Our First Week of Orchestra Recording Sessions - True North Journal

Toronto, ON 


When you think about it, organizing three separate orchestra recording sessions – let alone holding them in three different provinces – is an incredibly complex operation.

The fact the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia and Symphony New Brunswick sessions all happened in a week is a testament to the incredible True North team: producer Don Breithaupt; conductor Martin MacDonald; project manager Darlene Sawyer and everyone else who played such a crucial role – Oliver Sirois, Melanie Vaugeois, Jeremy Tusz, Chris Johnson, James Clemens-Seely, Jackie Pare, Keith Chang, Nathan Haynes, Timon Leung, Greg Locke and Deb McCain. We missed our other team members who didn't join us on the road, but who were pivotal to our sessions coming together.  Many thanks to Susan Abramovitch for her tireless efforts on all of the recording contracts, Justin West for his business leadership and Neil Edwards for acting as an orchestra consultant on the project. 

We were also thrilled to be able to stream the sessions so that those who were not present could participate. Two arrangers, Darren Fung and Peter Cardinali, were able to give us feedback on their charts because they streamed the sessions. Neil Edwards joined in as well from Newfoundland. Amazing how technology has brought everyone together!

Simply put, the sessions themselves were awesome! We’ve been planning and talking about this for so long, that to actually experience them in three remarkable venues – the Winspear Centre in Edmonton, the Rebecca Cohn Theatre in Newfoundland and the Imperial Theatre, Saint John –  seems almost unreal. The music that was made in these sessions was nothing short of magical!

One of the gratifying aspects of The True North: The Canadian Songbook is that I’m noticing that people are starting to be energized by the concept of this project and how it is bringing so many musicians and people together from across the country. You could feel the energy crackle through the sessions when they realized they’re one of 10 orchestras, that we’re really trying to unify in a very Canadian and artistic way.

Another fun discovery is just how small the world of orchestral musicians is, especially in Canada. One of the players who used to be in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra when I worked with them in 2012 is now with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, and in New Brunswick, Melanie, one of the team members, reunited with a violinist she had played with in Sherbrooke, Quebec. It was fun watching everyone reconnect.

We recorded three songs in Edmonton on March 24. That was the day we were all a little nervous – on pins and needles, actually – because we weren’t sure how everything would unfold on our first day.  But everything went beautifully which is a testament to each and every person involved that day. It was a fabulous first day and the orchestra sounded amazing.

It would be safe to say these sessions couldn’t have happened without the hard work and dedication of this incredible True North team. They absolutely brought their “A” game to every aspect of the sessions. Olivier Sirois, who runs OPAK media in Montreal, and his team looks after production co-ordination for all of the sessions. It is a complex task to bring all of these elements together and they did a superb job. 

Don, Marty, and Melanie were “instrumental” in making sure we got the performances we needed during the recording process by listening intently to every take. Also, Melanie, a former violinist herself, worked with the arrangers and the symphonies in advance of the sessions to make sure all of the arrangements were as they should be for the recording process. A special thank you to our project librarian, Andrew Harper, who has worked meticulously to make sure all of the arrangements were printed and organized properly as well as shipped to each orchestra. All of these elements were and are key to making these days run smoothly so that these magical moments can happen.

On a sad note, the Edmonton sessions were a little tougher to wade through because that was the day of the Belgian terrorist tragedy, and it weighed on our minds. It was a tragic day for the people of Belgium and our thoughts were with them.

Our next two stops – Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – were quite comforting because I was back in familiar territory.  I was home and feeling at ease. We worked with Symphony Nova Scotia and Symphony New Brunswick who I have performed with before. Much like Edmonton, the symphonies sounded fantastic! We were all thrilled with their performances.

My mom stopped by the Halifax sessions, and my brother – a part owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs hockey team - dropped by the New Brunswick sessions with my niece, my nephew and his girlfriend and the team president, Trevor Georgie.  Even though my family has heard me speak of this project at great length, even they had a better sense of the huge scope of the project after they attended the sessions that they didn’t understand before. Once you experience all of the many moving parts that go into this project you have a better understanding of how many people are giving so much of themselves to make this all come together.

I am thankful that Silverpoint Media will be capturing the journey on video and Greg Locke will be doing so as well in photos. Keith, Nathan and Timon from Silverpoint - along with Greg - were so all so skilled at making everyone feel relaxed with the video. I am so happy we decided to capture this epic journey so that it showcases everyone’s contributions. Having said this, Greg and Keith decided to take me to a beautiful covered bridge in Bayswater, NB on a very blistery cold day to take photos and do an interview. My special request is for warmer outings, please. 

Also in Saint John, the whole True North team and I headed to Harbour Station to watch the Saint John Seadogs play their first playoff game, and that was a great bonding experience and a lot of fun. (And they won!) It’s very special to me how music can play such a role connecting everyone, both directly and indirectly.

It’s incredible to hear all these songs come to life. So many goosebump moments! The performances were just enchanting and all three symphonies were amazing. I truly cannot wait to share this music with everyone. 

Everyone is so professional and it makes me feel so proud to work with them all! My deepest thanks to everyone!

But what is a tour without a few bumps along the way? The only drawback was our flight between Halifax and Saint John. To use a hockey analogy, we were on the tarmac, given a six-hour penalty for de-icing as we got caught in the ice storm.

And to use another hockey analogy, I wanted to thank producer Don Breithaupt again, because out of everyone when dealing with orchestral arrangements, he best knows the score!


Eleanor McCain with Symphony New Brunswick
Saint John - Imperial Theatre

Martin MacDonald 
Edmonton - Francis Winspear Centre for Music
Eleanor McCain with Symphony Nova Scotia
Halifax - Rebecca Cohn Auditorium
James Clemens-Seely - Jeremy Tusz - Don Breithaupt - Eleanor McCain
Control room - Edmonton - Francis Winspear Centre for Music
Jeremy Tusz
Edmonton - Francis Winspear Centre for Music
Don Breithaupt - Eleanor McCain - Melanie Vaugeois
Control room - Halifax - Rebecca Cohn Auditorium
Chris Johnson - James Clemens-Seely
Control room - Halifax - Rebecca Cohn Auditorium
Olivier Sirois - Darlene Sawyer
Saint John - Imperial Theatre
Martin MacDonald with Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Edmonton - Francis Winspear Centre for Music
All photos:  Greg Locke

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