Profile by Jane Ledwell
"I’m not sure I considered anything else, ever,” Morgan Saulnier says when asked when she first considered a career as a musician. “There was never anything else, to be honest,” the pianist and principal flutist of the PEI Symphony responds earnestly.
Eight years ago, as she was completing graduate studies in music, she had to decide whether or not to continue. “That would probably mean a doctorate and then a move to where the job was—or do I move to PEI, get married, build a career, and have a family?”
The decision was easy in the end. She married Paper Lion David Cyrus MacDonald and moved “home” to PEI. After a period of waitressing in which she admits, “I kinda went crazy with private teaching,” she was able to gradually “wind down” much of the private teaching and take on roles as varied as teaching flute at UPEI, serving as rehearsal pianist at the School of Performing Arts, being librarian and personnel manager for the PEI Symphony, and starting a local-products artisan shop, Green Eye Designs, which also sells her hand-crafted line of scarves.
All summer, Morgan played keyboards for the Charlottetown Festival production of Mamma Mia, before taking over as music director and pianist for Anne and Gilbert for its autumn dates, six shows a week. Not to mention parenting a toddler with a new baby on the way…
There have been happy surprises on Morgan’s musical path. She knew in high school that she loved playing for theatre, but she says, “I didn’t grow up thinking I would work in theatre. Rehearsal pianist work is not something I pictured happening. I don’t think I knew that could be a career.”
She enthuses, “I love my collaborative piano work. Playing for theatre is so very rewarding.
“I always pictured myself as a soloist,” Morgan recalls. Graduate school was “so solo and recital focused… The first time I played in an actual orchestra was graduate schools. I didn’t expect to feel so fulfilled!”
She says, “Ensemble playing is very special. In the Symphony, there are only two flutes, and I’m principal flute, and we have to work together and stand our ground—then there’s little close-knit group of woodwinds, and you have to be so in sync with the smaller group—then you’re part of something—and you realize, wow, I’m totally part of this bigger thing.”
When she was growing up with musically enthusiastic parents, Morgan says, “There was a really big range of music in the house, but classical was never part of it.”
I ask, is it important for children to listen to classical music? Morgan considers this: “I think live classical music is really important. It’s a great way to introduce it to young people, to get it in front of them. It gives them a visual, and there’s so much expression in playing. At a Symphony concert, they see that many players on the stage and everyone is having their own individual and collaborative musical experience.”
“We’re so lucky in PEI to have an orchestra. It’s such a tiny little place,” Morgan says. “We need celebratory, artistic music-making. As a community, we have to have it.” She is particularly excited for the November program, which includes a favourite symphony by Shostakovich.
However, Morgan says, “To be honest, I’m excited for a little bit of time.” After the close of Anne and Gilbert and the end of the first symphony weekend in October, a brief break comes. “I’m looking forward to time with my daughter—life with a toddler is crazy! Piano is definitely the instrument I play most—so I’m looking forward to getting back into really serious flute practice. I want some time to devote to my Victoria Row shop—I’m very proud of it and what it does for Island artists—and to sewing. I really find peace in the sewing. It’s very therapeutic. It’s an artistic output even though it’s the same movement again and again.”
Morgan says, “As chaotic as that makes your life, it’s a wonderful way to live your life.” Then, in January, a new baby and, undoubtedly, new musical arrangements in Morgan Saulnier’s artistic life.