Classically trained soprano singer Lena McKenzie was on a cruise ship bound for the Philippines when the coronavirus began its unpleasant grip on the world last year.
“Halfway through the trip, I had already started hearing rumours about ships that were starting to get locked down and that was concerning,” McKenzie recalls.
Then, the day before her ship was due to arrive in Manila, McKenzie, who had been on board countless cruise ships before, got some bad news.
“The captain said that we weren’t going to be able to dock because they closed their ports and basically the rest of Asia had started one-by-one closing its ports.”
Fortunately, as a dual Filipino-Canadian citizen and holder of passports from both countries, McKenzie was actually allowed to leave the ship while others were forced to remain on board.
“They let Filipino nationals off and I was really lucky because I had a flight back here to Canada a few days afterwards,” she recalled. “So, I got off the boat on a small rope ladder and into a tugboat. It was crazy.”
“It turned out that was actually one of the best cruise ships or COVID experiences because all the rest of the ships ended up getting locked down for a month.”
Fast-forward more than a year and McKenzie will be back on stage, performing at the Summer Outdoor Concert Series at Centennial Park in Ganges on Sept. 11. She’ll be opening for Saltspringunderground and it will be her first performance since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw her lose her job as a cruise ship performer.
“I love being on stage. It’s so much fun. I don’t people don’t know if people realize enough that performing is so much fun. It’s a rush. It’s a little bit of a high and I’ve definitely missed that aspect of it,” says McKenzie, who holds a music degree from the University of the Philippines.
McKenzie, in fact, is no stranger to performing, having spent years as headline singer aboard cruise ships that travelled all over the world and was a resident performer at the Balesin Island Club. She was also a member of a classical crossover group in the Philippines called the Opera Belles.
“The most important thing that I loved the most about when I was performing regularly on cruise ships is that I would get that high regularly on a big stage. So, I’m looking forward to doing that again,” she says.
In the months since COVID-19’s unpleasant arrival, McKenzie has gotten married, moved to Canada — she resides now on Salt Spring Island — and released a five-track EP called Finding North.
“This is actually my first time spending a long period of time living in Canada. My father is Canadian but I grew up mainly in Asia and moving here during COVID was a very unique experience so that’s why it’s called Finding North,” says McKenzie. “It’s a lot of discovering, discovering this area and that’s a big part of it.”
Although she is trained as a classical singer, McKenzie describes Finding North as a blend between pop, folk and classical genres.
“It is definitely an amalgamation of styles because I bring my roots from classical and from jazz into this new environment. So, I think pretty unique in terms of what you are going to hear,” she says.
McKenzie, who produced, recorded and mixed Finding North all at her home on Salt Spring Island, credits all the time she had during the pandemic for allowing her to explore her musical interests.
“I am a classically trained singer. So, I would do what you’d call classical crossover or classical-pop sort of, that’s my background,” she says. “But, I’ve always enjoyed doing less classical and bit more of the crossover pop-folk kind of genres and I’ve always wanted to explore that and COVID gave me that opportunity to just write music into the channel and do all these sorts of things.”
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Having only recently moved to Canada, McKenzie says although she travelled to Canada regularly, living here full-time has been an adjustment for her.
“It’s a completely different culture and there’s been a lot of adapting to social norms that are different from what I was used to,” she says. “I’ve been here regularly, so wasn’t a complete shock, but still there’s just a lot of guessing and you learn a lot when you’re in a new environment and I appreciate that.”
However, McKenzie credits the people of the Gulf Islands, particularly those on Salt Spring Island, for making the adjustment more enjoyable.
“I really appreciate that the Gulf Islands and in Salt Spring, in particular, the people have been very, very open. I didn’t expect to be able to move here and get to have all these opportunities right away,” she says. “I mean, COVID aside, obviously, COVID is difficult, but I expect it to be more of a struggle. Instead, people have been very open to me and that was a surprise. So, I’m really grateful for that.”
The Summer Outdoor Concert Series runs from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on Sept. 11 at Centennial Park. Tickets are free. For more information, click here. For more information on McKenzie, visit her Facebook page here or click here.