Music for the Soul – A Conversation with Chris MacLean

by Lynn Stevenson

“I want to be awake,” says Wakefield singer/songwriter Chris MacLean

explaining why music is not only a passion, but a necessity in her life.

Without being melodramatic, she adds, “I think if I didn’t have either music or painting, I would be dead – these things feed the soul”.

Many things feed the soul of this talented artist – from the rock and water

of her home in West Quebec, her dear friends, meditation or the memory of a special dog who passed away a year ago.  Chris MacLean sings about peace, hope and the importance of protecting the environment.

Her pure voice channels compassion on “Nightbird,” for a man she never knew who committed suicide after a struggle with mental illness. But she says she never sets out to write about specific things: “You write what you write – what the muse gives you.”

Her efforts have earned Chris MacLean recognition with awards such as the Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award for “Feet Be Still’ and the OCFF Songs from the Heart Award in the historical category for “Sisters of Charity” – which tells the sad but inspiring tale of a Cree woman and her children struggling against racism and injustice in mid-1800s Manitoba.

Chris has had many struggles of her own in life, but music gives her

hope and makes her smile. Coming home from practice with Fred Guignion (guitar), Stuart Watkins (bass) and Beth Cahill (mandolin and vocals) she describes it as one of her happiest days in weeks.  While it hasn’t been easy, Chris knows that music is what she was meant to do.

Chris MacLean’s interest in music started at an early age. She composed and sang folk songs and played in a bluegrass band as a young adult before marriage and children took her away from it for well over a decade.  Coming back to it in her late 30s, she was struck by narrow attitude of the music industry. Despite considerable talent, she was told she was basically too old to make it in the business.  This was a frustrating aspect of the youth culture that she says dominates life here.  It is not something you find in eastern cultures, where experience is honoured and respected.

But Chris did not let that attitude stop her.  “I guess I am just stubborn,” she says.  Now at 53, with two CDs: Learn to Be Loved (2000) and Feet Be Still, (2009), many successful collaborations and awards to her credit – Chris has proved them wrong.  “I feel like life is just beginning.”  And for fans of this talented performer – that is a very good thing indeed.

Chris was a core member of world music ensemble GALITCHA as well as FRIDA’S BROW, which was nominated as Best Vocal Group in the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards. She currently performs solo accompanied by Fred Guignion and Stuart Watkins.  She can be seen

occasionally with The POMELOS, a collective of female songwriters; TLC (Tannis Slimmon, Laura Bird and Chris) and also as a backup vocalist with Ian Tambyln.

Chris will be joined on March 21st by Fred and Stuart along with special guest Beth Cahill as part of the Spirit of Rasputin’s concert series at the Elmdale Tavern.

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2 thoughts on “Music for the Soul – A Conversation with Chris MacLean

  1. So Glad to see this blog and these activities.

    Last time I saw Chris perform it was magical.
    The afternoon was when Canada beat USA for the first mens Gold medal in hockey 2002. Chris held off her sets until the game was over.
    She opened with “O Canada ” as the flag was raised at the Olympics.
    On the e dge of the Gatineau.

    That is the Spirit of Rasputins.

    I hope to be there next sunday to see Ottawa friends for my first time in 8 years

  2. My partner Doug Colwell and I met Chris about 7-8 years ago at the Blue Skies Festival and made an instant connection and have become fast friends over the years. Her music is as amazing and insightful as she is as a person. Doug and I now live in Dildo, a fishing village on Trinity Bay in Newfoundland and Doug is not well. Last weekend Chris flew down here for 3 days and played her guitar and sang for us in the hospital. Doug was touched and delighted. She and I had many long talks into the night that were so loving and supportive to me. Her generosity of spirit, insight–and wonderful humour– shine through in her music and we are priveledged to have her as a friend and as a talented musician in our collective lives. Chris Rocks!

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