Meditations on a Timeless Muse
My friend Megan had made me a promise a few years back.
She's said, “If Loreena McKennitt comes back to Pittsburgh, we'll go see her.”
That promise was fulfilled on November fifth, Guy Fawkes Day! We didn't blow anything up, but we did have a wonderful time. Incidentally, our American election was on that Tuesday...less said about that, the better.
I've been a fan of Ms. McKennitt since I was a teenager. My first exposure to her music was from the documentary No Journey's End—in which she was depicted on tour, while writing her then current album The Mask and Mirror (1994, pictured above). That same album was to become my first Loreena McKennitt album. I played it so many times, almost in marathons back in the 90's. I memorized the entire thing. I'd play it back-to-back with The Visit and The Book of Secrets. I even read along with the lyric books.
This concert, as part of the Troubadour Performance, was held at the gorgeous Byham Theater. I'd been there once before to see Neko Case. This was concert in which the audience sat, and listened. Yet, I was glad to hear cheers and shouts, for even the most somber of tunes. I'd rather not spoil the setlist for other fans, but I will say the show opening surprised me. The familiar harp strings of Samian Night pulled us into the mist-shrouded world of McKennitt's music. It was as if we were being taken back in time, to a world of stone circles, and bardic traditions.
Indeed, she performed the role of wise woman that night. Not only did McKennitt sing to us, she also told us stories. There were stories of her travels, and the inspirations behind her music. One such story that comes to mind is the one about buying the skull of Brian Boru. Another is a tale about being busted for busking in London. I'd rather not spoil either of these stories, as they are both hilarious. You just have to be there to experience them.
There was also a bit of commentary as well.
One of the points that Ms. McKennitt brought up was that of children and digital media. It seems that these days children are being weaned on the “glass teat” so to speak. They are exposed to electronic media at a much younger age, and are more dependent on such media. The internet is a good thing, believe me. But it's that children and teens spend so much time texting to friends, instead of spending time with friends, that something is lost in the process.
This was evidenced when someone, against the performer's wishes, took a photo of Loreena McKennitt as she was speaking.
Her response was polite, as she said, “Have you not heard? If you could please put your cellphones away, and other things, that would be great.”
She smiled, and was applauded. That's the way to handle that sort of situation. The person who took the photo also had the audacity to use a flash!
Loreena McKennitt has a very warm personality. She's gentle, well-spoken, and conversational. It felt as if she were guiding us, and imparting lessons upon us, in a very loving way. I was very impressed with her as a person, just as much as I've always been impressed with her as a musician. Her performance surpassed my expectations. So much so, that I count her as being on even keel with Lindsey Stirling for best concert ever!
On a personal note...
In my teenage summers I'd have some alone time in the evenings, as my father was at work. I would make dinner, and then put on McKennitt's music as I ate. I would then drink mint tea, open the windows, and let in the warm summer breezes. It was like a form of de-stressing.
I'd also sometimes write with her music playing softly in the background. Or, I'd lie in bed, and listen to her—completely surrounded by the sonic landscapes from my boombox (which my mother had bought for me as my first stereo). It'd enter into a sort of serene imagining. I would visualize every word she sang. I could see the people and places that McKennitt mentioned in her music, even though I'd not been to any of those places yet. I had that same waking fantasy while listening to her that very night. She's one of the few musicians who had that effect on me.
While I'll not spoil the setlist, I will mention two songs in
First, as her second some that night, Ms. McKennitt played Annachie Gordon.
I turned to Megan, who smiled at me. It's my favorite Loreena McKennitt song. It's also one of the most tragic. It tells of a young woman who is arranged to marry a wealthy Scottish nobleman. It's against her wishes, as she'd rather marry the poor sailor, mentioned in the title. I pictured every word, as if these people were real. I cried as I did so.
I cried during almost everything song. I'll get personal, and use her first name here. Loreena's voice is even more powerful in real life! I remember the first time I saw her on television, and thought, “Who is this woman? She has the most beautiful voice I've ever heard.” She still does have the most beautiful voice I've ever heard. I cried at such beauty. Megan told me that she did likewise. So many emotions came to the surface during that concert. So many memories as well.
I remembered the first time I heard The Visit was on Christmas Day. It was given to me as a gift, as was Parallel Dreams. I remembered hearing Elemental for the first time. William Blake's words, and Loreena's music...I was never the same after that.
I also remember playing her music for my mother on several
occasions. To which my mother replied, “She has a haunting voice.”
I thought of my mother, as Loreena sang Dante's Prayer—a song she'd written to memorialize her father. Yes, I cried again, but was thankful for it.
Seeing her in concert was therapeutic for me. It was as if I'd recovered another lost part of myself—one that I didn't realize I'd lost, until now. I am thankful for that.
I'm also thankful for Megan accompanying me. I didn't want to go alone, and not have someone to share the experience with. She had admitted that had she not met me three years ago, she would have gone by herself as well. I'm one of the few people she knows that is into this sort of music.
It was bittersweet for her as well. She'd lost a much loved uncle a few years ago. He was also a fan of Loreena's music, and so the concert was a chance to pay tribute to him. I don't think she'd mind me mentioning that.
As we head into the end of the year, it's a time for reflection. It's a time also to look to the future, while we respect the past, and the lessons we learn from it.
Let us hope that 2017 is year in which we never forget. Let us also hope that it's a year that brings new and great things—such as a new album by Loreena McKennitt!
Text copyright Riley Joyce 2016