November 20, 2013 Sparks fly when Canada’s dynamic fiddling duo takes the
Englert Theatre stage By Diana Nollen,
IOWA CITY — Natalie MacMaster and husband
Donnell Leahy aren’t mere masters of the fiddle — they’re
immortals. Wizards whose bows become magic wands as they
conjure up jigs and reels that leave their audiences reeling
and shouting for more.
Few seats were empty Tuesday night (11/12/13)
when the Canadian couple cast their spell over the Englert
Theatre. All the seats were empty when audience members
sprang to their feet at the end of both halves of the nearly
2 1/2-hour Hancher concert.
Equally phenomenal, Mac Morin on piano and
Tim Edey on guitar and accordion kicked up their heels, too.
Literally. Whoops, cheers and hand claps from the audience
provided percussion throughout, especially when all four
musicians clacked their flying heels for some spirited
The biggest ovations, however, came when four
of the five current little Leahys stepped into the spotlight
to share their fiddling and dancing styles. The family has
five curly-topped kids, ages 7 to 1, and another due in
April. They could not possibly be cuter, and the older two
already are very fine fiddlers. The others are following in
Music is a family affair for all the
generations on both family trees. MacMaster, raised on Nova
Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, is steeped in Scottish music
and dance. Leahy, raised on a farm 20 hours west in Ontario,
is the oldest boy among 11 siblings and the leader of his
family’s band. Their muscular music has been dubbed Leahy
style, in a category all its own.
When Cape Breton and Leahy styles collide,
sparks fly in the most mesmerizing way.
Husband and wife have impeccable fingerwork
and flawless technique, and their music courses through
their entire bodies, head to toe, filling the room with
They dance even when they’re not dancing, and
MacMaster lets go with a couple of whoops on the liveliest
tunes. Her pregnancy is beginning to show, but the energy in
her fiddling and dancing hasn’t let up. The new baby in her
belly is having a wild ride. Maybe that’s why all the little
Leahys are such prodigies — they’ve had music flowing
through them from the very beginning.
Most of the evening’s fare was light and
lively — one giant Celtic celebration, but tempos did slow
down for beautiful mournful tunes, including a pair of
waltzes Leahy wrote and performed. MacMaster followed with a
sweet solo, romantic in that Celtic winsome way. You could
just hear a story told through her strings, perhaps of
someone going off to sea or another long journey.
Leahy conjured up more of a gypsy feel with a
couple of reels, “King of the Fairies” and “Fiddler’s
Despair,” that he learned from an accordion player in Wales.
He says the bow is an extension of his arm. That was
displayed over and over again, as his powerful stokes
shredded the ribbon, leaving flying filaments in their wake.
His frenzied bowing brought a huge cheer from the crowd.
The always-popular “Orange Blossom Special”
became a bullet train — nothing short of astonishing — in
the hands of the four peerless performers.
Perhaps the best part of their magic is their
playfulness. They simply can’t sit still — or stand still —
as they roam the stage, share their stories and life
glimpses and just exude joy. They tease each other and toss
out silly strings of thought in the midst of their serious
We found out how the couple met, broke up for
10 years, then married and started having their babies —
which means we’ll be hearing their music for generations to
November 12, 2013
MacMaster and Anderson pay tribute to Skinner by John Gillis, The Inverness Oran
Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster had a
unique opportunity earlier last month to pay tribute to a
legendary Scottish fiddle composer, James Scott Skinner.
The Grammy Award-winning MacMaster teamed up
with Scotland’s traditional fiddler and composer Paul
Anderson for a concert organized by the Aberdeen Performing
Arts, part of a series of concerts called the Northern Arc.
The concert was held on Saturday, October 5th
and also featured the legendary Scottish band The Old Blind
Dogs and some of Scotland’s finest young dancers.
“I really have to give my husband credit for
encouraging me to do the concert. It was a one-off thing and
not part of a tour or anything, and I really haven’t been to
play in Scotland for many years now. It was very exciting to
be part of the tribute to Skinner,” MacMaster told The Oran
last week from her tour bus as she set out to embark on a
U.S. tour with her husband, fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy.
“There were four acts in the show, and the caliber of
musicianship was fabulous. I was impressed with how the
audience enjoyed the show because from my memory the
audiences there are quite reserved compared to North
America. It was well received, and we got a call-back in the
second set and they gave us a standing ovation,” MacMaster
Paul Anderson is considered one of the finest
Scottish fiddlers and composers of his generation. He has
numerous recordings to his credit and has composed more than
200 tunes in the Scots tradition.
James Scott Skinner was born in Banchory near Aberdeen,
Scotland in 1843 and composed more than 600 published tunes
and made more than 80 recordings before his death in March
Skinner’s tunes have long made up a great part of the
repertoire of many Cape Breton fiddling greats.
“I tried to pick out tunes I would be very familiar and
comfortable with, and in selecting the tunes you can’t help
but be amazed at the quality and the number of Skinner’s
compositions. Of course, I’d heard many of those tunes
played in my youth by my uncle Buddy,” said Natalie.
Natalie continues this month with Donnell on
a tour (Masters of Fiddle) of the United States.
With their growing family, home schooling and band members
added to the mix, it can sometimes be a hectic life on the
road, but MacMaster says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She estimates she still performs about a hundred shows a
year, and often that means taking the children on the road
Later this fall, MacMaster will be back on
the road for more U.S. shows with her band. She will include
some Canadian dates and a series of shows called Cape Breton
Christmas in addition to a few symphony shows in Winnipeg
“I always enjoy doing the symphony shows as it’s a departure
from what I normally do,” said MacMaster.
The new year is promising to be eventful as
“Donnell and I are planning to begin
recording together in February, and we’re expecting our
sixth child in late April,” MacMaster concluded.
August 25, 2013
Fiddles for the Fête Cape Breton
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Lahey performed
for record crowds at the Fortress of Louisbourg on Sunday as
part of Louisbourg 300 celebrations. They were taking part
in a show and fiddle extravaganza titled Fiddles for the
MacMaster said before the gig that playing at
home in Cape Breton and getting a chance to revisit a
historic site she has fond memories of visiting as a child
would be a dream. She was also excited about a chance to
play with so many fiddlers.
July 27, 2013
Fiddle greats will join up in tribute to legendary composer
A ONE-OFF spectacular later this year will
see top North-east traditional fiddler Paul Anderson team up
with Grammy Award-winning Cape Breton fiddler Natalie
MacMaster to pay tribute to legendary Scottish fiddle
composer James Scott Skinner.
Organised by Aberdeen Performing Arts (APA),
a series of concerts called Northern Arc will celebrate
Scotland's formidable musical heritage by partnering great
traditional Scots musicians with international artists.
In the inaugural recital, APA has paired
Anderson and MacMaster, who will be flying in from her Nova
Scotia home for the one-night-only show at Aberdeen Music
Hall on Saturday, October 5, which will also feature the
exuberant and highly popular Old Blind Dogs.
"It's going to be a spectacular night of
amazing music that people will remember for a long time to
come," said APA's delighted head of programming, Ben Torrie.
"Scotland, and the North-east in particular,
has such a rich and diverse musical tradition, and we want
to create unique opportunities to hear our great roots music
in new and exciting collaborations.
"We have asked top Scottish players, starting
with fiddler Paul Anderson, to choose an international
artist to perform with, and promised to make it happen.
"For the first of these concerts to feature
an outstanding world-class musician of the calibre of
Natalie MacMaster is overwhelming for us, and the fact that
she is travelling all the way from Cape Breton for this
one-off event in Aberdeen demonstrates the influence that
our music has had across the world and the excitement it
Already something of a legend in the
time-honoured fiddle tradition of Scotland, Paul Anderson is
considered the finest Scots fiddler of his generation.
He has composed over 300 pieces in the Scots
style; his music providing the theme tune for the film Red
Rose about the life of Robert Burns and the theme music for
the PBS television show Tartan TV in the USA.
In 2008 he was the musical director for His
Majesty's Theatre's critically-acclaimed production of
Sunset Song, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and he performed at a
private reception for Prince Charles at Fyvie Castle to
celebrate the Duke of Rothesay's 60th birthday.
Natalie MacMaster's three-decade career has
seen her amass multiple gold albums, a Grammy Award, a Juno
Award for best instrumental album, eight Canadian country
music awards and 10 East Coast music awards.
Married to fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy and a
mother of five, she is a member of the Order Of Canada, the
country's highest civilian honour, and has been described as
an electrifying performer on stage and has staged concerts
all over the world.
Famed Scots dancing master, violinist,
fiddler and composer James Scott Skinner was born in
Banchory and composed more than 600 published tunes and made
more than 80 recordings before his death in March, 1927.
Tickets for the inaugural Northern Arc
concert are on sale now at
www.boxofficeaberdeen.com, by phone at 01224 641122 and
at Aberdeen Box Office at the Music Hall and His Majesty's
July 19, 2013
Fiddler Natalie MacMaster sizzles, even hotter than the
with Grand Rapids Symphony Mlive, all
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Natalie MacMaster, who
calls herself a wife and mother most of the time, happily
rattles off the names and ages of her five kids.
But when this wisp of a woman clicks her
heels to count off a tune and saws away on her fiddle while
step dancing at the same time, you can’t help but wonder how
a woman with five children under age 8 finds the stamina and
Those are the things you wonder while driving
home. When MacMaster plays, you just want to listen to the
Grand Rapids Symphony’s Picnic Pops Series
brought the Cape Breton fiddler back to West Michigan for a
rollicking evening of reels, jigs and more for her first
appearance at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
“What a good thing you’ve got going on,” said
MacMaster with the unmistakable Scottish-influenced accent
of her home in Nova Scotia.
“We don’t have this sort of thing at home in
Canada,” she said. “Maybe at my home, but not outside.”
Inside with air conditioning might have been
nice on a hot, humid, 90-degree July day. But if there’s one
thing I’ve learned about the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Picnic
Pops at Cannonsburg Ski Area, it’s that once the sun goes
down, it’s a lot cooler for most of the show.
Some 2,271 hardy folks braved the heat for
the concert that repeats at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Gates open at
5:30 p.m. for picnicking and pre-concert fun.
It’s the 19th season of the Picnic Pops, but
the series sponsored by D&W Fresh Market looks and feels
brand new. The all-important audio system in the great
outdoors has taken a great leap forward
Music director David Lockington opened the
show with Malcolm Arnold’s popular “Four Scottish Dances,”
and the softest notes of a bassoon solo came through loud
and clear while the plucked notes from the string bass
section rumbled in the listener’s chests.
The sound, in fact, leaped off the stage when
the Grand Rapids Symphony played beautiful, Celtic
influenced music, including “Obertura del Cantabrico,” by
Spanish composer Daniel Sanchez Velasco.
MacMaster, on the other hand did her leaping
MacMaster hails from the remote Cape Breton
Island in Atlantic Canada, where immigrant Scots brought
their music with them. She’s become the best-known musical
ambassador of the Cape Breton style of fiddling.
The ballad “If Ever You Were Mine,” a melody
by Maurice Lennon that she calls her “most requested tune,”
In her hands, a stately strathspey tune, full
of “Scotch snap” figures with a little grace note before a
longer note, suddenly gives way to a series of reels, a
sudden release of tension.
Often she’s asked what’s the difference
between a violin and a fiddle? Not much she says.
“It’s like calling St. Nicholas, Santa
Claus,” she explained.
It’s true enough when MacMaster played duets
with Grand Rapids Symphony concertmaster Jamie Crawford
including a lovely version of the “Anniversary Waltz.”
With “Bach – Devil’s Dream,” a bit of classical music paired
with an old-time fiddle tune, Crawford got to let his hair
down a little while MacMaster got to show off her tone and
Her career began during the “River Dance”
craze, which was a lucky bit of timing for a one-woman,
fiddling and dancing machine who coaxed Lockington into
having a go at a Highland Fling with her.
In fact, she danced her way through many of
her tunes, climaxing with a long, solo dance in the second
half, followed by a somber, solo soliloquy on fiddle. Again
the tension was broken with a series of reels, jam packed
with virtuoso violin techniques that not all fiddlers can
How MacMaster has so much energy is a mystery
to me. It’s no mystery she’s the best at what she does.
July 18, 2013
Fiddler Natalie MacMaster: The most authentic Scottish music
doesn't come from Scotland
Mlive, all Michigan
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Fiddler Natalie MacMaster hails from Nova
Scotia or “New Scotland” on the North American side of the
But the Cape Breton-style of fiddling she
plays likely is more authentic than the music found the old
The music Scottish immigrants brought to the
New World, nurtured in relative isolation in such places as
the Cape Breton Island of Nova Scotia, almost certainly
survived longer, less affected by outside influences.
"No doubt evolution has occurred and will
continue to occur," Natalie MacMaster said in 2009 prior to
her first appearance with the Grand Rapids Symphony. But I'm
told that the music of Cape Breton is the most authentic of
Scottish music today.”
MacMaster, 41, who returns to appear
Thursday, July 18 and Friday, July 19 with the Grand Rapids
Symphony, grew up in a family of musicians, including her
uncle, Buddy MacMaster, a legend among fiddlers.
She began fiddling before her 10th birthday
on the craggy island where living and breathing includes
playing music and dancing.
"I got it through the blood and the
environment and the upbringing," she said. "It was a very
natural thing, almost like learning to talk."
These days, she’s passing on her craft in new
settings such as Leahy Music Camp, which MacMaster founded
with her husband, fiddler Donnell Leahy.
Thursday and Friday, she’ll be at Cannonsburg
Ski Area to play traditional Celtic jigs, reels, strathspeys
and waltzes accompanied by a full orchestra are part of the
show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
Gates open at 5:30 p.m. for picnicking,
pre-concert entertainment by the Steve Talaga Trio, and
children’s activities including face painting, crafts and an
instrument petting zoo. Concertgoers may bring their own
picnics and alcoholic beverages or purchase grilled items
and soft drinks at Cannonsburg’s concession stand.
MacMaster, who describes herself as a wife
and mother first, made her Grand Rapids Symphony debut in
March 2009, not long after giving birth to her third child,
Clare, in February.
She returned the following summer to play
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park while expecting
her fourth child, Julia, who was born in January 2011.
MacMaster recorded her first album, “Four on
the Floor,” at age 16, followed by several gold-selling
albums, a Grammy Award nomination, a Canadian Juno Award and
a couple of Top 20 albums on Billboard's World Music Charts
while performing with the likes of The Chieftains, Paul
Simon, Faith Hill, Luciano Pavarotti and Carlos Santana or
as a solo artist to audiences.
"That was a great time to be establishing
your fan base and your sound and your brand," MacMaster said
prior to her first appearance with the Grand Rapids
Symphony. "People were hungry for it back then. It was fresh
and new, even though it's a very old music."
Natalie MacMaster relies on ‘cramming abilities’ to juggle 5
a farm and performances
By Jessica McDiarmid, Thestar.com
Juno Award-winning fiddler takes kids on the road, home
schools and teaches at camp Leahy every summer.
MacMaster with her husband, fellow musician Donnell Leahy,
and their kids,
from left: Clare, 4, MacMaster holding Julia, 2, Michael, 5,
Donnell holding Alec, 9 months, and Mary Frances, 7.
Natalie MacMaster has a lot on the go: five kids, a farm, a
hundred or so performance dates a year.
And every summer the Juno Award-winning
fiddler teaches at the Leahy Music Camp, which this year
runs June 30 to July 4. She’s performing every weekend for
the rest of the year and recording an album in the next
Plus, she home schools the oldest three of
her kids, who range in age from 9 months to 7 years old.
“I just end up taking on things that I know
are important to do and trust that with my good cramming
abilities that I can make it work somehow,” says MacMaster.
“And usually that’s how it happens.”
The key is flexibility, says MacMaster, whose
music has also earned her two Grammy nominations and the
Order of Canada.
An average day at the cattle farm in Douro,
Ont., sees her husband, fellow musician Donnell Leahy, up
and out the door before she wakes up around 7, and the kids
Mornings are devoted to school. MacMaster,
who has a teaching degree, splits duties with another woman.
Afternoons are taken up by music practice.
Home school wasn’t the plan, initially, she
says. Lots of people around Douro home school, as do some
family members who still live on Cape Breton, N.S., where
MacMaster is from.
“There’s a lot of people in my midst home
schooling and I always thought to myself, I hope I never
have to do that,” she said.
But when MacMaster’s oldest daughter, Mary
Frances, was 3, she ordered some books and did a little work
with her. The following year, Mary Frances was old enough to
start junior kindergarten but the family had a tour that
fall, so MacMaster worked with her on the road again. The
next year was the same, and it’s carried on like that.
“I wouldn’t be able to put (them) in school
because we’re gone so much,” says MacMaster. “There’s no way
I’m leaving them home and there’s no way I’m going to deny
them the experience of touring.”
She takes the entire family on tour — “Take a
babysitter and you’re good to go,” she says, laughing — and
between schooling, rehearsals, sound checks, travelling and
shows, every second of the day on the road is consumed, said
“Things don’t get done by the book everyday,
there’s no question about it. We have to be flexible,” she
said. “And all in all, it’s a wonderful experience. It takes
a lot out of a person, but it gives a lot back.”
Sometimes, if it’s just a weekend
performance, she’ll go with just the baby or bring one child
who needs some extra “mommy time.”
“I don’t profess that it’s right (for
everyone). It’s right for us,” says MacMaster. “Donnell and
I have wildly unique and crazy lives and this is how our
children and school and music priorities fit into our
Becoming a parent means it’s not about you
anymore, says MacMaster, but doing the best thing for the
kids means also taking care of yourself.
“You have to maintain some sort of sanity and
personal accomplishment, for your children to see that and
be able to pass that on (to them),” she says.
At the same time, MacMaster says there seem
to be evermore pressures on women and many feel they have to
be good at everything.
“I think it can erode on a woman’s person and
I think it’s wonderful to have a sense of achievement ...
and strive for better, but we just always have to be careful
of what our definition of better is,” she says. “And just
try to go through life taking on what’s realistic for your
Leahy Music Camp – hosted by
Natalie MacMaster & Leahy Sunday June 30 –
Thursday July 5, 2013
Location: Lakefield College School,
Lakefield, Ontario Pricing: Detailed information can be found at:
The Leahy Music Camp – hosted by the members
of “Leahy” and Natalie MacMaster - has gained a reputation
for being one of the most dynamic and inspirational Camps
around. Since 2006, people from North America and Europe
have travelled to Lakefield, Ontario to attend the Camp,
learn, play, and create music.
The Camp focuses on fiddle, piano,
step-dancing, and guitar, but also teaches accordion, bass,
drums, mandolin, whistles, singing, audio engineering, and
more. Participants learn from world class musicians as well
as artists and technical experts from the music industry.
Emphasis is given to skills, style, expression, and the art
of working and playing music with others. A stimulating week
of music, all on the beautiful campus of Lakefield College!
April 11, 2013
Fiddle in blood of ‘Cape Breton Girl’
By Amanda Persico, YorkRegion.com
Being from Cape Breton, fiddling is in
Natalie MacMaster’s blood.
And she will be bringing her toe-tapping,
fast paced jig to the Markham stage.
For two nights, Ms MacMaster will perform at
the Flato Markham Theatre, April 17 and 18 at 8 p.m.
“I was born in Cape Breton,” said the mother
of five. “Fiddling is in my blood. It’s part of who I am and
that’s not going to change. You can take the girl out of
Cape Breton, but you can never take the Cape Bretoner out of
Performing about 100 shows a year, each
experience still brings an aura of excitement even after
close to three decades playing the fiddle.
“There is an energy that comes from the
music,” she said. “I still get a little pang in my stomach
before I go on stage. You can never over play a song,
because each show is different.”
Her eleventh album, Cape Breton Girl, is a
return to her roots with a traditional and true Cape Breton
The two-time Grammy nominee and Juno Award
winner started playing the fiddle when she was 9 years old.
“I was always surrounded by it,” she said. “I
started playing when I was big enough for the fiddle.”
She has also recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, the
Chieftains and children’s entertainer Raffi as well as other
fellow fiddlers, such as Alison Krauss.
It’s not the fiddle that brings people to her
shows, but the Nova Scotian sound that connects with the
audience from cities to rural areas.
Her skill with the bow makes the fiddle sing
and the audience tap their toes.
Being a mom hasn’t stopped her from working
on new material, songs or recordings.
“I am a fiddler,” said. “I desire it. I
breathe it. I play it. Whether I play on stage or in the
kitchen for my kids, I’m a fiddler.”
She plans to bring the family into the
recording studio in the coming months by recording an album
with her fiddle husband, Donnell Leahy, who flourishes in
more of a French fiddle style.
“We’re both fiddlers,” she said. “We have to
do something together.”
April 3, 2013
Breakfast Television - Vancouver, BC
April 3, 2013
Five children can't keep fiddler off the road
By Glenna Turnbull, The Daily Courier
Catching up with Natalie MacMaster during a
three-day break in her tour, the former Nova Scotia fiddler
who now calls Ontario home was not exactly sitting back
relaxing at home.
No, being home means she's up to her eyeballs in the
everyday running of a large household - she has five kids to
"It's doing laundry and cooking and home
schooling and changing diapers and driving kids to dance
classes and music lessons."
Husband Donnell Leahy is a huge help filling
in while she's away, but he has a music career as well. Not
only does he often accompany her on the road, but has his
own successful Celtic band, Leahy, to play with as well.
How do they manage to balance it all out?
"Well, the balls don't always stay in the
air," laughed MacMaster.
Sometimes they take the kids on the road with them and the
two oldest, Mary Frances Rose (age seven) and Michael (age
five) will take to the stage as well. Also, Clare Marie, who
just turned four has a step-dancing routine. As for Julia
Elizabeth, she's only just turned two and not quite ready
for the stage.
The kids won't be coming along for the Kelowna show, only
seven-month-old baby Alexander, who is still nursing.
MacMaster said it's easy travelling with the baby,
"It's a piece of cake with just one."
MacMaster's career as a Cape Breton-style
fiddler has spanned more than
30 years of performing and has earned her numerous East
Coast Music Awards as well as a Junos and a Grammy for her
collaboration with world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
"Cape Breton is a very musical island," she said of her
homeland. She learned most of her reels and jigs at kitchen
parties. Her mother taught her dancing when she was five and
her father taught her to play fiddle at the age of nine.
With a famous fiddling uncle named Buddy MacMaster, music
was always part of her upbringing.
"There are more fiddlers per capita in Cape
Breton than anywhere else in the world," she said.
Her husband Donnell Leahy also plays fiddle and MacMaster
recalled having seen him play on stage when she was just 12
years old. Leahy was one of eleven children. Growing up on a
farm in Ontario without a television, his family was also
immersed in music. They all learned to play by ear and while
he plays a more French Canadian style fiddle, the two are
able to work together.
For MacMaster, she said collaborating with
other artists is the best part of being a musician.
Among the many artists she's guest starred with are The
Chieftains, Allison Krauss and Thomas Dolby.
While it's hard to single out any in particular, playing
with Yo-Yo Ma on his Grammy Award winning Christmas CD
stands out as one highlight, along with getting to play with
Are there any genres of music that seem a harder stretch for
her to play?
"All of them," she replied, "There's no question, all of
them stretch me. I did this cool collaboration with Jesse
Cook that was probably my biggest stretch as far as posing a
MacMaster said, it either works or it doesn't.
"I've never had to walk away from anything.
You know, deep down, you can do it, you just find the
inspiration from the other artist, then they make you rise
to the occasion."
MacMaster recently won an East Coast Music
Award for her 11th CD, released last year, called Cape
Breton Girl. And while there will undoubtedly be a few songs
played from the new album at her upcoming show at the
Kelowna Community Theatre on Sunday, she said she never
specifically goes out to tour an album.
"We don't really tour a record," she said. "I put out
records but play whatever I want on stage."
She does put a great deal of thought into setting up her
playlists for each tour and said, "I like to put it in the
right order and get the flow right, but we're always
changing our show."
For now, having a break at home with her family, everything
else takes a back seat, including her music.
"My music happens when I'm performing and out on tour. I
have a rehearsal tomorrow, but until that happens, I'm
nowhere near it in my mind," she said.
But she's careful to set aside time
specifically for music and then it's husband Donnell's turn
to watch the kids for a while.
Asked if there was anything else she'd like
to add, MacMaster said, "I always like to leave with this
quote," then proceeded to tell the story of how, at the end
of a show a few years ago, when she was out in the audience
signing autographs, a little old lady came up to her.
"She must have been well into her eighties
and she said, 'I hate fiddle music but I loved your show.'
"So, even if you've never been out to a fiddle show, you
should come. You might enjoy it."
Who: Natalie MacMaster
Where: Kelowna Community Theatre
When: Sunday, April 7th at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $49 includes fee and taxes at SelectYourTickets.com
or call 250-762-5050
Natalie MacMaster’s passion for fiddle music
grows stronger as she tutors her children in the art form
that has been part of her family for generations.
“Fiddle music is plain and simple and it’s in
my ancestry and part of my family tree,” she said.
“Musicianship is in my blood.”
Her four-year-old daughter started learning a
month ago and her two older children already play the
“I am made more passionate about it through
them,” she said. “I want them to learn it. They are
naturally gifted so it’s a joy.”
As a mother of five, she said balancing life
and work has its challenges, but it’s not something the
family sits down and tries to calculate. MacMaster, who is
married to fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy, said the kids
always come first.
“We have the attitude of let’s just let life
pull us along,” she said.
For more than three decades MacMaster’s grace
with the fiddle bow and invigorating performances have
entertained audiences around the world. The musician
collects traditional jigs, reels and strathspeys and makes
them her own.
When MacMaster takes the stage she turns into
the performer. Sharing music with others is something that
brings her joy.
“Music is such a freeing thing. It is so true
and right,” she said.
When she performs she takes note of the
responses of the audience.
“When someone likes to hear something it
takes my attention. I listen with them and it makes me tap
my foot. It produces an emotional and physical response,”
MacMaster is performing in Nanaimo at the
Port Theatre Wednesday (April 3). She’ll play from her
latest album Cape Breton Girl as well as some new pieces
she’s been working on. MacMaster said her music has the
ability to appeal to a wide range of people.
Tickets are $47.50 and are available by
calling 250-754-8550, at the Port Theatre box office,
located at 125 Front St., or online at
March 23, 2013
MacMaster and company impressive at Mechanics Hall
By Jonathan Blumhofer, Newstelegram.com
WORCESTER -- Music-making as a collegial
experience and collective joy were two of the qualities
gleaned from Natalie MacMaster's most recent show in
Worcester, presented courtesy of Music Worcester on Friday
night at Mechanics Hall. MacMaster, her band, and a couple
of surprise guests (more on them in a moment) gave a
rollicking performance that provided a snapshot of the rich
musical tradition of Ms. MacMaster's native Cape Breton
Island, with a couple of detours south of the border thrown
in for good measure.
With more than 20 years' experience as a
performer, Ms. MacMaster has lost none of her youthful
exuberance. Her energetic stage presence (high-octane
fiddling and simultaneous step dancing) certainly draws the
attention, but it also brings out the best from her
bandmates -- on Friday, guitarist Nate Douglas, bassist
Shane Hendrickson, percussionist Éric Breton, and
keyboardist Mac Morin.
The first half of Friday's show was dedicated
to jigs, reels, strathspeys, and the like -- music largely
upbeat in character and the vehicle for impressive displays
of virtuosity (instrumental and danced) from MacMaster and
her colleagues. The only blemish on the proceedings, which
was somewhat remedied after intermission, was the bass-heavy
amplification that drowned out the detail of Douglas'
acoustic guitar and Morin's very involved (from the looks of
things) piano playing.
But that took nothing away from the
collective experience. Especially not with MacMaster as a
gracious emcee who, about midway through the first half of
the program, introduced her family (the aforementioned
special guests). Her husband of 10 years, Donnell Leahy,
also a fiddler and member of the band, took the stage for
two numbers. His presence provided an interesting contrast
between the playing styles of husband and wife (he was a bit
more physically reserved than her but delivered a sweet,
melancholy account of his first selection and a vigorous,
foot-stomping rendition of the second).
And then came the kids. They have five (that
MacMaster can pull off the moves she does with a 7-month-old
is mind-blowing by itself). The two oldest, Mary Frances
Rose Leahy (age 7) and Michael Joseph Alexander (age 5), are
already continuing the family tradition (very well for their
ages, I might add) of fiddle playing and dancing. After two
solo turns, nicely passed off between the siblings, they
were joined by their younger sister, Clare Marie (age 3),
for a step-dancing routine. Then, joined by their parents,
all four fiddlers turned in an energetic rendition of "Boil
Them Cabbage Down." It brought the house down.
The show's second half was a bit more
subdued, allowing MacMaster to take a little breather and to
showcase the talents of her immensely capable band. After a
solo introduction from Hendrickson, Douglas delivered a
gentle, introspective account of Nat King Cole's "Autumn
Leaves." Morin, whose keyboard playing throughout the night
proved rhythmically acute and incisive, took a turn as a
fleet-footed step dancer. One started to wonder: What can't
these musicians do?
Not much, it seems. Mr. Breton's humorous
solo contribution to the evening involved a church
collection box worn round his neck, a bone mallet, and a
wind-up toy. It elicited laughs, but also demonstrated what
an excellent musician he is. The band's last two sets, one
an encore, returned to the jig/reel medleys of the first
half and sent everybody out into the cold, spring night in
"Ninety percent of the tunes I know I learned
from [playing at] house parties," MacMaster said at one
point, referring to the Cape Breton tradition of getting
together and making music among friends. Friday's event
turned Mechanics Hall into one big house, and the party
isn't going to be forgotten anytime soon.
March 19, 2013
Theology school to confer three honorary degrees
Cape Breton musician Natalie MacMaster will
be awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by the
Atlantic School of Theology during convocation exercises
MacMaster has drawn worldwide attention to
Nova Scotia and its culture, heritage and music, the school
said in a news release issued Tuesday. Integrated into her
music is her Christian faith, said the release announcing
details of convocation exercises May 4 at 11 a.m. in
Cathedral Church of All Saints on Martello Street in
“The musical heritage she comes from was
incapable of separating the strains of the violin from songs
in church and the gift of faith,” the school said in its
“Natalie has publicly given witness to the
centrality of faith in her life in a quiet, humble yet firm
Also receiving a doctor of divinity degree
will be Martin Rumscheidt, church scholar, author, editor
Rumscheidt has a long history with the
Atlantic School of Theology, having taught from 1975 until
his retirement in 2002. He continues to work as a translator
and is the editor and co-translator of the American edition
of a recent feminist Biblical commentary published in
Germany and the United States.
A proponent for peace, he represented the
United Church of Canada on the governing board of the
Canadian Council of Churches’ Project Ploughshares, and was
a member and moderator of the Christian Peace Conference
His current work in ecumenical relations
involves Jewish-Christian theological discussion, with
particular attention on the impact of the Holocaust.
Donna Mackinnon, former executive assistant
to the president and board of governors of AST until her
retirement in January, will be honoured as an associate.
Now living in Chester, she is a volunteer for
Look Good Feel Better, a national public service program
dedicated to helping women living with cancer manage
appearance-related side effects of cancer and its treatment.
March 18, 2013
Natalie MacMaster Brings Timeless Cape Breton to Landmark
Mark Underwood, Port Washington Patch
Cape Breton’s Maritime Musical Daughter
Dances onto Rimsky Stage in Port Washington.
Even before the music began, the Landmark’s
Rimsky stage suggested something unusual was afoot. A drum
kit was placed stage right front instead of its usual rear
center position, and the Landmark’s grand piano opposed it
stage left. This left a large area between them open to the
In Landmark’s latest World Beat series event
on March 16th, a rosin’d-up, furiously bowing fiddle playing
dancer (or was it a furiously dancing fiddle player?) in the
form of one Natalie MacMaster was about to take up residence
in that space.
MacMaster brought to town a brand of regional
music and dance that was full of place, but that was also
timeless. It was a music both in her blood and grown in the
Cape Breton Island soil where she was raised. MacMaster is
married to the talented fiddler Donnell Leahy, and is a
niece of Buddy “King of the Jigs” MacMaster.
Last season Landmark featured Eileen Ivers,
and Saturday’s show featured yet another able female fiddle
player – this time with a twist. Even if it hadn’t been
revealed that MacMaster is the mother of five, including a
backstage six-month old, the current season’s performer in
this tradition was to reveal herself to be a gifted dancer
too. When she wasn’t bowing up a storm, she was an animated
tap dancer. In fact, photographer Steven Sandick may have
found that “stills” of this performer were an oxymoron.
Guessing that MacMaster’s backing musicians
are all Canadians, eh? Certainly. Her band included pianist
Mac Morin (also, it turned out, a capable dancer), Nate
Douglas on Taylor acoustic and a Strat, bassist Shane
Hendrickson on a 5 string Sadowsky made in Long Island City,
and Eric Breton covering percussion of one sort or another –
sometimes in duets with MacMaster’s feet.
How was the music? So lively, so easy to take
in, so musical that one might be fooled into believing that
there had been singing that night, too. Instead it was to be
an evening of Scotch Cape Breton triplets, arpeggios and
comfortably predictable cadences placed in the form of jigs,
cogs and reels. By the third number, the performers were
already receiving shouts at the end of the song. When
MacMaster invited the audience to keep time by clapping,
most needed no invitation.
At times, MacMaster was accompanied only by
piano. Even if audience members couldn’t find Killiecrankie
on a map at the start of a song, they’d soon be keeping the
down beat with drummer Breton, who returned to the stage
after one such fiddle-piano duet to add folk percussion
“bones” to the mix.
MacMaster may have sung and danced her way
into Landmark record books by taking the longest on-stage
drink of water – and by dancing atop an already-occupied
piano bench.Tossing her curly blonde mane at the audience,
she accepted a standing ovation, then broadly hinted that
she’d return for more. Return with an encore she did,
fiddling her wireless way down Landmark aisles, ultimately
bringing three young girls up to dance while she played on.
Here’s it’s worth mentioning her instrument’s setup. Using a
microphone dangled just above the bridge of the violin and
attached to a wireless system, this device allowed MacMaster
to stay with her violin’s natural sound but to stride across
the stage – and beyond – at will.
Usually musicians arrive at Landmark with a
portfolio of a few recognizable tunes and tunes less well
known. Diehard fans may know many of them, but a musician’s
best known songs carry the day. As a result, some nights
Landmark listeners must navigate a landscape of both
familiar and unfamiliar melodies.
A Natalie MacMaster performance is different.
Even if “Danny Boy” (perhaps the only purely lyrical piece
in the set list) was the only song title you carried away
from the evening, everything was familiar. It was familiar
even if you could no longer name farmer-ancestors coming to
town to square dance after a week’s hard work. It was
familiar even if you’d never studied the Highland Clearances
that brought Natalie’s kin to the Canadian coast.
They were somehow tunes we knew all along,
and thought we could dance to.
Fiddler Natalie MacMaster to Light Up the Mahaiwe in Great
Ruthie Napoleone, Passport-Mag.com
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are two
of the world’s most celebrated fiddlers, melding their
virtuosities into a whirlwind of music, dance and song,
combining the best of French, Celtic, American bluegrass and
even Cajun styles and making them their own. The duo is to
perform as part of their “Masters of the Fiddle” tour at The
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass.,
on March 24.
The peformers, who are also married, hail
from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, an island known for its
hospitality—and many say that feeling of community and
warmth comes through in their music. “It’s always a treat
for the two of us to share our passion in life, which is
music, and go out on tour together,” Ms. MacMaster has said.
“This is very much a family affair.”
At the Mahaiwe performance, they will be
joined by two highly-acclaimed pianists: Mac Morin and Erin
Leahy. Expected on the set list are foot-tapping rave-ups
and heart-wrenching ballads, along with world-class step
Ms. MacMaster, a Juno and Grammy
Award-winning fiddler, has released 11 albums, most recently
“Cape Breton Girl,” a collection of instrumentals that she
calls a “straight-ahead traditional record” that brings home
values she holds dear—family, tradition, home, and faith.
Some have called the album a musical nod to her uncle, the
legendary Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster. In addition
to her solo career and working with her husband, Ms.
MacMaster has collaborated with The Chieftans, Béla Fleck,
Mark O’Connor, Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss, among others.
Donnell Leahy’s musical life is part of a
family tradition that includes not only his wife and their
four children (whom they homeschool, along with pursuing
their music careers), but also his siblings. He’s the
frontman and plays fiddle alongside his seven brothers and
sisters in their acclaimed band, Leahy, which has released
multiple albums, received several Juno Awards and opened for
Shania Twain. The Leahys’ story was featured in the
Oscar-winning documentary “The Leahys: Music Most of All.”
The family of instrumentalists, singers, and dancers brings
a rare level of originality and musicianship to the stage.
This originality includes music that Mr. Leahy writes,
arranges, and produces, and, as a result, the group is known
for its unique blend of musical styles and genres, and its
repertoire is more distinct than ever.
In a Boston Herald review, Ms. MacMaster was applauded for
her abilities as a live performer: “To call Natalie
MacMaster the most dynamic performer in Celtic music today
is high praise, but it still doesn’t get at just how
remarkable a concert artist this Cape Breton fiddler has
Her career spans three decades, during which
she has become well known for her jigs, reels, air, waltzes,
strathspeys, marches and traditional folk music. “I guess
culture and tradition never go out of style,” she has said.
“For my crowds, they’ve been there for so many years—they
just keep building and hanging on. I think they’ve watched
me grow from a youthful new musician into a mature and
confident performer … . I always get the sense from them
that they deeply understand the unspoken essence of what I
do. That’s probably a combination of the Cape Breton
tradition and personality.”
Ms. MacMaster has also established herself as
an electrifying performer all over the world, thrilling
Carnegie Hall audiences and Massey Hall crowds, and
captivating radio audiences with multiple appearances on the
CBC, Canada A.M. and Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home
Companion,” and she has warmed television viewers with guest
spots on Christmas specials such as “Holiday Festival On
Ice” with Olympic ice skaters Jamie Sale, David Pelletier,
Kurt Browning and world champion Jeffrey Buttle.
“Donnell and I don’t plan on making [playing
together] our number one touring priority, because Leahy is
still so important to him, and if he’s not playing with me,
he’s playing with them,” Ms. MacMaster has said. “And I like
the specialness of it; it’s not our main gig, so we only do
it part of the year and we want to keep it fresh for
And that’s even more of a reason to see them
perform live together this time around.
The show is scheduled for March 24 at 7 p.m.,
and ticket prices are $25 and $35 for balcony seats, $42 for
members, and $47 and $67 for preferred seating. Information
and reservations are available by calling 413-528-0100, or
online at www.mahaiwe.org. The Mahaiwe Performing Arts
Center is located at 14 Castle Street in Great Barrington,
March 11, 2013
How about Nat!
MacMaster adds another ECMA to her collection
Cape Breton Post
SYDNEY — One of Cape Breton’s most decorated
East Coast Music Award winners got the ball rolling Thursday
night, claiming the island’s first award of 2013.
Natalie MacMaster, a native of Troy,
Inverness County, won in the traditional instrumental
recording of the year category for her album “Cape Breton
Girl.” The award was presented at the Roots Room showcase as
the 25th annual East Coast Music Week kicked into high gear
in Halifax, Thursday.
“Cape Breton Girl,” MacMaster’s 11th album,
was recorded at Glenn Gould Studios in Toronto and produced
by MacMaster, who is also nominated for the producer of the
year ECMA this week.
While the album has been described by some as
a return to her roots, MacMaster told the Cape Breton Post
when it was released that she didn’t see it that way.
“I don’t think of it like that. This is my
11th CD and I guess half of them are traditional and half of
them are a little more experimental, so there’s no great
surprise in this particular CD. It’s been done before by me
and I’ve never abandoned my roots,” she said, at the time.
“I’m pleased with how it turned out. I wanted to satisfy the
really hard-core Cape Breton fiddle fans so it’s pretty
Three other awards were handed out at the
Roots Room showcase — Prince Edward Island’s Tim Chaisson
received the roots/traditional solo recording of the year
award for his album, “The Other Side”; Newfoundland’s The
Once took home roots/traditional group recording of the year
for “Row Upon Row of the People They Know”; and Nova
Scotia’s Rose Cousins won folk recording of the year for her
album “We Have Made A Spark.” One other award was presented
Thursday night, with Jenn Grant picking up pop recording of
the year honours for her album “The Beautiful Wild” during
the pop/rock showcase stage.
Eight music awards will be presented tonight
at various showcase stages.
February 19, 2013
They're not just fiddling around In life and work, Natalie MacMaster
and Donnell Leahy make beautiful music together By Bill Nutt, The Daily Record
When Natalie MacMaster says that she and
Donnell Leahy are compatible, she is talking as much about
their personal lives as their professional lives.
MacMaster and Leahy – both award-winning
fiddlers from Canada – have been married since 2002. They
also frequently perform together, as will be the case today
(Friday, Feb. 15), at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
“Our styles really complement each other,”
says MacMaster. “It’s true on all levels. I don’t think
there’s ever been a disagreement about music.”
MacMaster attributes that compatibility, in
part, to the fact that she and Leahy each have active
careers apart from each other. Since the 1980s, he has
performed with his cousins in the family folk band, also
Meanwhile, MacMaster has worked with a broad
array of artists, from the Chieftains to Alison Krauss to
Yo-Yo Ma, while regularly releasing her own CDs of
A native of Nova Scotia, MacMaster grew up
steeped in the music of Cape Breton Island, which has roots
in both French and Scottish cultures. Her uncle, Buddy
MacMaster, is considered one of the masters of Cape Breton
fiddling, and two of her cousins – Ashley MacIsaac and
Andrea Beaton – are also respected fiddlers.
“In Cape Breton, music isn’t something you
choose. It’s a way of life,” says MacMaster. She picked up
the fiddle when she was nine years old and was performing
publicly within a year.
MacMaster describes herself as a musical
sponge who enjoys experimenting with different genres of
music. For example, she has played “MerleFest,” the annual
bluegrass and traditional American music festival in North
“Every time I work with someone new, I’m
moved and taken to a different place,” she says. “It’s a
great moment, because it challenges you.”
One of her favorite collaborators is Yo-Yo
Ma; her contribution to the cellist’s “Songs of Joy and
Peace” CD earned her a Grammy. But more gratifying than the
award was the chance to work with Ma.
“He’s the greatest cellist in the world, but
he’s so funny and light-hearted,” MacMaster says. “He’s very
silly. I’m very silly, too. He once told me, ‘My inner child
is intact,’ and I feel that way, too.”
As for her husband, she praises Leahy for his
technical skill. “When we play, it’s very lively and
spirited,” she says. “It’s very Cape Breton, but also very
Ontario. But there’s a third element, what I call ‘our
After some 30 years of performing, MacMaster
says she is attuned her audiences. “There are two types of
crowds; the ones who know me and the ones who don’t,” she
says. “I want to win the crowds that don’t know me, but I
also want it to be fresh for the ones who do.”
MacMaster’s touring schedule has been cut
back in the past decade, since she and Leahy now have five
children. But she still does session work, and she still
records. (One of her upcoming projects is CD of duets with
Though MacMaster writes some of her own
material, she also draws on the body of traditional music
from a variety of cultures. “I’ll never have to worry about
new songs to learn,” she says. “There’s such a wealth of
traditional material out there.”
“I’m so grateful that I’m still able to do
this,” MacMaster says. “Thirty years of performing, and it
never loses its appeal to me.”
January 27, 2013
Fiddlers to join kitchen party fundraiser FortMcMurraytoday.com
World renowned fiddlers and Juno award
winners Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy will be
performing at the Chef Michael Smith Kitchen Party
fundraiser on Jul. 27 at MacDonald Island Park, the Fort
McMurray Family Crisis Society has announced.
The married couple will treat the Fort
McMurray audience to a show featuring fiddle-driven music,
song and dance that combines French, Celtic, American
Bluegrass and Cajun styles.
The pair will hit the stage during Chef
Michael’s cooking event that will bring in food and drink
from each province in Canada.
Tickets to the event will be available on
Feb. 14 for $200 each at the MacDonald Island Park box
office, with all proceeds going to the Fort McMurray Family
Crisis Society’s Capital Campaign.
Natalie has been nominated for
an East Coast Music Award (ECMA) for "Traditional
Instrumental Recording of the Year" for her latest album
"Cape Breton Girl". The 2013
Music Awards will be presented on Sunday, March 10 at
the Cunard Centre in Halifax, NS. Natalie will also be
performing at the awards show with other nominees in the
At Home With Natalie MacMaster
Get to know award-winning fiddler Natalie MacMaster By Wendy Graves,
Canadian Living Magazine (January 2013 issue)
MacMaster opens up about balancing a rewarding musical
career with homeschooling her five children, while making
time for the simple joys in life.
To say Natalie MacMaster has her hands full
would be an understatement. The Cape Breton–born fiddler has
been crisscrossing North America since October 2012 as part
of a tour that will see her play more than 60 shows by the
end of April.
And this past August she became a mom for the
fifth time, with Baby Alec joining siblings Mary Frances, 7;
Michael, 5; Clare, 3; and Julia, 2.
Now based in Ontario, Natalie talked to us
before the holidays from the Lakefield-area farm she shares
with her husband, Donnell Leahy (yes, from the family band
What can fans expect from your upcoming
tour? "We'll have some good Cape Breton fiddling – very
lively, joyful music. And there will be moments that have a
little more depth to them; there's another type of beauty in
the slower pieces. But, generally speaking, our show is very
up, with the odd corny joke, and it's hopefully a night of
ease for the audience."
Do the kids come on tour with you? "It depends on where I'm playing and how long I'm going
for. If I'm doing just one show, I'll take Baby Alec with
me, since he's still nursing. I homeschool my two oldest
kids, so Mary Frances came with me for some shows in the
fall while Donnell taught our five-year-old at home. Mary
Frances also danced and played fiddle in those shows."
What's it like to perform with your
daughter? "Parents say it's all about their kids. Well, it's true.
Give me a good round of applause, but give her a great round
of applause and I'm just beaming. For her to get standing
ovations feels way better to me than for me to get them."
How has your approach to touring changed
since you became a parent? "We try to find what works best for the kids. If we stay
home all the time and don't play music, that's not good for
our kids, because Donnell and I believe we are meant to do
what we do. There's an element in involving the kids that's
healthy for them. They're not just learning music; it's the
experience. We take the summer off and then go like crazy
until Christmas. You are always playing that game of how
much is too much, how much isn't enough."
I know you always meet fans after the
shows. What have been some memorable gifts they've given
you? "I remember somebody gave me a lamp. We get a lot of
children's baby gifts. We get a lot of chocolate. (I love
getting a box of chocolates.) People also just give me
notes; backstage I'll get a little card from somebody who
wants to open up. I got a fiddle clock once. I have been
given lots of fiddle paraphernalia."
You mentioned you homeschool your kids. Is
that a big part of having a good work-life balance? "I have a degree from teacher's college in Nova Scotia.
I've never used it professionally, so it's kind of ironic
that I'm teaching my own kids. At first it was just a trial,
but this is now my third year. I like the flexibility it
gives. It works well for our situation."
With five kids under age seven, when do
you find time to sleep? "I change things up. I'll crawl into bed with the kids
at nine o'clock. I wake up a lot because the baby nurses and
none of the kids sleep through the night. So my husband and
I are up, switching bedrooms.
I might do that for a couple of nights in a
row, then the next couple of nights I might stay up until
three in the morning doing laundry, preparing schoolwork or
meals for the next day, mopping the floor or just tidying
We try to be just as flexible with the kids'
schooling. For a couple of days I'll teach music all morning
and do some lighter school stuff in the afternoon.
And then the next day we might have a real
focus on math. You just go with what you feel the kids
I know your husband, Donnell, is a great
step dancer. Do you dance? "I'm not a formal dancer. I dance in all of my shows,
but my technique is that I don't have a technique. I never
learned, but I'm passionate about dancing. I've taken a
couple of lessons from my sister-in-law. I'm motivated first
by exercise and second by just wanting to dance. It's a
different style [of step dancing] in Ontario. I'm a Cape
Breton dancer and I throw a little bit of craziness in
between the moonwalk and some clogging and Irish dancing."
Do your kids ask you to play the fiddle
for them, or is it more like, "Not now, Mom"? "Every time I pick up the fiddle, the two-year-old and
three-year-old want to sit in my lap. If I can play for one
minute without being interrupted, it's miraculous.
Mary Frances is just starting to learn to
play the piano and sometimes she wants me to play so she can
accompany me. We're lucky to have a beautiful grand piano in
our living room. I'll start playing the piano and the kids
get their dancing shoes on and the fiddle is out. They just
want to be involved. And then I get the little one sitting
in my lap."
What do you remember most about your
childhood Christmases in Cape Breton? "Christmas is probably my favourite time of year.
There's magic in the air. We would go with Dad to the woods
to cut down a tree, then haul it back to the house. And the
decorations had a certain smell to them because they were in
the basement all year.
But that smell conjures up Christmas. I also
remember Mom and Dad having someone who wasn't as fortunate
over for turkey dinner. I remember playing fiddle for those
people; that's a very vivid memory for me."
Do you have a favourite Christmas song to
perform? "I really like ‘Christmas in Killarney,' because it's so
much like a fiddle tune. It's like a typical jig and has a
nice, strong melody. And ‘O Holy Night' also has a beautiful
What's the most memorable Christmas gift
you have ever received? "It was probably my Cabbage Patch Kid. I was freaking
out. He was bald and I absolutely loved him. He's still in
my bedroom in Cape Breton, and when I go home and look at
him, it evokes the same kind of excitement."
And is there a gift that meant a lot for
you to give to someone else? "I remember giving my godchild a little wooden box when
she was eight or nine that had a biblical verse carved into
it. I thought that was a pretty special gift for her."
What role does food play in your holiday
celebrations? "It's a big part. Give me a little bit of time and I
just love cooking and baking. My husband comes from a family
of 11 siblings and they're all around us. So we always have
a big Christmas gathering and the meal is just incredible.
It's a potluck, so you're always asking, ‘Who made that?'
And then you get the recipe."
Is there a dish you bring every year? "They always put me on carrot duty. What do you do with
carrots? I've made a good carrot casserole from a recipe my
sister-in-law gave me. It's basically carrots, but they're
done in a kind of scalloped potato sauce. The topping is
what makes it so good: crushed cornflakes with melted
butter. Sometimes I'll make a strawberry spinach salad with
balsamic vinaigrette mixed with a little maple syrup. I
toast some goat cheese in bread crumbs to put on top. It
looks really nice and gives it a nice bite." (See Recipe here)
What's coming up later in 2013? "After the tour, Donnell and I are going to record
together for the first time. It's crazy: We've been married
for 10 years and we haven't recorded together. We plan to do
some summer festivals and, once fall hits, we plan on going
to Ireland for a show on PBS. We'll do two weeks' worth of
shows, but maybe stay for a month, just for the experience
of living in Ireland."
November 30, 2012
together MacMaster and cousins By Kirk Starratt,
Kings County Register
nov. 25 concert in Wolfville was a taste of Cape Breton for
east coast music aficionados and an unofficial family
reunion for the performers.
For the first time, descendents of John and
Margaret Ann Beaton from Mabou, Cape Breton - including the
likes of Natalie MacMaster, Margie and Dawn Beaton, Vernon
MacDougall and Lisa Cameron and Kelly Jean, Mitch, Gordie
and Brennan MacDonald of Company Road - converged on the
same venue at the same time to perform together.
The unofficial family reunion happened in the
form of a benefit concert for the Valley Care Pregnancy
Centre at Acadia’s University Hall in Wolfville.
Cape Breton fiddling icon MacMaster said
she’s always so glad to be in Nova Scotia and it was a great
feeling getting off the plane earlier in the day. The group
of musical cousins very much believe in the cause and, when
life boils down, all you really have is your family. This is
something people sometimes take for granted and now, living
in Ontario, she finds she has a better appreciation for her
own family. MacMaster is the proud mother of five children.
The atmosphere before the benefit concert for
the Valley Care Pregnancy Centre was like a family reunion
for Dawn and Margie Beaton, Vernon MacDougall and Lisa
Cameron, Natalie MacMaster, Company Road and all their
relatives on hand.
The concert was presented by Council 5030 of
the Knights of Columbus. Treasurer John MacDougall said the
idea for the benefit show came from his mother, Mamie
MacDougall, and it was about two years in the making. He was
so pleased to see all the cousins come together like this
for a benefit performance and family reunion all in one.
“It’s a big deal for all of us,” MacDougall
Approximately 700 people attended the event.
“These guys are playing for nothing. It’s
been a phenomenal coming together of people to make this
happen,” said Grand Knight Mike L’Oiseau. “The beauty of
this is it’s like a big family event.”
November 19, 2012
Natalie spends time with some Huntsville area music students
to her sold out show at the Algonquin Theatre. (TVCOGECO)
A Taste of Cape Breton Benefit Concert on Nov 25.
Click poster to view full size with info
November 14, 2012 Fiddler Natalie MacMaster: How she tours with her family By Grace Stanisci, Sound Check
Juno Award-winning Cape Breton fiddler
Natalie MacMaster has received honours such as the Order Of
Canada and honorary degrees from schools like St. Thomas
University (honorary doctorate,) Niagara University, New
York, and Trent University.
She is a Canadian icon, but when described as
such, she tells Yahoo! Canada Music that her fiddler husband
Donnell Leahy likes to use a certain word to sum up his
talented wife: "Timeless."
"My husband always says to me, 'Natalie, I
think you're a Canadian icon,' and I'll say, 'No,' and he'll
say, 'Well, you can not play or do any marketing and you're
in your own little world and then you go play shows and
they're sold out. You're timeless,'" she explained. "That's
what he calls me, 'timeless.' Anyway, I don't know if he's
right or wrong but I'll tell you this much, whatever I am, I
sure enjoy being it."
With her extensive touring schedule,
MacMaster says that although she hasn't found any steadfast
methods to coping with children and life on the road, it's
all about being adaptable and knowing what works for your
"I have no solutions for anything because for
us, it changes month-to-month," the 40-year-old musician
said. "Depending on who's nursing, who's going to school,
who's learning to dance or play fiddle, who needs what
[makes you] try to balance everybody's needs. I don't have
any solutions or rules that we follow other than we do take
it tour by tour, show by show, child by child, month by
MacMaster and her husband have five children
together, ages six and under, and although they are busy
raising a family and maintaining two separate music careers,
they will be recording together in the future.
"Donnell and I are absolutely recording this
coming year," she revealed. "We've been married for 10 years
[and] it's terrible that we haven't recorded yet but that's
our plan this coming year, to record and we're doing a lot
more touring together."
She added, "We usually play shows and make
them something special that we do on the side, that's kind
of our attitude. I've spent the whole year focusing on
Natalie MacMaster and then next year we'll have maybe 30 or
40 shows coming up for Donnell and Natalie…I have a running
list of stuff for us to record together, but the last time I
spent any time on it was a month ago. I have other focuses
One of the main focuses is MacMaster's
current tour, which has become a family affair with a few of
her children joining her on stage from time to time.
"Mary Frances (6,) plays the fiddle first and
then starts dancing [in the show] and she always gets a
standing ovation and [is] a big hit, it's really cute
actually," she said. "It's more than cute because it means a
whole lot to see that and to know that your efforts as a
parent are paying off."
She also said, "Michael is five and he has
about five or six fiddle tunes that he's playing now and he
has joined us on stage before as well. He has also danced a
fair bit on stage, although his [style] is shall we say a
bit more 'interpretative,' …and our three-year-old daughter
Clare, she is a little firecracker and she's doing really
well at dancing with no guidance."
ShowGo.tv talks to Natalie before her show at
Yoshi's in San Francisco on October 24th, 2012.
October 24, 2012 Live stream of tonight's concert
Natalie's concert tonight at Yoshi's in San
Francisco is being streamed live on
Showtime: 8:00pm Pacific time.
October 23, 2012
Original Natalie MacMaster Painting on Auction at eBay
In Support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada
Natalie is once again taking part in the
Kidney Foundation of Canada's "Brush of Hope" auction. The
painting is an original on acrylic and signed. Only a few
days remain to get your bids in and help this great cause!
October 12, 2012
Natalie MacMaster to appear at ECA, Edmonds Senior Center Edmonds Beacon
Edmonds Center for the Arts presents multi-
talented fiddle sensation Natalie MacMaster at 7:30 p.m.,
Friday Oct. 19.
Before the big show, Ms. MacMaster is headed
for the upstairs ballroom at our very own Edmonds Senior
Center from 4 to 5 p.m., where she will regale folks with
tales of her travels, a bit of fiddle playing, some question
and answer time – and if we are lucky, perhaps even a bit of
This Educational Outreach opportunity is free
to the public.
Natalie MacMaster is a native of Cape Breton,
Nova Scotia and her roots are part of her signature sound
that has resonated with world audiences through 10 albums,
multiple gold records and numerous Juno and East coast Music
Natalie MacMaster maintains an active touring
schedule performing 100 shows a year, sharing the stage with
The Chieftains, Paul Simon, Faith Hill, Luciano Pavarotti
and in front of millions on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,
Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the ABC 2002 New Year’s Eve
Special and Good Morning America.
She has thrilled audiences throughout Europe
and North America, especially in her native Canada, enabling
MacMaster to passionately perform and promote the universal
language of her Cape Breton sound.
October 12, 2012
Fiddler Showcases Her Cape Breton-style Music at the
Bankhead The Independent
Canadian fiddle virtuoso Natalie MacMaster
will return to the Bankhead Theater on Oct. 23 for an
evening that showcases her Cape Breton-style music.
MacMaster fiddles her way from traditional foot-tapping
Celtic jigs, strathspeys, and reels, to plaintive airs and
heartrending ballads, occasionally breaking into world-class
step dancing along the way.
Tickets for the single performance by Natalie
MacMaster on October 23, 2012 at 7:30 p.m., range from $43
to $63 for adults and $14 for students.
Born into a family of fiddlers, MacMaster
received little formal training but her natural sense of
musicianship earned her a place on the stage as a child. Her
first recording, Four on the Floor, was released when she
was just 16 and since then she has been sought after by
audiences and fellow musicians alike, for her exceptional
talent, enthusiasm, and from-the-heart dedication to her
music. She has shared the stage with a diverse roster of
artists from Paul Simon, Faith Hill, and Santana, to
superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Her contributions on
renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma’s recording, Songs of Joy and
Peace, earned her a Grammy Award.
The origins of the distinctive Cape Breton
musical style can be traced back to the Celtic and
Gaelic-influenced music of the Scottish immigrants of the
1700s. Her love for music of all kinds influences her style,
which touches on bluegrass, classical, Cajun and flamenco
rhythms, and even an occasional rock beat. Her most recent
album Cape Breton Girl comes full circle to demonstrate her
love and affection for the local musical traditions that
first sparked her interest in performing.
Tickets are available now through the
Bankhead Theater ticket office, 2400 First Street in
Downtown Livermore. To purchase tickets call 925-373-6800 or
October 3, 2012
Whirlwind tour takes MacMaster back home By
STEPHEN COOKE, Halifax Herald
MacMaster is home on the East Coast this weekend for a
that includes the Celtic Colours International Festival on
Autumn is the season when the year starts to
wind down the clock, but this year for Natalie MacMaster
it’s all about fresh starts.
This Thanksgiving weekend, the Cape Breton
fiddler is home on the East Coast for a mini Maritime tour
that includes an appearance at the Celtic Colours
International Festival’s opening gala in Port Hawkesbury on
Friday and a Monday matinee at Halifax’s Rebecca Cohn
Auditorium. It’s familiar enough territory for her, but this
time she’s coming with a recently reconfigured band playing
new-to-you sets of jigs and reels, and it’s also her first
trip home with her newborn son Alec Francis, born to
Ontario-based MacMaster and husband Donnell Leahy in August.
“It’s been great, but it’s always busy,” says
MacMaster of her trip home, on the phone from Troy. “I wish
it wasn’t so busy, but we always come home around a gig or
some kind of event, so you have to cram a whole bunch of
things in at once.
“It seems like when I come home there’s
always lots going on, but that’s what we do, that’s our
life, that’s what we chose.”
MacMaster also has shows tonight in Saint
John and Saturday in Fredericton, with Sunday off for a
family Thanksgiving before heading to Halifax bright and
early Monday morning to get ready for her 3 p.m. Cohn
performance. These dates are really her first chance to
break in the new band, which sees longtime keyboardist Mac
Morin and cellist Nathaniel Smith joined by new guitarist
Nate Douglas, from Barrie, Ont. and Montreal percussionist
“We just spent last week rehearsing, I’d just
met these guys. When I say that, I mean they’re not from my
musical past, we’d only met over the last three months, but
they’re great players,” says MacMaster, who feels the
aptly-named Breton will provide the biggest change-up after
her previous drummer opted to play behind Shania Twain for
her two-year residency at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
Stuck for a backbeat for her Canada Day show
with the National Arts Centre Symphony on Parliament Hill,
MacMaster went looking for a replacement, but found all her
rhythmic friends were busy. She got Breton’s name from her
friends Cheticamp pianist Rachel Aucoin and her duo partner,
Montreal accordion player Sabin Jacques, and loved how he
fit into her tunes in Ottawa. She quickly asked him to join
the current tour, along with Douglas, joining the ranks of
talented pickers who’ve accompanied MacMaster over the
years, like Dave MacIsaac, Chris Corrigan and Brad Davidge.
“I’m always looking to freshen things up, but
it’s more about the quality of the musicians than the
particular instruments,” says MacMaster, looking forward to
presenting new arrangements and new tunes, as well as the
high-wire-act thrill of putting the rookies through their
paces. “I’ve based my band on the players as opposed to the
instrumentation. And here we are playing our first show
together the night before Celtic Colours!”
The Friday night show at the Port Hawkesbury
Civic Centre at 7:30 p.m. is titled My Island Too, and it
presents a broad spectrum of Celtic sounds and sights,
including Shetland Islands ensemble Fiddlers’ Bid, colourful
Metis dance troupe Asham Stompers, Jamaica/Cape Breton steel
drum player Pepeto Pinto, Cape Breton singer-songwriter
Cyril MacPhee, Inverness County Gaelic singer Goiridh
Domhnallach (Geoff MacDonald), pianist Jason Roach and
multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen, plus the
piano/accordion duo of Aucoin and Jacques.
“It’s going to be a fantastic show, I’m
really excited about it,” she says. “As you know, I have
five kids, so that’s where my priority and my devotion is
right now, that’s the stage of life I’m in, but I look
forward to these kind of opportunities that come along.
“Most of the playing that we do right now is
ourselves, where we go on tour and we’re the only gig, as
opposed to festivals or shows with opening acts. So this is
great because I’m in with a whole bunch of other musicians,
and it’s more creative. Because I have personal connections
with a lot of them, we’re putting together the finale and
collaborations that will happen through the night, and
that’s really exciting for me.”
MacMaster’s shows this weekend mark the start
of a run of 33 shows from now through mid-December,
including a tour of the Northwestern U.S. and a Christmas in
Cape Breton tour down the Eastern Seaboard; pretty
remarkable considering Alec Francis was only born on Aug.
11, which also happened to be her mother Minnie’s 70th
birthday. But he’s getting an early taste of the road, as
the MacMaster/Leahy clan grows towards Partridge Family
“Now that there are five children, we all
spend time with Alec, Mary Francis and Michael are holding
him a lot, almost as much as I do, which is good because
we’re a family, we’re a team,” she explains.
“I feel like I have good baby bonding time.
I’m a nursing mother, and that forces you to take time out
and sit down with your new baby. As the years go on, I can
see why they put so much focus on that. ... As much as my
child eats, I spend lots of time with him, it’s so important
when they’re little infants.”
But as one new life enters the world, another
departs, and MacMaster says she still coming to terms with
the death of a member of her extended Celtic Cape Breton
family, singer Raylene Rankin, who passed away last weekend
after a struggle with cancer.
Besides sharing stages while growing up along
the Celidih Trail, Rankin was MacMaster’s roommate when they
travelled to the U.S. on Nova Scotia Tourism’s Sea Sell
promotional cruise in the late ’80s, and for a time she
filled in for fiddler Howie MacDonald when the Rankin Family
was on tour in the ’90s.
“It’s amazing how she affects me, and I’m so
sad that she’s gone,” says MacMaster, taking a moment to
gather her thoughts. “And I’m sad that I never got to say
goodbye. That’s what I’m most sad about; I would have loved
to tell her that I thought she was a fabulous lady, and that
I was thinking of her and praying for her.
“But even though it was tragic that she had
to suffer, there’s still great joy in what Raylene has left
for all of us. Raylene did it, she was the little Cape
Breton girl who sang Gaelic and stepdanced and grew up with
music all around her, and look what she did with it. She
gave off as much feeling in her singing as any artist I’ve
ever heard, there was no hiding how she felt, there was not
even a thin veil over her when she was on stage, she was
completely exposed. It was like you could hold her heart in
For tickets to My Island Too at Celtic
Colours (reserved seating, $60/$50/$40), visit the
festival’s website at
Tickets to MacMaster’s Monday afternoon show
at Halifax’s Rebecca Cohn Auditorium are $49, available at
the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office
(494-3820/1-800-874-1669 or online at
June 15, 2012
Todd MacLean, The Gueardian (PEI)
"Y'all set?" Natalie MacMaster grinned to the
packed-in and completely sold-out crowd at St. Mary's Church
this past Sunday evening.
Without speaking into the mike she belted out
this two-word greeting to the excitedly applauding pews full
of fans before launching into her very first set of tunes
ever played in Indian River: a reel, played in unison with
soaring bagpipes to her left and backed by a driving rhythm
of acoustic guitar and grand piano behind her. And, as the
title of her new CD is indeed Cape Breton Girl, there could
be no better tune to proceed right into but, of course, a
Seated next to her was her guitar accompanist
— none other than Islander J.J. Chaisson. And as their
side-by-side feet pounded out that 1-2-3-4 accented beat of
the strathspey, you could almost feel the primal roar of
Inverness County physically pouring over us.
Do you know about the strathspey? It's that
type of fiddle tune (signature to Cape Breton fiddlers, but
played by many others as well) that you hear where the
players quite forcefully tap out a rapid steady beat. And
when this tight, Scotch-snapping rhythm all at once releases
to the quickly-flowing one-and-three accented waterfall that
is the reel (especially when it's a player like MacMaster
behind it all), there truly are few better moments in music.
And with the June evening sunshine gushing in
through yellow stained glass upon the four musicians as they
wildly tore-up the final reel of the set, there was such raw
exuberance of spirit that filled the church you could
virtually taste it.
"We met when he was just 10," MacMaster said,
introducing J.J. after that set of tunes. "He proposed to me
back then. Gave me a 25-cent ring from the canteen," she
added, as all, including J.J., erupted into laughter.
Next, MacMaster (who had no absence of
energy, considering she is seven-months pregnant with her
fifth child) tuned her fiddle to high bass (E-A-E-A) which,
according to her, is "a trick from the olden days that they
used in order to amplify the fiddle a bit." Entirely solo at
this point, she then played one of the most incredible slow
airs I have ever heard.
Something mystical and timeless took place in
the church at that instant, and to tell you the truth, I
don't even know if I can begin to describe it. I have 800
words for this article. I could probably write 5,000 words
on the sound of one single note in that cathedral. All I can
say is this: It was a fleeting moment whose glow will
probably never leave the hundreds who were there to enjoy
There were so many highlights to mention from
MacMaster's first concert at St. Mary's Church — and the
opening show of the 2012 Indian River season — and it is
completely impossible to mention them all.
But to name a few:
1. The mother-daughter duet featuring the
unbelievable developing fiddle and dance skills of
MacMaster's six-year-old, Mary Frances Rose Leahy;
2. Chaisson's insanely fast picked-out reels
on the guitar, which nearly tore Harris' roof off the place
(you should have seen the wowed look on MacMaster's face at
this point — probably thinking, "Hmm. Maybe I should've
married him ...");
3. Hector the Hero, Jean's Reel and St.
Anne's Reel — all incredible;
4. Pianist/dancer Mac Morin who added
impressive brilliance in general;
5. Piper/tin whistler Matt MacIsaac who
played two harmonized whistles at once at one point, and
about an eight-minute bagpipe solo;
6. The finale and standing-ovation encore
where MacMaster kicked off her shoes and bounced the new
baby in the belly to the radiant rhythm of a stepped-out
With this kind of music going on around the
little him or her in there, I think it's safe to say
MacMaster will have another fiddler on the way soon enough.
May 10, 2012
Leahy Music Camp organizers offer July 4 evening concert for
winning entry Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
instruct at the annual Leahy Music Camp.
Kawartha Media Group
How cool would it be to host a music concert at your house?
Well, those behind the Leahy Music Camp will make that a
reality for one household. In conjunction with the 7th
annual music camp, a home will be chosen for a July 4
evening concert featuring camp musicians.
Members of Leahy and Natalie MacMaster are
preparing to welcome more than 200 camp participants July 1
to 5 at Lakefield College School. Students come from across
North America to receive instruction from a number of
accomplished traditional and roots music performers,
including Canadian Grand Master fiddle champion Mark
Sullivan, Cape Breton pianist Mac Morin and guitarist J.J.
Chiasson from P.E.I. as well as MacMaster and all the
members of Leahy.
March 23, 2012 Kurt Stoodley
Morning Live (Ottawa) chats with Natalie about
her latest album and tour
My wife and I, along with some
friends, went to a concert the other night. It was performed
by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and featured a fiddle
player, Natalie MacMaster, who hailed from Cape
Breton, Nova Scotia. While she was a fiddle player, it would
be a serious injustice to think of this very talented
musician as just a fiddle player.
In case you’re wondering if
there’s a difference between a fiddle and a violin, as Ms.
it, there is not. But, in my generally skewed opinion of
most stuff, there is definitely a difference between a
violinist and a fiddle player. The concert was a
collaboration of symphonic works and Cape Breton fiddle
tunes from the Scots/Irish communities, in celebration of
St. Patrick’s Day. It was a flawless marriage of the two.
When the orchestra began, I was trying to decide whether or
not to close my eyes and listen, or keep them open and
With my eyes closed I could see
the images the music evoked. With them open I could see the
concert. I chose the latter and was well rewarded. After the
first piece, Natalie MacMaster was introduced. By her second
song, with my eyes open, I felt as though I was in Cape
Breton. I also thought that God just might be happily
listening in. At one point the first chair violinist and Ms.
MacMaster performed a duet. It was a song learned from her
husband, who learned it from his aunt, who in turn, learned
it from her parents. It was a tune handed down from one
generation to another, each learning it by memory. In fact,
every piece that Natalie MacMaster performed was from
She shared stories, woven
between songs, about the history of the music, giving us a
sense of the timelessness of this music. It was a glimpse
into the past, with a very real focus on the present. And it
was all spun from golden threads of joy. We could see it in
Ms. MacMaster’s face, in her movements as she danced, in her
interaction with the orchestra, and her intimacy with the
audience. The fiddle and the music were simply extensions of
her life, her Cape Breton culture, and centuries of musical
experiences handed down through the years. She graciously
gave us an open door into her world. It was magic. The
evening ended all too soon.
On the way home we all came to
the same conclusion. We need times like these, in times like
these. Times when joy breaks in, bringing life into a bit
more perspective. That concert left me feeling spiritually
lifted up. It transcended the orchestra, and Ms. MacMaster.
I believe they were instruments in God’s hands, just as much
as the ones they played. Did I say the night was magic? I
meant it was like church...and it was fun!
March 15, 2012
MacMaster puts some green into the weekend for Symphony Pops By Jane Vranish,
Natalie MacMaster and husband Donnell Leahy
perform. Ms. MacMaster will go solo with the Pittsburgh
Symphony Pops in a series of shows this weekend at Heinz
You might say it will be all in the family
when Natalie MacMaster takes to the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops
stage in Heinz Hall this weekend. There's her family
heritage on Cape Breton Island in Canada, which inspires her
playing through and through, and her marriage to fellow
fiddler Donnell Leahy, one of 11 siblings and a major part
of the fiddling family known simply as Leahy. And, oh yes,
the Grammy Award-winning violinist is expecting her fifth
People don't know how she does it, from the
marriage and children plus 100 concerts a year, to a
coffee-table book about her beloved Cape Breton and a passel
of recipes on her website.
Pittsburgh Symphony Pops with Natalie MacMaster
Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown.
When: 7:30 tonight and Friday; 8 p.m. Saturday; 2:30 p.m.
Tickets: $20-$95; 412-392-4900 or
Also: Ms. MacMaster will perform with the Pops at the
Scottish Rite Cathedral, New Castle, 8 p.m. Monday. Tickets:
$16-$59; 1-800-743-8560 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
Perhaps it would be best to start at the
That would be Cape Breton Island, which sits
just off Nova Scotia. With its scenic roads and spectacular
coastal vistas, Conde Nast travel guide has named it one of
the best island destinations in the world.
About 400,000 travelers visit during the
summer and fall. According to Ms. MacMaster, there is a
reason for that in this land of "fishing and farming and
forestry and mining and a love and passion for traditional
music. It is so real and unchanged," she says. "There's just
a real humility and strength in the people -- there are
callouses on their hands and a sparkle in their eye."
Her husband says that there's one thing that
protects the culture -- and many say this includes the
purest extension of Scottish fiddle playing found anywhere
-- and that is the harsh winter. She chuckles, "Once the
summer's done, everybody's gone."
So by the time the young Cape Breton woman,
with "hazel eyes as deep as two oceans" (as described in
Canada's National Post), put out her first album at age 16,
the whole island was behind her, including fiddlers such as
Uncle Buddy MacMaster and cousins Ashley MacIsaac and Andrea
So was a small army of little old men. They
became really fond of her, not in "a dirty old man sort of
way," she says, and began to lavish her with presents --
fiddles. She recalls how one came up to her at a concert and
gave her one in a pillow case, telling the skinny young
blonde that "a friend of mine wants to give this to you, but
he's shy. He made it with one block of wood and one knife."
Now it hangs on a wall in her home in Douro,
Ontario, with about 15 others, a "beautiful yellow fiddle
with a black varnished back." Already two of her children,
ages 6 and 4, play the violin. But she claims she and her
husband, who can "draw the bow across a cardboard box and
make it sound like a beast," are behind in producing young
violinists in the family.
The subject of an Oscar-winning documentary
short, "The Leahys: Music Most of All," in 1985, the Leahy
family already has its own budding Leahy 2 in the next
generation. When the adults play important concerts close
by, say in their hometown of Lakeview, Ontario, or on Cape
Breton, 20 fiddling young relatives show up, ages 3 to 16.
So what is the secret to the allure of this
style, one that has brought Ms. MacMaster so many awards
including best instrumental album and Fiddler of the Year
from the Canadian Country Music Association and the Order of
Canada, the country's highest civilian honor? Or so many
collaborations with the likes of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, which
garnered her that Grammy, and fellow fiddler Alison Kraus,
R&B's Michael McDonald and the Chieftains?
Ms. MacMaster calls the Cape Breton brand
"stylistically very strong in the rhythm department, it's
got a great groove. Groove, groove, groove. You can't help
but get on and stay on -- it's like a train going, it's
And although she can play jigs and reels and
airs (yes, it's all what she terms Celtic) with the best of
them, she has crossed over into bluegrass, heavy metal and
Well, maybe not. She says the
Grammy-nominated "Blueprint" album had "a pile of bluegrass
players on there. I'm not playing anything different. I just
have maybe some different chordal patterns, with great
mandolin and banjo pickin' behind me."
And the heavy metal album might have had
electric guitar, distortion and big drum, but "I'm just
playing like I'm playing a square dance at home. I just
surround myself with amazing musicians."
She's modest when it comes to her technique,
too, which derives "from the bowing. We don't do anything
right," the fair-haired fiddler claims. "There's lots of
places to improve. But the product is real and heartfelt and
As for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Ms. MacMaster
asserts that she's "terrible with my etiquette and my
terminology when it comes to music and that world. But what
is beautiful, you don't need any of that. It's music, and no
matter what they've come from and what I've come from, we
So she'll bring a Celtic knot of love and
some "great arrangements" to the St. Patrick's Day Pops
festivities. And she'll not only have a distinctive lilt to
her voice and a drive to her playing, but also a spring to
MacDonald plays with Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster
in a pub in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Bishop delivered the homily at her wedding in 2002. She
will play at his funeral on Friday.
courtesy of Natalie McMaster)
They were an unusual pair, an odd-looking
twosome that had a way of making people stop and look twice.
She was skinny, 30-ish and blond, with hazel eyes as deep as
two oceans. And he was a Catholic Bishop, a septuagenarian
in a clerical collar with a wispy powdering of snow-white
Stranger than their physical appearance were
the poses they struck at the pub in Medjugorje, a village in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Heads slightly cocked, eyes closed, with
fiddle bows in hand and with fingers flying, dancing across
the strings, summoning traditional Celtic tunes — jigs,
marches, reels, waltzes and airs — straight from Cape Breton
before a smattering of happily speechless onlookers.
“When we went on this trip people got quite a
kick out of seeing a bishop and the little blond girl
playing together,” says the little blond girl, better known
as Natalie MacMaster, the Cape Breton fiddling queen.
“I don’t know if Bishop Faber ever aspired to
be famous for his fiddling; you know, he had an incredible
ear for the music, and he could play with anybody. But
somebody in that position — you have to practise, you have
to be dedicated to something — and he was dedicated to his
Bishop Faber MacDonald, the red-headed,
fiddle-playing priest from Little Pond, Prince Edward
Island, died last Friday in Charlottetown at the age of 80.
Sick with pneumonia, he succumbed to a heart attack after a
long, good life.
Ms. MacMaster can’t remember when they first
met. He was just always there, at East Coast music
festivals, and always with a fiddle tucked beneath his arm.
Spiritually, they shared a common faith.
Musically, they came from the same place and time, a mostly
bygone era of kitchen parties, chowder pots and
foot-stomping fiddling fun that runs deep in the seams of
Cape Breton’s rock and the Island’s red mud.
“He grew up with the music as a part of his
way of life and so did I,” Ms. MacMaster says. “There are
some unspoken commonalities there, and it is not something
you bring up, because it is obvious.”
Bishop Faber Macdonald and
Ordained a priest in 1963, the future bishop
served several Catholic parishes around P.E.I., entertaining
them, on occasion, with his fiddle. He worried about the
death of traditional music and worked hard to revive it,
helping found the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival. Now in its 36th
year, it is a top draw for tourists and fiddle masters
alike, such as the little “blond girl” and her famous Cape
Breton cousin, Ashley MacIsaac.
Ms. MacMaster would receive letters from the
bishop once her life as a travelling musician had begun.
Lengthy dispatches that were spiritual, musical and affable
in tone, they mixed words of encouragement and praise with
theological meditations on whatever her latest musical
project happened to be.
“He had this incredible capacity to express
the depths of his spirituality,” Ms. MacMaster says. “I
accepted his letters as gracious gifts.”
In 2003, the fiddlers trekked to Medjugorje,
along with Ms. MacMaster’s fiddler-husband, Donnell Leahy.
The village is a pilgrimage site for Catholics. The couple
confided in the bishop, expressing their desire to have
children, lots of children. He prayed over them; Ms.
MacMaster is now pregnant with her fifth child.
“He said some beautiful things,” she says.
“Every time I look at my children I am reminded of him.”
Music is another reminder. Bishop Faber’s
funeral will be held Friday at St. Dunstan’s Basilica in
Charlottetown. His old pen pal has been asked to play a
“My Mum was saying to me, ‘You know, you are
going to have to have a really amazing piece.’ But I don’t
look at it that way. I think all I have to play is something
simple. I have to have the intent, and the simplicity, and I
think that will be more powerful.
“One of my favourite quotes of Bishop Faber
is the line that he ended his homily with at our wedding. He
said, ‘In the words of Father John Angus Rankin there are
two things in life that are eternal — music and love.’
This past Friday, Natalie
invited some musical friends and family over to her house to
officially release her 'Cape Breton Girl' album. Attending
were some of Natalie's band members including Mac Morin and
J.D Blair, members of the Leahy family, Fiddler/Guitarist
J.J Chaisson from PEI and more. This electric night of music
was recorded on video and will be shared with you here on
the website sometime in the middle of March. View Natalie's video here
I remember the first time I heard Natalie
MacMaster play as if it were yesterday. It was in Halifax,
1998, during the East Coast Music Awards. Barry Kent, then
the Maritime rep for EMI Music, had invited me to drop by
The Lord Nelson Hotel for the launch of singer-songwriter
Bruce Guthro's major label debut, Of Your Son.
Part-way through what was already an
exceptional evening of music, Guthro introduced MacMaster as
a special guest. I had heard MacMaster's name before but had
never heard her play. It was not intentional, I had just not
had the opportunity.
That night proved to be something of a
Her playing was fluid and beautifully
expressive, adding a whole other layer of colour and texture
to Guthro's songs. It was clear that every note she played
came from the heart.
In the ensuing years, I have seen MacMaster
play more than a dozen times, and every time I hear her play
I take away the same sentiments. And it doesn't matter what
she's playing, whether it's the traditional music of her
beloved Cape Breton or something of a more contemporary
nature. I have enjoyed her excursions into rock, jazz,
flamenco and other genres of music and I applaud her
adventurous spirit and her diversity.
But I must confess that when she returns to
the traditional Celtic music that first brought her to our
attention, my level of interest in her work begins to rise.
And my level of interest is on the rise again.
That's because MacMaster just recently
released Cape Breton Girl, an album devoted solely to
traditional Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle music.
"I just wanted to do a straight-ahead,
traditional record," MacMaster said recently. "I find that
they're becoming less and less common."
Recorded at Glenn Gould Studios in Toronto
with a stellar group of players that included keyboard
player Mac Morin and guitarists Dave MacIsaac, Scott
MacMillan and Brad Davidge, MacMaster's first new album in
five years features a sterling collection of jigs, reels,
strathspeys and other tunes, broken into several medleys.
While MacMaster uses other instruments -
bass, snare drum, whistle, flute and occasionally bagpipes -
the bulk of the album is taken up by what she terms the core
instruments of Cape Breton music: piano and fiddle.
MacMaster feels very good about this record.
And well she should.
More than any other record she has done in
the last number of years it speaks to who she is. It
embraces those values which she holds most dear - family,
tradition, home and faith. It is a record filled with
passionate, heartfelt performances and brimming with the
infectious spirit of a Cape Breton ceilidh.
Those who've longed to hear MacMaster make
another record like those she recorded early in her career
will find what they're looking for here. For what it's
worth, we should count our blessings she found the time to
make the record at all.
Much of her time these days is taken up by
the never-ending responsibilities that come with motherhood.
MacMaster and her husband, acclaimed violinist Donnell
Leahy, have four children, all under the age of seven.
Choice offerings on Cape Breton Girl include
the Butcher's Jig Set which includes The Butcher's March,
Angus Chisholm's and McInerney's Fancy; the Stoney Lake
Reels set, which includes H. Mackworth, Lady Georgina
Russell's, Tom Marshe's Hornpipe and Stoney Lake; and the My
Brother Kevin medley, made up of The Fir Tree, Miss Gordon's
of Fochabar, Lady Muir MacKenzie, The Lasses of Stewarton
and Mrs. Norman MacKeigan.
And I love her work on Our Father / Ar n-Athair
(The Lord's Prayer / an Phaidir).
Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley has
confirmed the identities of 36 people who will receive the
new medal at Queen’s Park on Monday afternoon, including
broadcasters Lloyd Robertson and Peter Mansbridge, filmmaker
David Cronenberg, ballet dancers Karen Kain and Rex
Harrington, retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci,
and musicians Gordon Lightfoot and Natalie MacMaster.
January 12, 2012
MacMaster comes back
C.B. fiddler, mother of four makes up for lost time with
first CD in five years Stephen Cooke, Halifax Herald
TIME FLIES when you’re having kids.
So it would seem to Cape Breton fiddler and
mother of four Natalie MacMaster, who is still amazed she
let half a decade slip by between record releases.
But she makes up for lost time by getting
back to basics with some of her favourite musicians on her
latest CD, Cape Breton Girl, a tribute to her Ceilidh Trail
roots that’s dedicated to her uncle, Judique fiddler Buddy
"People have been saying, ‘It’s been five
years since the last album... ’and I can’t believe it’s been
that long," says the Troy musician from a tour stop in
Indiana just before the holidays. "I guess my book (Cape
Breton Aire) came out, and other projects have been coming
up, but it has been awhile."
The most important project is maintaining the
ongoing balance of music and motherhood, taking care of her
children with violinist husband Donnell Leahy: six-year-old
Mary Francis, four-year-old Michael, Clare, who turns three
in February, and one-year-old Julia.
"They’ve all done this since they were born,"
says MacMaster, who home-schools the older kids on the road.
"They like being on the tour bus, and the pools at the
hotels, and it’s exciting for them. On our Christmas tour
they were part of the show, except for Julia, of course.
"They came out and did a little number, and
they always get a treat as a reward for dancing in the show,
so life on the road is exciting for them. And the crowd
loves it because they’re so cute. . . . But that won’t be
the norm; it was cute to have them as part of the Christmas
show, but we want to keep it special."
Performing was also a family affair in
October when MacMaster and Leahy shared the stage for a
series of shows called Two Fiddles, Two Pianos with longtime
keyboardist Mac Morin and sister-in-law Erin Leahy, also
from the family band Leahy.
"I had someone come up to me and say,
‘Natalie, we’ve seen 14 of your shows in the last 20 years,
and this one’s your best.’ My parents say it’s our best show
"Donnell and I don’t plan on making that our
No. 1 touring priority, because Leahy is still so important
to him, and if he’s not playing with me, he’s playing with
them. . . . And I like the specialness of it; it’s not our
main gig, so we only do it part of the year and we want to
keep it fresh for ourselves."
MacMaster says she’d like to bring Two
Fiddles, Two Pianos back to the East Coast at some point —
it premiered during Celtic Colours 2010 — and currently
plans to make a Maritime visit with her band at some point
in the first half of 2012.
As far as recording with Leahy goes, the
question about their dual fiddle dynasty teaming up in the
studio has been hanging over their heads since they were wed
in 2002, and they want to make it happen.
"We keep trying to get it done, and things
keep popping up, life just happens, and my turnover time is
just not what it used to be; my priorities have completely
shifted," she explains.
"But yes, absolutely, it would be a shame to
leave this world without a documented recording. We will be
recording together, and sooner than later."
MacMaster’s last album, 2006’s Yours Truly,
combined Celtic and contemporary sounds, including the Irish
ballad Danny Boy sung by former Doobie Brother Michael
McDonald, but on Cape Breton Girl she assembles a small
circle of East Coast friends to tackle a traditional
Scottish and Cape Breton repertoire in the warm acoustics of
CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.
It’s a familiar pattern for MacMaster,
alternating contemporary Celtic projects like 1999’s In My
Hands and 2003’s Blueprint with grittier downhome
collections like My Roots Are Showing (1998) and a 2005
collaboration with her uncle Buddy.
But MacMaster says her decisions about what
to do next aren’t determined by formulas or fan requests.
"I don’t ponder that question when I’m
recording; I just think, ‘What do I want to do?’ But I know
people always appreciate when I do traditional stuff," she
"I just felt like doing a straight-ahead
traditional record. On one of the last tracks (the Pretty
Marion set) I do branch out a little bit in terms of
bringing in percussion and making it a bit more ‘arranged’
in terms of accentuating certain elements of the melodies.
"But I don’t ever want to lose that
incredible gift that I’ve been given from my environment, so
I really focused on that."
January 5, 2012 Natalie
MacMaster: Cape Breton Girl Review By Randi Beers, Exclaim.ca
Natalie MacMaster has been playing the fiddle
for 30 years. She has toured with Carlos Santana, Allison
Krauss, Faith Hill and Yo-Yo Ma, done two TED Talks about
Cape Breton fiddling and sold over 200,000 albums. She
really is the Queen Mother of fiddling. Cape Breton Girl,
recorded in another national treasure, Glenn Gould Studios,
is a study of Nova Scotian traditional music ― each piece is
made up of a number of traditional pieces and covers that
have been deconstructed and reformed to make a new whole.
The album is beautifully composed by MacMaster and mostly
pared down to simple piano and fiddle duets. From the
happier moments of "F Medley" and "Butcher's Jig Set" to the
lilting and morose "The Methlick Style," MacMaster's latest
effort is a fantastic listen.