Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
When I was 9 years old, my parents took me to see ‘Annie’ on Broadway. While I had been singing casually at school and music festivals up until then, it was watching this musical in NYC that ignited the spark in me to pursue music as a passion and ultimately as a career. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire performance. Watching young girls my age perform on stage is what inspired me to do this myself. After the show, I returned to my aunt’s house in Connecticut where our family was staying and spent the evening singing songs from the show in the backyard, annoying my sister and cousin while I did.
My mother was my first major influence. I grew up in a small village with very little access to concerts or a wide range of music. She was a classically trained pianist, and her training in this genre is what guided her to seek out classical vocal training for me as a child. I ultimately pursued a degree in music with a concentration in vocal performance because of her. She also accompanied me in musical festivals and school performances as well as church where she was the organist.
As a child I loved Kathleen Battle and Emma Kirkby. As I moved away from classical to more of a fusion of contemporary, folk and pop music, I have been very influenced by Eva Cassidy, Alison Krauss, Yo-Yo Ma, Josh Groban, and k.d. lang.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
One of the greatest challenges in my career has been finding a work/life balance. I made a choice early in my career to put my daughter’s needs ahead of my career choices. Trying to find a balance between being a mother while still moving my career forward has been a challenge over the years, but one that I have never regretted.
It has also been a challenge to find a place to fit, musically speaking. Many times, the industry likes to place musicians into genres and categories to give a point of reference. I have spent most of my life not fitting into one by developing a style that is unique to me. Yet sometimes that means people aren’t quite sure where I fit.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am most proud of ‘True North: The Canadian Songbook’ and the current album ‘I Can See Hope From Here’. They certainly represent my best work and they were most fulfilling to create. It was a mammoth task just to complete True North within 2.5 years given its epic scope. 32 iconic Canadian songs reimagined by 14 arrangers, recorded with 10 Canadian orchestras featuring 28 guest artists. A coffee table book accompanies the 2 CDs and showcases landscape photography from across the country by 22 photographers as well as portraits featuring the work of Canadian fashion designers. This project represents my passion for Canada, and it also represents a deeply meaningful artistic collaboration with a talented team of people who helped bring it to fruition.
I Can See Hope From Here not only gives me a chance to release the title track from the album as a single, but it also allows me to bring awareness to the important work of The Unison Fund in Canada, as a portion of the proceeds will go to their COVID relief program in support of musicians who have been devastated by the pandemic
One of my most memorable performances was performing with David Foster at his Foundation Gala in Halifax, Canada – Thrilling!
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Rarely is there a contemporary ballad I do not like to sing. I love lyrics that are deeply emotional, and when they are set to a melody that is lyrical and connected to the ethos of the song, I am hooked. Sometimes I love music that is produced with a simple and sparse treatment, and sometimes I love being immersed in the lushness of a gorgeous orchestral arrangement. I also love music that defies genre to focus on the character of a song through mixing instrumentation that may not often be paired together.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
Life. Off stage I have certainly faced many life challenges. I once remarked to the studio engineer that I work with that the struggles in my life have likely been the greatest influence on my music. Once one achieves a certain level of training, it is the emotion one pours into the music that truly inspires performance.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I choose music based on how it moves me. Does it take me to my knees emotionally or does it lift me up to a point of being truly inspired? I must be able to relate it to some aspect of my life. If there is a true marriage between the lyrics and the music in conveying the overall meaning of the song, then I am often drawn to it.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love each venue for its own reasons – each one is unique. But ultimately it is about the audience and the interaction and connection that takes place during a performance that matters most.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?
I feel there are ways to make performances more immersive to enhance how listeners experience the music, like performing in non-traditional venues…or developing unexpected collaborations. I also feel that it is important, now more than ever, to create meaningful and relevant online content to attract and grow new audiences.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Two moments stand out for me.
The first was hearing Andrea Bocelli, his guest artists, choir, and orchestra perform at a benefit concert for his foundation at the Coliseum in Rome. It was a very intimate concert yet also quite epic. It was absolutely magical.
The second moment was when I visited Catherine the Great’s summer palace outside St. Petersburg. A male quintet was performing Russian folk songs in one of the outer buildings on the grounds. The quality of the voices, their vocal blend, and the absolute perfection of pitch was breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerizing. All of this was enhanced by the exquisite acoustic of the building.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success to me is defined in experiencing those magical musical moments in a performance that are transcendent whether that be through the emotional experience or by being in awe of the extraordinary musicianship of the colleagues I have the honour to work with.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be authentic to your soul and to your individuality. Know who you are to your core and do not be afraid to express it. Effectively expressing yourself through your music is what makes you unique. Do not try to fit into a mould. Perform from a heart-centred place to really connect with the emotion of the music and your audience will know that you truly mean every note.
What is your present state of mind?
The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. I am hopeful for the future that we will find our way through this crisis even if it is not a straight path ahead and things may be different than they once were. I am someone who finds the silver lining or life lesson when I am faced with challenges, and this has been no different. I have gratitude for where I am in my life, I am surrounded by love with family and friends, and I have much to be hopeful for. I feel grounded and happy in my life.
Eleanor McCain’s new album “I Can See Hope From Here” is available now.
To learn more about True North: The Canadian Songbook, please click on the links below.
Eleanor McCain – Live performance of “Hallelujah” with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
The Guest Artists
The Canadian Landscape
TNCSB Full Video Collection
Eleanor McCain has dazzled audiences for more than a decade with a voice that has been described as “lovely…full and expressive.” (Halifax Chronicle-Herald)
Hailing from New Brunswick, Canada, this multiple East Coast Music Award-nominated classical crossover artist has recorded six albums, toured with noted JUNO-nominated jazz singer Matt Dusk, and appeared with orchestras across Canada. She’s also had the honour of collaborating with artists such as Roch Voisine, Natalie MacMaster, Jens Lindemann, Jan Lisiecki, Liona Boyd, John McDermott, Chantal Kreviazuk, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and Carlos Nunez, among others.