An interview with Grace McCune | Women in Business profile

Denise Thomasin photo
                                At left: Grace McCune.

Denise Thomasin photo At left: Grace McCune.

Pianist and vocalist Grace McCune was raised in a family of musicians and entertainers. Her father was Don McCune, a Seattle icon in broadcasting, star of KOMO TV’s “Captain Puget Show” and host, writer and narrator of “Exploration Northwest.” He passed away in 1993.

After traveling the country as a singer-songwriter, McCune settled on Orcas Island, where she released two studio albums and began teaching voice 12 years ago. Some of her original students are still with her today. She started her business in her home before opening Grace Notes Studio at 434 Madrona Street in Eastsound nearly seven years ago.

“There is nothing more important to me than playing music every day for a living,” says McCune.

In 2008, she started the Rock on the Rock choirs, a chance for kids and adults to learn music in a group setting. A few years later McCune joined forces with Jake Perrine and the two have produced such shows as “Moulin Rouge,” “Across the Universe,” “Rock of Orcas” and “Cirque-Us,” all featuring a multi-generational cast of dozens of islanders.

McCune has limited openings in her current teaching schedule, but she has brought on three musical instrument instructors: her brother Clint McCune (acoustic guitar), Joel Gamble (violin and viola) and Stephen Fairweather (piano). To inquire about availability, email grace@gracemccune.com.

How did you become a voice teacher?

I wanted to make a living on Orcas Island and be a musician. On a deeper level, it was to share music with people young and old. It was part of my childhood and my entire life.

If you go back and tell something to the Grace of 12 years ago, what would it be?

Pursuing music as a living was a dream I had as a child. It’s had many different faces over the years. I’d tell her to keep pursuing and keep showing up. It’s not performing but it has its own set of rewards and it’s all worth it. My students become part of my family. We are a part of each other’s lives. Music is the medium for us being there but what happens on a core human level is like a therapy session. For many of the kids, I’m like a cool aunt who likes to sing!

How have you changed since starting your business?

I’ve become a better singer and musician as a result of teaching. When you explain the mechanics of someone’s voice it means I explore my own process and my own methods. I use the principles of my training but everyone learns at a different level. You wouldn’t teach a 6-year-old the way you’d teach a 26-year-old. I’ve also become a more patient and compassionate person.

What would you tell people who are intrigued by learning to sing or play an instrument but are apprehensive?

It’s never too late to learn. A lot of people hold back because they think missed their shot as a kid. It does take time to learn but everyone gets nervous learning something new. The key is to find a good teacher you connect with otherwise you won’t be inspired. And it’s ok to just try it out and see how it goes, too!

How did the Rock on the Rock choirs begin?

Orcas Center asked me to direct a kids’ choir for a small show. Deborah Sparks sat me down and said, “Hey, I think you’d be really good at this.” In high school, it was actually something I thought I might do for a living. Then I decided to expand to bring in adults. It’s become a beautiful excuse for people to come together and sing. It naturally grew over the years. “Les Miserables” was the first big body of work we did. My original and true love is musical theatre. Jake Perrine hopped on board and then we revolutionized choir!

What is one of your fondest memories on this journey as a teacher?

One of the defining moments for me was when Jake and I had just teamed up for Moulin Rouge, our first show together in 2014. It was a week before opening night and the choir was rehearsing. At one point, the women presented “Lady Marmalade.” Then the guys showed everyone “Diamond Dogs.” We were all sitting in a circle sharing with each other. Time slowed down, I looked around the room and every person had a smile on their face and was cheering each other on. No matter how many hours it takes and how many sleepless nights we have, I realized: Jake and I need to always keep facilitating this.

Who is your musical inspiration?

My father. What he did and who he was on television were the same as who he was in real life. He was kind and compassionate. At his memorial, my brothers and I performed “Leader of the Band.” There is a line, “The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old/But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul,” and that’s what I think of. I can hear his voice through my voice. He’s still there.