The Worst Thing is the Best Thing: When Enya Sold Her Saxophone

Did “Orinoco Flow” need a sax solo? No.

Photo by Janis Straume on Unsplash

Right now, Enya is probably sitting in her literal castle in Ireland, gazing thoughtfully at the clouds and composing another soothing melody in her mind. She doesn’t think about her $150 million net worth, but is comforted by the fact that her wealth lets her create just the music she wants and nothing else.

Would Enya be musing in the comfort of Manderley if she hadn’t sold her saxophone?

Enya started her career as part of a popular family band. The youngest member, she didn’t get much of a say and when the band’s former manager Nicky Ryan encouraged her to start a solo career, she did. Enya left County Donegal for Dublin, lived with Ryan and his wife Roma, and began creating the Enya sound.

Sadly, Irish family bands of the early 1980s didn’t hold down multi-million deals, so Enya started with very little. She teamed with the Ryan’s and they built a studio in their backyard. They still needed money, so when the bank wouldn’t cut her a break for a loan, she had to sell a personal possession — her saxophone.

At the time, Enya must have felt awful. An instrument is a precious possession and if The Simpsons has taught me anything, it’s that saxophones are a necessary part of creative expression. To sell off one of the primary tools of the trade is never easy. Yet, it may have been the best thing she ever did.

During these backyard studio years, the Enya trio developed her signature sound which turned into 80 million record sales and an over 30 year career.

Enya is folded into the New Age category, but her style is truly unique. From Lord of the Rings to Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, her music works across genres. Though it’s been played a million times, just try and listen to Orinoco Flow (the Sail Away song) and not be transported by the exceptional jam that it is!

But would that have happened if she kept her saxophone? Enya’s music is layered with strings, synths, and vocals, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a horn solo. On the Motherfocloir podcast, they mused about the idea of 80s sax solos ruining the majesty of Enya and I think they’re right. A “Careless Whisper” style saxophone break would easily ruin any Enya hit.

At the time, selling her sax may have felt like a terrible low. A defeat against her potential musical career. She probably wondered if she could ever afford another one or if she’d ever make it as a singer at all.

But getting rid of that sax was a blessing. It forced Enya and her managers to create something entirely new. Now, if Enya wants to do a record of Wham covers and sax solos, she could do it. She could fill a room with saxophones, using them as instruments, vases, and chalices for the finest of wines.

The worst day might have been the best day.

Granted, I don’t really know what Enya was thinking as she gave up her woodwind. This is all speculation, very low stakes Enya fan fiction.

But we all have those bad days. The days that seem dark and tinged with failure. You don’t have to feel good about these bad days (telling you to look on the bright side of something shitty is supremely useless), but somewhere in your mind, remember Enya. Maybe your bad time is a saxophone that needs to go.

Soon, you’ll be sailing away to better days, possibly even benefiting from what you thought was a failure.

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