Photo by Ming Wu (

On Saturday night, Dan Mangan performed at the National Arts Centre (NAC), with the NAC’s 45 piece orchestra led by conductor Julian Pellicano. Part of the NAC’s Sessions series, the pairing of Dan Mangan’s indie rock with the orchestra’s strings and brass presented a new way of listening to music with unexpected instrumental numbers and new takes on Dan Mangan’s typical sound.

Set in the NAC’s beautiful Southam Hall, you might have expected the show to feel more formal than his shows in venues with standing room and a rock band, but that was far from the case. Dan’s classic unassuming and warm presence was felt immediately, and the audience got to experience the easy rapport between Dan, the conductor and the orchestra. Midway through, the orchestra performed Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a song that Dan shared was a special part of his routine to center himself before shows. Dan also performed a touching tribute to his friend, the recently deceased John Mann, Spirit of the West lead singer. The night wouldn’t be complete without a crowd pleasing sing-a-long, and Dan standing atop a seat in the audience, leading everyone in a powerful chorus. Dan ended the night back to basics, with an impromptu acoustic performance of a newly written song.

As I took in the incredible music and felt the energy of the audience, I was reminded of a line from the recent remake of the movie A Star is Born, “talent comes everywhere, but having something to say, and a way to say it to have people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag.” Like all of Dan’s shows, his performance was heartfelt and moving, and the orchestra helped amplify those feelings throughout the evening. But, what resonated most with me was the message of hope in his songs and how his music is able to convey that we are not alone in our struggles and fears.