choirs for funerals, weddings and services in church. I also play piano/fender rhodes in a band called 'The Sun Collective' and we do gigs regularly around Dublin. We also record and film our songs.

 

I find it challenging that my income is unpredictable. To counter this, I have kept really strict accounts for a year and uploaded the information into excel so I can see patterns in how I earn and how I spend.

I also find it challenging to try to keep to a regular work schedule when every day is different. The upside to this is that things don't become monotonous.

What I find most interesting about my job, is that I actually get paid to play/sing beautiful music, and I think this is really cool! I also think it is something of great value and I feel very privileged to have the skills that I have. Like I said earlier, as musicians we bring joy and sometimes healing to people that we perform to, and that is pretty special indeed.

I love a performance where I really get in the zone and then have the audience respond in such a way that acknowledges that. So much of our time as musicians/performers is spent critiquing ourselves that we can forget how the overall effect looks. It's almost like we don't actually get to experience our own performance. The audience can act like a mirror, and suddenly you can see what you've created.
 

Basically, any work that I get is usually through contacts. I get asked to sing at weddings/funerals with groups that I have sung with before, or I get asked to accompany instrumental students of people that I work with. The work I got with The Wiggles was just from getting to know them when we were filming and showing an interest in what they were doing.

Sometimes I have to follow up contacts as well, as naturally people can forget that they meant to send you such and such email.

Also sometimes I have to just be forward about it and introduce myself to people at gigs etc. I got some really nice looking business cards printed with my website details, which are very useful for such situations.

I would say, know what you are best at, and then pursue that. With freelance music, there is no template. You have to make your own path. It is useful to look at successful people in the industry and analyse the path that they took, and also think about what it is about their career that resonates with you.

At the end of the day, it's important to be able to look after yourself financially and otherwise, and if you get some work that you enjoy doing, all the better. Come back to me in ten years and I'll probably have some totally different advice to give!