If you’re an Islander, then you’ll understand the timeworn practice of trying to find the flimsiest of connections between PEI and any one remotely famous. You know, things like: so-and-so celebrity’s second cousin’s girlfriend used to vacation on PEI as a child. Luckily, sometimes an Island star shines so bright that we don’t need to play the pesky six-degrees-of-Islander game. Enter: Tracy Cantin. This Summerside-native soprano may be a PEI local, but she’s since grown into a world-wide phenomenon. After some global galavanting and relocating to Chicago, Tracy has returned home this past spring to wait out the pandemic. As Tracy reconnects with her hometown, we’ve decided to reconnect with one of our most lauded Indian River Festival alumni—who will be gracing the St. Mary’s stage once more at our Island Homecoming concert this weekend. The interview imparts the sometimes tumultuous experience of a performer (especially during lockdown), true; but at its core, it tells the simple story of an Islander coming home.
Tell us about your background? We want to get to know you!
I grew up in Summerside, but moved “’away” shortly after highschool and have since studied and travelled all over the world in my pursuit of music. I was very fortunate to have a wonderful teacher here on the Island when I was young who encouraged me to study classical music—it wasn’t a genre that was overly present here when I was growing up, so I am lucky that she was able to recognize a quality in my voice that I didn’t even know was possible! After completing my university training in Canada, I moved to Chicago in 2012 to begin a 3-year apprenticeship with the world-renowned Lyric Opera of Chicago, and it remains my home-base today. I come home to PEI as often as I can, and have recently been considering “setting up shop,” even if just seasonally!
What are some of your fondest memories performing and the music industry?
I always love the very first rehearsal—so much of what we do is independently studied, so when the first rehearsal finally comes (sometimes after YEARS of anticipation!) it is always such a joyous moment! Everyone is so excited to get to know each other and to collaborate, because after all, we are communicators to our core. . . and it is very tricky to practice communicating with a mirror!
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging aspect for you professionally and personally?
The most challenging thing has absolutely been the travelling aspect of the career. I’ll admit that it sounds very glamorous, and I really do love getting to explore different places and experience different cultures, but in reality it can be extremely taxing on your personal life. Being on the road for months at a time can be incredibly lonely, especially when you’re in a foreign country, and sometimes all you want is to be able to sleep in your own bed. I am so lucky to have an incredible partner who is the most supportive and understanding person on the planet! In fact, we’re so used to being apart for extended periods of time, that it almost feels like our current physical separation is just due to another gig, rather than a forced separation due to an unprecedented global pandemic.
We know you are spending your summer on PEI. Welcome home! What’s your favourite part about PEI summers, and how is living here different from Chicago?
The SEAFOOD! A close second is the perfect beach weather practically every day. Seriously though, there is a reason that thousands of people flock to PEI every summer. It really is the most beautiful place on Earth and there is nowhere I would rather be right now—especially in the midst of a global pandemic! Don’t get me wrong, there are many things that I love about living in Chicago—I have been there since 2012 and have truly loved every minute of it! In Chicago, you can always find a new adventure, be it a new music venue, new restaurant, new exhibit at the Art Institute—but in PEI you always have space to breathe, reflect, and reconnect with yourself. I am so lucky, I really do get to live in the very best of both worlds, but PEI will always be my true home and I am delighted to have found myself back here for such an extended period of time.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time? Do you have any projects in the works?
I am very fortunate to be home on the Island right now as I’ve been able to really focus on my small business that I started last summer! What began as a passion project has become an essential life-line: I am the creator behind Ellie & Arthur: One-of-a-Kind Hand-Poured Coconut Wax Candles in Beautiful Vintage Glassware. I am so thankful that despite the fact the music industry has come to a complete standstill, I still have an outlet for my creative expression. My mother has been an antique dealer in PEI for as long as I can remember (she’s the wonderful woman behind Rose Cottage Antiques in Summerside), so I have always had an affinity for all things vintage. I love marrying the beauty of these vintage pieces with the practicality of upcycling them into something we can use every day, and the bonus is that once you’ve finished burning your candle, you’re left with a beautiful piece of history that you can continue to use and cherish! Check them out on instagram @ellieandarthur or on my website www.ellieandarthur.com.
We loved having you perform at Indian River Festival in the past! What’s your favourite IRF memory?
There are so many wonderful memories, how could I possibly choose just one?! Growing up on PEI, the IRF was really the only venue accessible to me that presented live classical content, be it MidSummer Magic, or the Welsh Men’s Choir, or any number of wonderful artists that graced the stage over the years. My mother took me to every show she could, and I even began participating in the Masterclass series when I was in high school. The first time I stepped foot on that stage as a “professional” so many years later, it really was a magical full-circle moment—I was able to share my artistry with an audience and a venue that had shared so much with me over the years, and I could not have been more proud. I have been extremely fortunate in my career thus far that I have been able to perform on some of the greatest stages in the world, but every time I come back to the stage at Historic St. Mary’s, it feels like I’m coming home. Thank you for providing me an early education in music, and I hope more than anything to be a small part of the encouragement and the nourishment of the next generation of music lovers and performers on Prince Edward Island.
Written by: Dani MacDonald