Taking note of the homeless crisis

Inspired by people she met at Penny Dinners, Elizabeth Murphy wrote an anthem on homelessness, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Taking note of the homeless crisis
Elizabeth Murphy.

A YOUNG Cork woman has used the power of music to help people truly understand what it means to be homeless.

Elizabeth Murphy grew up on College Road and is now based in London, studying music business at the Academy of Contemporary Music.

After being inspired by the life stories of people she met at Cork’s Penny Dinners, she decided to write an anthem and record a video for the group, mobilising an impressive 85 piece ensemble.

The group comprised the UCC choir, the Voiceworks choir, 35 musicians and importantly the High Hopes choir, which is made up of members of the homeless community.

Elizabeth explains how the project started: “I was lucky to collaborate with Stephen Bean, the cinematographer at UCC composing music for his short films. I was introduced to Caitriona Twomey and the wonderful volunteers and community at Penny Dinners while working with Stephen on his Penny Dinners documentary which featured in the Cork Indie festival last week.

“I learned a lot about the cold realities of homelessness. I was inspired by the life stories of the men and women I met in the community and although at the beginning I couldn’t identify with them, I came to understand that the only thing that really separates us is a home and different opportunities. We are all the same otherwise.

“Along the way we discovered the High Hopes choir, made up of members of the homeless community, and we also noticed a motto on a plaque over the door of Penny Dinners: ‘We are united in Song’. Stephen and I realised then that the High Hopes choir had to feature in his documentary so we decided to film them singing. This snowballed into its own project — the anthem I wrote.”

This was the first song the accomplished musician wrote for someone other than herself, which she described as a great responsibility.

“I was writing about something I had no experience of. But after getting to know the Penny Dinners community I sat at the piano and wrote what I imagined homelessness to be and feel like.”

A modest Elizabeth, who also performs the song, which is available to see on YouTube, said: “I hope that I did a reasonable job and that people get it when they listen to the song.”

Elizabeth, daughter of former UCC President Michael Murphy, said: “As the concept of the music video grew I wanted it to be used to create awareness that people like you and me are sleeping on the streets every night. Everybody knows that but I wanted people to really feel it. I think music has the power to do that.”

She said it was easier than one might imagine to get so many musicians to back the project and to come together for the recording.

In fact, everyone involved gave a full day to record the video in the Aula Maxima and many more days went into learning prior to the recording.

“Stephen and I also knew many of the participants for various reasons; I studied singing at Voiceworks, my dad has worked with Pat Cotter at UCC for many years, who gave us access to the space and the choir, and I knew many of the musicians from the Cork School of Music,” she added.

So far, the feedback to the song has been “amazing”, but she stresses it’s not the end point.

“The important thing is that the government invests in housing to take people off the streets and to ensure that everybody lives in dignity in their own home.”

Elizabeth has been playing the violin since she was four and finished her grade 8 and musicianship studies with the Cork School of Music two years ago.

“As I began writing songs at the age of seven I have a pretty big catalogue by now. I also spent some time at Dubspot in New York which helped with music production skills,” she said.

Next up for her is the release of her first single Jungle Brain at the beginning of December.

Describing her style as indie-pop, it will be released on Spotify and other platforms.

See the moving piece of music for yourself by searching YouTube under ‘Cork Penny Dinners music video’ or at https://youtube.com/embed/PzdFJYK6s

Follow @eizamurphy on Instagram for updates on her single release.

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