Canadian Musician - September/October 2017 - Page 26

PHOTO: VESSEY STUDIO KEYBOARDS Todd MacLean is a multi-instrumentalist who performs alongside some of the best musicians in the vibrant PEI music scene. As a saxophonist, pianist, and guitarist, he comes from a long line of musicians. A multiple Music PEI Award winner and former member of the ECMA-winning group English Words, Todd also teaches over 40 private music students per week and was named Music Educator of the Year at the 2010 Music PEI Awards. Currently keyboardist/saxophonist/ guitarist for Amanda Jackson Band, MacLean was also named Music PEI’s 2011 Musician of the Year. Todd MacLean Covering Atlantic Canada A Q&A with Keyboardist & Multi-Instrumentalist Todd MacLean P EI-based multi-instrumentalist Todd MacLean is part of an out- standing band supporting Tara MacLean’s show Atlantic Blue: A Celebration of East Coast Songwriters, which enjoyed a successful run throughout the summer of 2017 at The Guild in Charlotte- town, PE. The show takes its audience on a journey into the past, telling the story of how music arrived and thrived in Atlantic Canada and featuring songs by Stompin’ Tom, Ron Hynes, Sarah McLachlan, and many others. CM: So give us a quick rundown of the set-up you’re using for Atlantic Blue. TM: For keyboard, I have a good old Roland RD-600 [digital stage piano]. This is the same type of keyboard I used with [past bands] English Words and Smothered in Hugs through all those years. At one point, just from all the playing, the keys starting getting a bit loose and it was getting worn, so I picked up an RD-700 but just wasn’t enjoying it as much. Luck- ily, [PEI musician] Reg Ballagh had an RD-600 in his studio that had been there for years but wasn’t played regularly and kept in great condition, so I bought that from him last year. That’s the one I’m using for Atlantic Blue, and I do love it. CM: And you’re going straight into a DI, or playing with an amp? TM: Yeah, straight into the DI. At this point, I’m quite a purist when it comes to keyboard usage. I don’t use any MIDI tones – it’s just the pure concert piano sound from the RD-600 that gets the job done. CM: Tell me about the process of taking this selection of songs and figuring out your particular parts. I’d have to think it was about finding a balance between staying true to the source material while also making it suit this group of musicians and this type of show. TM: It was definitely a process that evolved over time, because we did a pilot project of the show last summer with two performances as more of a stripped-down band, with [fiddler] Cynthia MacLeod and me as the backing band. Tara sent us the versions of the songs we were focusing on. They were typically the well-known album versions, though there were some cases where it was more recent versions of the original songs we were focusing on. We basically constructed our parts trying to emulate what we were hearing on the recordings as best we could. When we went into rehearsal with Tara last year, we did change a few parts here and there because, once you hear the singer’s particular take on it, you change your part in response. For example, with [Ron Hynes’s] “Atlantic Blue,” which is the song that 26 • C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N starts the whole show and is kind of the centerpiece tune, Tara had taken a more dreamy approach to the song with a couple of different chord variations, so I did kind of strip my keyboard parts down to fit her take on it. I will say, too, as an aside on the general soundscape of the show, sparseness is a key thing we focus on. It’s about letting the songs speak for themselves in the beautiful gems they are, and letting Tara’s voice stand alone and shine in its beauty. We’re only speaking with our instruments when it’s necessary, and just being as tasteful as possible. CM: Are there any points in the show where you stray from the straight concert piano sound? TM: There are a few. First is we do Rita MacNeil’s “Flying on Your Own,” and the way Tara sings that is so emotionally powerful – especially when you get to the chorus, and we knew we needed some kind of boost, so I bring in the warm strings patch on my Roland, and it’s great you can have two channels going at the same time, so I mix it fairly low to keep it tasteful with the piano sound, so it can add that beautiful, escalating layer in the sound. In [The Rankin Family’s] “Fare Thee Well,” again, I use the warm strings sound as a pad, just doing chords in the lower octaves at first, which she sings the intro over, and then I bring in a piano tone for the second verse, again just to raise the intensity and bring in another instrument for a bit of percussive sound from the chords while the pad stays consistent underneath that. 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