Anora is an artist that was new to me; a fact that only adds to how impressed I am with what an incredibly multi-talented person she is. And I’m sure that as this album gets more exposure in the media and is heard by many people, her name and music will become well known. Actually, “Anora” is her artist identity, while her “real” name is Molly Bohman, but for the purpose of this feature article I’ll refer to her as Anora since we are focusing on her artistic endeavors. In terms of the spectrum of her talents, Anora describes herself in this way: “I have many years of experience with dance, orchestra (viola), musical theater, choir, and private voice. This diversity has made it possible for me to play the part of producer, composer, instrumentalist, and vocalist, as well as incorporate multiple styles of music into my work.”
Music was an integral part of Anora’s life growing up. At the age of 10, her parents bought her a viola and signed her up for school orchestra. By the time she was in high school she was performing in orchestra and choir concerts. After high school, Anora attended Brigham Young University and, while she didn’t study music specifically, she was a member of the University Chorale and the University String Orchestra. Soon after she could be heard in performance with a number of local choirs and orchestras, as well as in multiple musical theater productions, and even a 10 member a cappella group. In addition to Anora’s viola and exquisite vocals, which we’ll discuss in more detail, she also plays and composes on keyboards using a variety of orchestral and electronic sounds. All this in addition to being the mother of six daughters!
In my interview with Anora, I asked about her creative process and what led her to play the kind of music she does. In her words: “it’s definitely my love of dance music and EDM (electronic dance music) along with my passion for classical and ambient music. I love playing with different styles and instrumentation, switching them around to other genres to see if it may appeal to a different audience. It’s just interesting that we may not really like a song until it is presented to us in a form of music that we connect with. There is so much classical music out there that is just amazing and I want people to hear it, but I don’t think some people will truly listen until it is recreated into something more modern. I had a lot of fun on this album by replacing harpsichord with electric guitar and adding synth pads, bells, drums, etc. You would never know it was Beethoven!”
When I asked about Anora’s musical influences, her answer revealed a lot about what elements the listener can expect to hear woven into her compositions: “I have always admired Enya for her simplicity and her ethereal sound. Beethoven and Bach are geniuses and I still have so much to learn from them. When I first saw Celtic Woman on PBS, I loved everything about them – their look, their stage presence, and their music. I also really love Sarah Brightman’s music. It’s intense and a bit mysterious, and it often features modern elements like electric guitar and drums that I love so much.”
Soon after seeing Celtic Woman, which had such an impact on her, Anora landed her first-ever vocal solo in a production of “The Ten Virgins: A Musical Parable.” It was the most amazing experience for her and she knew this was what she wanted to do with the rest of her life, leading her to enroll in the music program at Utah Valley University where she studied voice for a year, as well as with private teachers. After the birth of her sixth child, Anora took a break from these large scale productions, bought a keyboard workstation and recording equipment, and began to focus on her own music, which can be heard on this recently released album, Labyrinth. According to Anora: “This album represents feeling lost or broken and finding your way back home. You can hear that theme clearly in the lyrics of some of the songs. In others, it manifests itself through the music itself and the feelings it is meant to invoke.”
Clicking “play” on the first track, “Fantasy,” is like opening the lid of an enchanting music box – literally, that’s what it sounds like, with its charming melody and tinkling notes. As Anora’s vocal comes in on the first verse, we are introduced to her crystal clear voice that at first evokes an Enya-like comparison, but as the song evolves, reveals a touch of operatic quality more like Sarah Brightman. Hearing the tone and clarity of Anora’s voice on this track provided my first wow-moment of the album. I think the second of these moments was when, quite unexpectedly at about a minute and a half, an electronic rhythm track drops in and gives the song a whole different flavor, and quite a tasty one, I might add. Here, Anora shares some background on this piece: “’Fantasy’ is based on “Folia” by Alessandro Scarlatti and ‘Piano Sonata No. 17, Op. 31/2 ‘Tempest’ III. Allegretto by Ludwig van Beethoven.” The lyrics deal with dreams on different levels, as heard in the first verse:
“A vibrant dream, immersed in light,
I’ll paint the sky, embrace the night.
A lucid sea of brilliant hues
Illuminates my soul.”
There is so much content in Anora’s music between her vocals, instrumentation, imaginative lyrics, back-story, and more that I couldn’t possible go into detail on all 13 tracks within the scope of the feature article. But I will, however, share what are for me some of the highlights. Another big surprise came with the second song, “The Final Countdown.” When I read that title I wondered if it could possibly be the same song as done by the 80’s rock group, Europe. And indeed it is, although quite a different rendition! With its chamber ensemble meets rock band arrangement, it brought to mind another group of that era, Electric Light Orchestra, also known as ELO. As Anora describes: “I have always loved this song. It is one of my favorite songs of all time. It really gets your heart pumping. I heard a piano rendition of it and realized it had great potential as a classical crossover masterpiece.” An absolutely shredding electric violin solo by Aaron Ashton adds rock credibility, and Anora’s soaring high notes on her vocal solo towards the end evokes the guitar playing of Carlos Santana or David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.
In stark contrast, the next tune, “My Lagan Love,” is solo vocal with a Celtic air. And drawing from Anora’s previously mentioned EDM influence is a piece called “Now We Are Free (Progressive Trance Mix), that would appeal to fans of Enigma. The song was originally written by Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt, and vocalist Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, who sings in what is called an ideoglossia (an idiosyncratic language). This is her own language that she uses in a lot of her music. Their original version was featured in the film, Gladiator. Anora also includes another rendition of this song towards the end of the album that is quite cinematic in its own right.
The album’s dramatic title track is quite emotionally evocative and highlights Anora’s abilities as a storyteller. Based on “Passacaglia in D minor” by Christian Friedrich Witt, formerly attributed to J.S. Bach, Anora describes it as: “…representing the confusion and helplessness that we all inevitably feel at some point in our lives. For me, it’s depression and anxiety, which has been a lifelong struggle. I hope people can connect with this song in some way.” The electric guitar of Michael Dowdle, violin by Aaron Ashton, and the cello of Nicole Pinnell add to the drama and intensity. And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Steven Lerud at Lakeview Recording Studio who edited, mixed, mastered, and co-produced the album, as well as adding instrumentation and orchestration – outstanding work by a true professional! I’m sure that his skilled collaboration helped to bring out the best in Anora’s beautiful music.
The gentle Celtic-tinged melody of “When The Children Cry,” harkens a bit to the sound of Blackmore’s Night, and particularly their lead vocalist Candice Night, while the poignant lyrics speak of mankind’s inhumanity and self-destructive tendencies. On “Prayer,” I especially liked the gentle descending harp progression and the way Anora layered her vocals to create a choir-like effect, which she does on a number of the songs. A track entitled “Fly With Me” is described by Anora as: “my first attempt at fully composing my own piece. I wanted this song to be about freedom from fear, guilt, fatigue, too much responsibility and expectations, the limitations of my human body and the weaknesses of my human mind.” In our interview, she spoke extensively about this, but one quote in particular resonated with me personally as I’m sure it will with others: “Be kind to yourself and magnify your gifts.” It’s a lovely drifting piece with an interesting laid-back rhythm track that incorporates tabla drum sounds, shakers, and bell-tones.
The above description of the music on this album, truly just begins to scratch the surface of all that is contained within the diverse twists and turns of Labyrinth. I sincerely wish I could more fully illuminate all the treasures to be uncovered in this fascinating listening experience. While so many different musical elements are expressed, the common thread of Anora’s voice ties it all together and makes the album feel like a complete body of work. Throughout this feature article I’ve mentioned a number of artists as reference points, but perhaps the most relevant comparison would be with multi-instrumentalist David Arkenstone and vocalist Charlee Brooks on their highly regarded album Lovéren. I have no doubt that Labyrinth could be a hugely popular album for Anora as well, and introduces the impressive musical talents of an artist to keep an eye (and an ear) on.
Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: