Connecting with people through art,
spirituality and Joy


September 5, 2020

Words by: Jelena Bojic

Q&A’s with Cara McLeod

I was doing my usual walk on a Sunday afternoon through the beautiful Millcreek ravine, then over to the Cloverdale area and up the Gallagher hill (that’s where I usually lose my breath and need to take a break) but this particular Sunday, I stopped for another reason. This amazing voice was travelling over the whole area, singing Ave Maria. The sky was clear, Gallagher hill was just starting to get green, the city looked so peaceful. I sat down on the grass, feeling grateful for being there at that moment. Other walkers and joggers were stopping, looking around and sharing the same sense of being thankful to hear this voice, this song. Later that evening, watching the news, I heard the same music and saw the segment; Cara Lianne McLeod was interviewed about her balcony performances during covid quarantine and what it did for people passing by. I met her years ago at the Edmonton Opera’s Aida. I was thrilled to sit down with Cara and catch up.

Tell us about your music, how did you get started and what drew you to classical music?

I’ve been singing virtually all my life and took private voice lessons as a teen. In my early twenties I sang country and pop music, doing some recording and singing in karaoke competitions (even singing at the CFR Talent Search finals at Northlands Coliseum!). At 25 I joined a choir and we performed with other choirs and the Edmonton Youth Orchestra led by Michael Massey…there were 4 soloists at the front singing what I now know are works from an Oratorio, and I was mesmerized by their voices. Not long after that I moved to Fort McMurray with my partner at the time, and after deciding that being a legal secretary likely wasn’t my calling, I began my classical and opera singing journey at Keyano College. Laura Glover, my teacher at the time, loved opera and shared that passion with me. I later went on to study at University of Western Ontario (UWO) and obtained an Artist Diploma in Performance. I love the sheer beauty of the genre, and how I am constantly challenged and learning new things about my voice, the music, the artistry, and humanity through music.

Your favourite performance ever was…?

Oooh this is a tough one…I always answer this question that it is where my heart is in the moment. I do have a few moments that stand out, all for different reasons, and all directly related to the connection I felt with the audience and/or my colleagues at the time. One is singing the role of Contessa in the Marriage of Figaro in the courtyard of the Catholic Church, Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza in Rome, Italy, with Operafestival di Roma. My parents didn’t travel internationally much in their lives, but they came, along with my sister and some close friends, to see the performance. Singing in the open air with a professional Italian Orchestra in such an exquisite setting is a memory I won’t forget. The second is an intimate cabaret I sang for with Opera NUOVA…I was so sick with strep throat, but much of my family and friends took up almost half of the small restaurant, and shortly after my aunt passed away, who had been in attendance. She was there, with support from my whole family, in the middle of a cold winter, wrapped in blankets in her wheelchair with her oxygen tanks, and the warmth of the connection and the music made the rest of the world slip away for that evening. Now that I’m remembering these, I realize there are so many more and I am filled with gratitude for so many of my experiences! Some aren’t even my performances – they are experiences I’ve had teaching and watching my students perform and connect with various audiences…

How did people respond to your balcony performances during the quarantine?

For the most part, people have been receptive and supportive. The very first one was at the end of that first week of lockdown. I was compelled to sing on my balcony after watching the Italian coverage of the same type of performances…it moved me so much, and I realized I could perhaps lift people’s spirits too with music. I meant to perform a small set for my residents at my 4-building condo complex, and my neighbours who are close friends, decided that they would contact the media because they loved the idea.

We saw you on stage with Edmonton Opera, as well as Mercury Opera, in some fantastic roles. Where else have you performed?

I have performed quite a bit with Alberta Symphony Orchestra, led by Emilio De Mercato, including the 2015 inaugural tour of Alberta. Recently I also had my debut with Calgary Civic Symphony, and have performed a couple of times in BC.

Are you always a performer at family gatherings?

(Smiles) Often, yes, depending on the situation. The most difficult was likely singing at my mom’s funeral in 2014.

I don’t really, because I live in a condo and the neighbours informed me that they could hear me oo’ing and ah’ing just when I was watching performances, so I think if they could hear that, my singing in the shower would be too loud for them! 

Do you sing in the shower?

I love this question! I don’t really, because I live in a condo and the neighbours informed me that they could hear me oo’ing and ah’ing just when I was watching performances, so I think if they could hear that, my singing in the shower would be too loud for them! They’ve been wonderful with my practicing, though, so I’ll sing anywhere else in my home.

Your favourite podcast?

I listen to a huge variety of podcasts, depending on my mood and what I’m thinking of in the moment – some subjects I listen to are about the mind/music connection, some philosophy, and lots about mental health and spiritual growth. I love The Tony Howell Podcast, and am often inspired by Super Soul Conversations.

What do you do in your free time?

Primarily pre-covid I was salsa and bachata dancing a few times a week, and also fairly recently have started boxing training. I love going for walks and road trips, and spending time with people I love. Although not strict regular practices, I enjoy yoga and meditation as well.

Historical figure you’d love to meet?

Nelson Mandela is the first name that I think of.

You’re feeling most at home when you are in…?

If I am connected to myself in the moment…this can happen when I’m sharing a huge laugh with someone, looking in someone’s eyes, standing on stage, on a walk in the trees, or sitting on my sofa.

Favourite vacation spot?

Italy…and there are so many more places I’d love to experience!

Any new hobbies you picked up during quarantine?

Posting videos singing pop and country music (sometimes while playing the piano marginally)…that felt new and old at the same time. Does that count? I tried playing Nintendo and doing puzzles, but neither of those hobbies stuck with me.

Top three luxury items?

This question makes me tear up. I am so grateful for so many things…and can only hope that in my life I will give back enough to balance my karma. First, I would have to say that I just bought my first condo that I’ve ever purchased on my own. It has a view of the river valley, which is something I have always wanted! Second, I find it a complete luxury (that oddly enough, Covid has created), to order my healthy groceries from the Italian Centre, and have them loaded into my car when I pick them up, with the friendliest and accommodating staff. Lastly, I would say that joy (and health, really) is my top luxury item; I am able to move through the world using my voice to sing, and to connect with people about spirituality, humanity, and strive to live a heart-centred life every day. That is a luxury that so many in the world are not fortunate to experience, so I am unbelievably grateful for that.

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