A holiday Q&A session with Honorary Colonel Loreena McKennitt

News Article / November 3, 2017

By Melissa Addison

The Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces (CBCAF) is hosting their annual Holiday Concert December 12 and 13 at the Centrepointe Theatre in Ottawa, with guest vocalist Loreena McKennitt. We sat down with her to find out how her role as Royal Canadian Air Force honorary colonel is meaningful, what it's like to partner with the CBCAF, and, of course, what her favourite holiday song is. 

What is your favourite part of working with the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces?

First of all, it’s rare for me to perform with a band of this nature and one this large. It has also allowed me to perform a kind of repertoire I wouldn’t do normally. Of course, it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to stretch, creatively speaking, especially with such a high-calibre band. It is nothing short of thrilling to be on stage and surrounded by all that glorious sound. One becomes quite literally immersed in the music. It’s like nothing else!

How has your appointment as Honorary Colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force affected your life?

The appointment has enriched my life in ways I could never have imagined. In fact, I often think I get more out of this association than the RCAF does. In my career, I come from two modalities, the first of which is the artistic one. The second modality involves me as the CEO and general manager of a small, independent international enterprise where we create, produce and distribute music around the world. We also do international tours at times with up to 40 people, four buses and two trucks. Ultimately, I am the one responsible for overseeing all aspects of these enterprises, from budgets and logistics to marketing and communications.

Being exposed to the structure of a military organization, including policies procedures and protocols, has strengthened my sense of the importance of these dimensions – in any profession or organization. This structure is the skeleton on which other content and creative dimensions can rest safely and successfully. These things, however, are not renowned in the music industry. Interestingly, since my induction as honorary colonel, there have been a few comments on how the appointment has influenced my management style.

How do you see your role as honorary colonel of the Royal Canadian Air Force affecting the Canadian Armed Forces’ community?

It’s hard to say, but given this position is designed to be a bridge between the civilian and Canadian Armed Forces’ [CAF] community, my hope is that there’s some kind of reciprocity of communication happening in both directions. In my view, there’s still a lot of awareness building needed among the general public. I only have to look at my own experience as an example. Until this role, I knew painfully little of what people in the Canadian Forces did for Canadians. And I still have an enormous amount to learn.

Obviously, having spent nearly 11 years as an Honorary Colonel, I’ve gained a much better appreciation of the situation. I’ve also endeavoured, through whatever means possible, to share what I’m learning with others, often through my career or simply through being a member of the general public myself. I hope this has a positive impact on the CAF community.

As I’ve become much more aware of the particular challenges faced by military families, I’ve also endeavoured, where and when I can, to offer my own insights and experiences, as a parent and as the director of the family-focused Falstaff Family Centre in Stratford, Ontario where I live. I continually strive to be an advocate for families of all kinds.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I suppose I’m proud of the fact that through my own self-driven pursuit of history, particularly of the Celts, I’ve learned a lot about people and cultures along the way. I’m pleased to be able to render that into music people enjoy. Really, pride is less a preoccupation for me than feeling that what I am doing is meaningful.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy being outside, gardening, hiking, camping or cycling. I also spend a fair bit of my spare time studying child development and the settings in which we, as a species, thrive.

Do you have a favourite memory of a performance?

There are so many good memories to draw upon and one of them would certainly be performing at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. We performed a series of live concerts in the medieval Moorish castle, which were later broadcast on PBS as part of their Great Performances series. We also released a DVD and CD of the performances, which were called “Nights from the Alhambra”. The setting was stunning and the rotunda where we performed was open and had no ceiling. I remember looking up every once and again and I could see the night sky. Sometimes it was clear and starry and other times it was full of clouds passing by. It was lovely.

What inspires you as an artist? What influences your music?

Like many artists, I find the human condition inspiring. I also find I’m likely to be more creative when I’m in a natural setting, rather than an environment with a lot of visual and aural stimulation.

Most certainly I was influenced by the genre of Celtic music early on and that has always remained with me. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed a variety of other types of music, like Baroque and Portuguese Fado. I’ve also sought to weave different genres into my own creative process, particularly Eastern and Middle Eastern music.

I have also enjoyed working in other mediums, such as theatre and film. Being exposed to other creative energies works as a catalyst to my own.

What is your favourite holiday song?

It’s hard to pick just one. I love a number of them – Coventry Carol, Silent Night, Once in Royal David’s City.

Do you have a favourite holiday tradition?

I like to sing carols with friends and have tried to host this type of event for a few years now, either personally or at the Falstaff Family Centre, which I own. I enjoy carol singing, as much as I can get it and in almost any setting. I remember carolling in retirement homes during the 1980s, all on my own with my harp and accordion – even at Toronto’s Pearson Airport one Christmas Eve when I was on my way home to Manitoba with my harp.

Melissa Addison is a public advisor with Canadian Forces Support Unit (Ottawa). This article originally appeared in Guard of Honour News, CFSU(O)’s online base newspaper.

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