by Len Lear and Lou Mancinelli
It was the tragic death of her husband-to-be that inspired Erdenheim longtime actress Meghan Cary to express her experience of loss through music. Since then, during the decades since her fiancé’s unexpected death in the spring of 1995, she taught herself to play on her late fiancé’s Martin acoustic guitar and has recorded six albums, the latest of which, “Sing Louder,” was recorded at Morningstar Studio in Ambler in July. (Meghan’s mantra in life is: “If you don’t know the words, sing louder.”)
Cary, who was described by one critic as having “the passionate voice of Melissa Etheridge singing the songs of Bruce Springsteen to a Paul Simon groove,” will perform at Alma Mater restaurant/bar, 7165 Germantown Ave., on Thursday, Dec. 10, 8 p.m.
In 1998, Billboard magazine named Cary, a working mother of two, its esteemed Critic’s Choice for Best Newcomer for her first album, “New Shoes.” Up until then she was a theater actress with over 100 credits for her work in the U.S. and Europe, and she had a successful voiceover career. “Can the world really stand one more sensitive troubadour?” the magazine’s writer said. “If the artist in question is Cary, the answer is a resounding yes.”
Cary will perform music Thursday with her husband, Peter Farrell, keyboard, and Cheryl Prashker, a Mt. Airy resident, on percussion. Also, they will be opening it up to a jam after their sets, so everyone can sing louder! According to Cary, Peter, who plays at least eight instruments is “one of the most talented and creative musicians I’ve ever had the honor to work with and my life partner and father of our children — a one-stop shop!”
Cary, 49, was a pre-med student at Duke University (’88) before changing her major to theater. She went on to earn a master’s in fine arts from the Florida State University Asolo Conservatory in 1990. Two days after the death of her fiancé, Matthew Black, Cary was scheduled to leave from the couple’s New York City apartment to Ellensville, New York, upstate in the Catskill Mountains, to rehearse for “Terra Nova.” The play focuses on an expedition to the South Pole.
After speaking with the show’s director, Cary, who was unsure at first, decided to attend rehearsal, albeit a week late. Her role as the wife of Con Scott, an explorer on an early polar expedition in “Terra Nova,” was quite fitting. In the character’s last speech, the wife arrives at where she is supposed to meet the explorers, only to find they have died.
It was up in the mountains in her room after rehearsal that Cary penned her first song, “The Rain Song.” She knew only three chords. One night in the home where cast members lived, a number of the cast were hanging out. As it came to pass, Cary was asked what the music was they heard her playing. Stuff she made up, she told them. They encouraged her to play the songs.
She did. And thus, her singing career was born. After the show ran in numerous cities through the region, Cary returned to NYC. Her late fiancé was supposed to perform at O’Flaherty’s, an Irish bar on 46th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Cary went to the bar the evening of the gig to inform the manager of her fiancé’s death. “Oh, well, can you do it anyway?” the manager asked her.
And so, Cary played the eight songs she knew, four originals and four covers, filling up space with her theatrical know-how and “engaging the audience through more than just song,” amidst drinking and the sound of billiards in the background. Cary continued to practice the guitar, write songs and perform in theater productions, as well as appear in commercials and record advertising voiceovers. A playwright friend of hers happened to know a producer, Scott McClatchy, which eventually led to Cary’s recording of her debut album, “New Shoes,” in the spring of 1997. The title song, “New Shoes,” written shortly after Black died, is extremely poignant. During a break in a rehearsal, Cary returned to the apartment where she had lived with her fiancé only to find a pair of new shoes he had not worn yet.
Before the debut album, Cary had only a tape of her recordings. Her desire to record an album was heightened after she performed her song, “Going Home,” in front of a crowd of 2,500 during the closing celebration of a New York-to-Boston AIDS Ride, a bicycle AIDS fundraiser.
Cary hosted her first album release party at Greenwich Village’s The Bitter End in May, 1997, a venue known for hosting the early likes of Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin. A coincidence, the date was three years to the day of her fiancé’s passing. Since then, Cary has continued to perform in the world of theater and television. She has toured the U.S. by booking her own shows and self-promoting. But she “wanted human contact in some other form than on the stage. I wanted to fall in love again.”
In 2004, she was engaged and married to Farrell. The couple eventually moved to Chestnut Hill in 2007, and in 2011 to Erdenheim. They have two children, Clara, 9, and Quinn, 7.
What singers would Cary most like to be compared to? “I love when people compare me to Melissa Etheridge and even Bruce Springsteen,” she said. “It’s the passion in their voices that keeps me listening to them and buying their music. There is this line in a song I learned back in grade school chorus: ‘Funny thing, but you can sing with a cry in your voice.’ It stuck with me. I like to tell stories in song, and to me the story just isn’t complete without all the emotional bits. I love being compared to other artists who really leave their soul out there on the notes.”