Margot MacDonald

Rock, Kid-Friendly
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Margot MacDonald photo
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Editorial Review

Teen singer-songwriter Margot MacDonald is seasoned beyond her years
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Friday, December 18, 2009

For Margot MacDonald, Christmas came early this year. The local teenage singer, who grew up in Arlington, wanted to learn Imogen Heap's "Just for Now." It's an impressive undertaking: The song is layer upon layer of recorded-on-the spot vocal lines, necessitating a loop pedal.

"I really, really wanted to play the song," MacDonald says. So her parents got her the loop pedal early.

There must be millions of teens who will fall asleep on Christmas Eve with visions of rock-and-roll stardom dancing in their heads. For MacDonald, those visions have legs.

"Placido Domingo was my first boss," MacDonald says with a giggle. She was 10 when she started singing in the Washington National Opera chorus, of which Domingo is general director. Her first performance was Puccini's "La Boheme." Even before that, she had begun writing songs. Her second-grade teacher noticed her musical propensity and encouraged her parents to sign her up for piano lessons. "It all started from there," MacDonald says. In 2008, she became an artist in residence at Strathmore. (She performs Friday at the Kennedy Center.)

MacDonald, 18, is a rare case of talent meets luck. Ask her how Grammy-nominated producer John Jennings came across her at age 12 and produced her first album, "Rising," and she giggles. Ask how she has come to share the stage with such names as Jessica Simpson and Josh Groban, how she has performed on local TV newscasts up and down the East Coast or how she has played such venues as the Birchmere and the State Theatre.

She's not sure.

But then listen to her music, and you might get an idea why such a young woman is finding success as a full-time musician. It's her voice: a little Paula Cole, a little Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries, a lot Evanescence's Amy Lee.

MacDonald, who studied classical voice for two years at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, calls her music "jazz-tinged modern rock," but from the sound of the opening song on her third album, "Walls," it's also rock-and-roll, loud and heavy on the dirty guitar.

Recently, though, it has been "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," which MacDonald has been singing a lot lately in preparation for an event at the Hard Rock Cafe for cancer patients. She has been taking such gigs throughout her career, working with nonprofits groups including Ground Control Drunk Driving Prevention Campaign, the More Than Me Foundation and America's Fund for Afghan Children.

"It's always meant a lot for me to support nonprofits through my music," MacDonald says. And at Christmastime, she delves into her repertoire to sing such standards as "O Holy Night" and "Ave Maria" off her 2007 holiday CD, "Christmas."

As for her own holiday traditions, MacDonald says it's usually pretty simple. She still lives at home, so she'll hang out with mom and dad and her two younger siblings. There's a tree and presents, of course, but she hasn't asked for much.

"I got my loop pedal, so I'm happy right now."