NAC Superfan: Ken McKinlay

Foundation volunteer and donor ken mckinlay crop
Ken McKinlay volunteered in the NAC Donor Lounge as host and bartender.
Joel quarrington crop
NAC Orchestra Principal Double Bassist, Joel Quarrington. © Fred Cattroll

Ken McKinlay has been coming to concerts at the National Arts Centre for more than 28 years. He sees at least 30 performances each season.

Ken is the NAC Orchestra’s number one fan.

“I’m missing the Orchestra like crazy,” says Ken, who last saw the NACO perform Mozart on February 26, about two weeks before the NAC closed its door due to the pandemic.

These days, Ken says he is extremely thankful for the Orchestra’s digital offerings. “I watch these out of pure love,” he says. “I find it a great way to stay connected with the Orchestra.”

Every day at noon he religiously watches the NACO Lunch Breaks online series.

“It’s only 5 to 10 minutes long so I make it a point to listen carefully and post comments. The musicians deserve our respect and attention.” says the 54 year-old superfan.

Ken has also been enjoying the Musically Speaking online talks with Alexander Shelley and accomplished musicians, as well as the NACO Home Delivery series which features recordings of some of the best archived Orchestra concerts. “I’ll listen to the recording and think ‘Hey, I remember that concert. I was there!’”

Hooked on Pops

Ken’s love for NACO goes back to 1992. That’s when he began attending NACO Pops concerts as a way to relax from his busy information technology job at the Civic Hospital. In those days, he didn’t have a very extensive knowledge of music.

“The Pops series is a great gateway to classical music,” says Ken. “It got me hooked on other styles such as Baroque. I began to get interested on the other NACO series. It all sounded great. I just had to get tickets!”

Unable to choose and fearing he would miss a great concert, Ken became a season subscriber so he could attend all the NACO series concerts.

Since 1992, Ken has kept the same seat for all the Pops concerts: A17 in the Mezzanine. “It’s the perfect seat for Pops. The sound is very good. There’s usually lots going on on the stage. I can see it all from that seat.”

As his musical education progressed, Ken changed his view of music.

“I used to go to concerts with expectations. Now I just sit in my seat and listen. Sometimes, the concerts you didn’t think you’d like are the ones you like the most.”

There are some nights when something unusual happens during a performance, such as the time when a string on NACO musician Joel Quarrington’s double bass snapped. “When you hear that sound, you never forget it. Sounds like a shotgun going off. Joel paused momentarily and then began figuring out how to change his finger placement on the bass so he could play the piece with the remaining strings. It was amazing.”

NACO Friends

Over time, Ken began to attend more and more concerts, pre-concert chats, open rehearsals and NAC Young Artist Program performances. That’s how he got to meet many of the Orchestra’s musicians.

“Now, when I come to a concert, I’ve got friends on stage.”

Ken has been known to follow the NAC Orchestra on tours, travelling on his own dime to other cities such as Toronto, Winnipeg and even London to see them perform. “I once greeted the musicians as they got off the bus at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. They said ‘You didn’t just come here to see us, right?’ And I said, ‘Hey, I just wanted to make sure you had a friend in the audience.’ I do it because I respect and admire the musicians.”

Ken and his family are among the NAC Foundation’s earliest donors, going back to 1993. Ken’s philanthropic support is mainly directed at the Young Artists Program, although he supports other areas of the NAC as well.

He also volunteered in the NAC Foundation’s Donor Lounge as host and bartender. That’s where he met Pops conductor Jack Everly one night. “His presence on stage is huge. But when you meet him in person, he’s just a normal-sized human being,” he laughs. “It was neat.”

The long view

Another of Ken’s passions is genealogy. He regularly gives public talks with the public library about searching your family tree. He says his genealogy research helps put the current historical moment into perspective.

“I take the long view,” he says. “Look at the 1918 pandemic. Orchestras stopped playing back then too. Theatres shut down. Guess what, we’re still here. The arts will survive. We’ll get through this.”


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