Loreena McKennitt is a Canadian singer and multi-instrumentalist (piano, accordion and harp). Her songs have a distinct Celtic and Middle Eastern tone (she's of Scottish descent), but are sometimes described as New Age. Her songs are often ballads, and are characterized by her high, echoing soprano voice. She found her calling to music after trying to be a veterinarian (and a brief stop-over with Ontario's renowned Shakespeare Festival), and has since then sold more than 13 million copies of her albums. She's often compared to Enya as they both have Celt roots and use Gaelic in their music, but Loreena's music is more inspired by works of literature (most often Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Blake and William Butler Yeats) and is considered to be more grounded. Many of her songs have roots in English or Celtic folk songs, but more recently her music has been inspired by Arabian/Turkish lore.She currently has 10 albums, including two winter-themed albums:
To Drive The Cold Winter Away (1987)
Parallel Dreams (1989)
The Visit (1991)
The Mask And The Mirror (1994)
A Winter Garden (1995)
The Book of Secrets (1997)
An Ancient Muse (2006)
A Midwinter Night's Dream (2008)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2010)
This singer provides examples of:
Album Title Drop: To Drive The Cold Winter Away apparently comes from a recurring line at the end of every verse from the song "In Praise of Christmas."
Anonymous Band: Averted. While few of her band's members are known to the general public outside of her work, and they only act as the background musicians to her Face of the Band, all of their names are always listed and credited in every album, and at concerts she makes an effort to give them all spotlight moments and even introductions. Among those singled out are Brian Hughes (most guitar work, including ethnic and Celtic types), Caroline Lavelle (cello), and especially Hugh Marsh (violin).
Christmas Songs: To Drive the Cold Winter Away, A Winter Garden, and A Midwinter Night's Dream all have a number of such songs. Three of the five on A Winter Garden are traditional carols ("Coventry Carol", "Good King Wenceslas", and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"), but the entirety of A Midwinter Night's Dream is Christmas music, not merely winter-themed.
Composite Character: Although nothing in the song suggests it, the music video for "The Bonny Swans" strongly implies that the harper who brings the youngest daughter as a harp to her father's hall is also the true love for whom her oldest sister drowned her; the actor and costume for both is the same. This does add a rather powerful resonance to the song's denouement, however.
Concept Album: To some extent, every one of her albums follows the concept of "inspirations received while studying and journeying", but some are more clearly travel-oriented than others (The Book of Secrets and An Ancient Muse). Both the latter and The Mask and the Mirror have the Arabian Nights Days theme.
Despair Event Horizon: McKennitt seems to have hit this when her fiancee died in 1998. Soon after, she dropped almost completely off the map and released no new albums for 8 years.
Epic Instrumental Opener: "The Old Ways" has about a minute and a half intro. It starts with just harp, then adds on successive parts by violin, Uilleann pipes, drums, and electric guitar. And it is indeed epic.
Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: Justified, since she is a Celtic-inspired musician. To be specific, Loreena uses Uilleann pipes, which are a less-well known Irish variant.
Evil-Detecting Dog: Suggested by her rendition of Yeats' "Stolen Child", which begins and ends with a chorus of barking hunting dogs that have detected the poem's sinister faerie child thieves.
The Fair Folk: Appearing in, and taking, the titular "Stolen Child".
Family-Unfriendly Death: In her retelling of the "The Bonny Swans", the youngest sister is drowned so her older sister can have her man. Parts of her body are then turned into a harp.
Genre Shift: As implied by its title, the "Huron Beltane Fire Dance" starts off as a very tribal, Native American-sounding chant, then shifts into a Celtic-Irish string piece. Lampshaded in her documentary about her musical influences, where the first part accompanies a giant bonfire and the second half is set to Stock Footage of Irish step-dancers.
Lady of Adventure: As she says herself, most of her inspiration comes from her many travels.
Literary Allusion Title: Aside from the songs which are directly taken from poems that reference literature ("The Lady of Shalott", "Cymbeline", "The Dark Night of the Soul", "The Two Trees", "Prospero's Speech", "The Highwayman", "The English Ladye and the Knight", and more), two songs also have more oblique allusions: "Dante's Prayer" references the fact she was reading the Inferno while riding a train through Siberia and contrasted the text with what she saw out the window; and "Penelope's Song" is written as a lament from Odysseus's wife waiting for him to come home.
Long Runner Lineup: Loreena usually picks a number of musicians proficient in instruments related to each album to record with, but several core members have been with her for years or decades; the longest tenured are guitarist Brian Hughes & percussionist Rick Lazar(both 1989), and violinist Hugh Marsh(1991). Cellist Caroline Lavelle & keyboardist/percussionist Donald Quan joined in 1995.
Mood Whiplash: Invoked in "The Death of Queen Jane"—while all the people outside are dancing, singing, and celebrating the birth of the heir, "poor Queen Jane...lay cold as a stone".
Motifs: Aside from her love of tragic ballads, a thread which begins in The Visit and weaves its way more fully into The Mask and the Mirror is that of the Unicorn. It first appears in "Courtyard Lullaby" (which also references the pomegranate tree, the fruit of which was often depicted in medieval times as the end of a unicorn's tail to represent the fecundity that was the unicorn's opposite), but images from the Unicorn Tapestries are used on the cover and liner sheets from The Mask and the Mirror, and in the music video for "Bonny Swans" both the characters of the song and Loreena herself are shown literally becoming part of the tapestries.
Non-Appearing Title: The majority of her original songs which are not poems set to music or traditional songs have titles like this (though they are usually still thematically appropriate). Even a few of the poems and traditional songs have titles like this too. Examples include: "The Mystic's Dream", "The Dark Night of the Soul", "Full Circle", and "Skellig" (the title of which makes no sense unless one reads the liner notes for the explanation).
Notable Original Music: Wrote the soundtrack for the made-for-TV documentary "Goddess Remembered". One song from this, "Ancient Pines", appears on Parallel Dreams.
Passing the Torch: The monk of "Skellig", giving the books he has written to a younger monk named John so as to keep knowledge and education alive.
Reformed Rake: The female lover of "As I Roved Out" seems to think she can turn her lover into one of these in the final verse, but from his reply she is out of luck.
Revisiting The Roots: Loreena started off singing traditional Celtic songs and slowly expanded to include other cultures, becoming more of a World musician. In 2010, she released an album composed of traditional Celtic songs.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The titular "Highwayman" attempts one of these after learning of the death of his lover; it doesn't go well for him. The knight of "The English Ladye and the Knight", however, succeeds in getting his vengeance upon the lady's brother, then becomes The Atoner and Death Seeker both by going off to the Crusades and dying in battle.
Sampling: "The Two Trees" includes as its introduction "Cé Hé Mise Le Ulaingt?", a pipework song by Patrick Hutchinson. "Dante's Prayer" begins with a portion of "Alleluia, Behold the Bridegroom" as sung by the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir.
Self-Backing Vocalist: Any song with a noticeable harmony occurs due to this—"Standing Stones" and "The Old Ways" (in the chorus), "Prospero's Speech", "All Souls Night", "The Mystic's Dream", "Night Ride Across the Caucasus"...
Shown Their Work: For a musician who always does a great deal of research on the works she sets to music, the locations they came from, and the overall history of the places she visits during her songwriting, this is a given—in fact all of her albums from at least The Visit onward were explicitly written as inspirations taken from her physical journeys. (See Lady of Adventure.) One thing which stands out, however, is her incorporation of such knowledge instrumentally as well as lyrically—for example, her usage of an actual song played during the time when pilgrimages to Santiago, Spain were at their height in her song named after the city; and her use of an actual popular mummers' song in the chorus of "The Mummers' Dance".
Something Completely Different: While musically Loreena's style tends to be all over the map (literally!), most of her songs tend to fall under Celtic or Arabic in mood and motif, and the majority are also arrangements of traditional songs or literature set to music. Some songs, however, break the mold by being original pieces about matters of social concern to her ("Breaking the Silence"), incorporating a verbal recording to contrast with the song's lyrics (see Spoken Word In Music below), standing out thematically from the rest of the album ("Full Circle"), or genre/style (her Tom Waits-like rendition of "Greensleeves").
"The Dark Night of the Soul" sounds like it's all about this — a girl running off into the middle of the night to meet her lover. It's actually intended to be a spiritual allegory; the lyrics were taken from a poem by St. John of the Cross.
Played straight in another song, "Annachie Gordon." They even die at the end.
Also played straight in "The English Ladye and the Knight".
Teenage Death Songs: Played with in "Standing Stones". The male lover dies young, but his lady lives on for years, lonely and tragic, before finally dying and joining him.
Title Drop: "All Souls Night", "The Old Ways", "Caravanserai". The song "Marrakesh Night Market" also has one to the album on which it appears, The Mask and the Mirror: "Would you like my mask? Would you like my mirror?"
Yandere: Apparent in her song "Bonny Swans". See the page for more detail.