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December 17, 2008
Natalie MacMaster sets the holiday mood.

WHAT: A Celtic Christmas concert
WHEN: Tuesday night
WHERE: Benaroya Hall

It's beginning to look, and sound, a lot like Christmas.

Tuesday night at Benaroya Hall, Natalie MacMaster rekindled memories of the yuletide "fiddle parties" she grew up enjoying on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In the Celtic tradition -- Cape Breton is anything but Scot-free -- the fiddler and her world-class band combined jigs and reels into what she called "blasts of tunes."

One such package tied together instrumental versions of the holiday favorites "It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride," while MacMaster broke out the perhaps-inevitable "Christmas in Kilarney" to give it a spirited rendition of its own. And although the tunes she played in her two one-hour sets were largely seasonless, not to mention timeless, the evening's clear highlight also was a Christmas classic.

On a simply stunning reading of the hymn "O Holy Night," the fiddler teamed beautifully with Nathaniel Smith, a 14-year-old cello prodigy, in a pairing that brought to mind Mark O'Connor and Yo-Yo Ma. (MacMaster lends her expertise to O'Connor's fiddle camps and performs on Ma's new holiday album, "Songs of Joy and Peace.")

Smith's classical rigor balanced nicely with the traditional approaches of pianist Mac Morin, who played a Gaelic air in a solo segment, and multi-instrumentalist Matt MacIsaac, who played bagpipes in his, and the more jazz-oriented approach of five-string bassist Shane Hendrickson and the versatility of J.D. Blair, once Shania Twain's drummer.

MacMaster, who has fiddled for 27 of her 36 years, made use of those talents in the more contemporary songs, but it was on the traditional material where her stellar playing really shone. The only disappointment was the absence of the high-energy performer's step-dancing, but there were mitigating circumstances: MacMaster is seven months pregnant with her third child. (The first two kids, ages 3 and 1 1/2, are on tour with their dad, fiddler Donnell Leahy.)

Only slightly daunted, MacMaster declared, "I've got to get something out" and, midway through her program, let loose with impressive clogging. "I always think," she said afterward, "that the baby's in there thinking, I hate this part of the night."

December 8
, 2008
'Holiday Festival On Ice' to air on CBC TV

The 7,000 fans assembled last Friday at the Halifax Metro Centre for Holiday Festival on Ice, couldn’t have given the 10 world-class skaters — plus musical guests The Cottars and Natalie MacMaster — a warmer reception, rising to their feet for standing ovations eight times during the two-hour show. The evening was taped by CBC TV for broadcast on Wednesday, December 17 at 9:00 pm. Please check your local listings to verify broadcast date and time.

December 6, 2008
Natalie MacMaster takes Scottish tradition to whole new level
Lawrence B. Johnson / Special to The Detroit News

Scottish traditional fiddler Natalie MacMaster is a shining -- also pulsing, toe-tapping, rocking -- example of the wisdom of listening to your mom. To watch MacMaster on stage you would never, ever guess that early in her career her idea of style was to come out, sit on a chair and, well, just fiddle. She was a blazing musician. But her mom had issues.

"I never really looked up, and never talked," the Canadian fiddler recalls, "until my mother told me, 'You're so boring. You're stiff as a board. You look shy and timid.' So it became a progression, standing up, then moving around and really carrying my show."

Catch MacMaster's performance Sunday afternoon at Orchestra Hall and you'll see what critics mean when they say this wizard from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, has re-energized the tradition of Scottish fiddling. She has also given that tradition a new, eclectic accent.

Or rather she has allowed the musicians around her -- piper, cellist, pianist, bass guitarist and drummer -- to lay down some unexpected grooves as she continues right down the center line of the Scottish tradition as she inherited it. "The guys around me come from all sorts of different backgrounds," she says, "so a jig might get a strongly African beat under it, or my drummer might throw in some eight-bar jazz."

And then there's the factor of what you might call MacMaster unleashed. Her toes are going, legs are going, she's going -- all over the stage, bouncing from musician to musician trading riffs, scooting the pianist to share the bench before flying off again.

After some 27 years on the stage, says MacMaster, performing is definitely more fun now than it was when she just sat in that chair. "It's easier now, and more pleasurable," she says. And the excitement of going onstage hasn't waned, she adds. "I still get butterflies."

And the excitement, she says, is not limited to live performance. MacMaster, who has produced 10 CDs, says she loves the process of recording. "You have so much control of the sound when you're working with the best mics and beautiful reverb."

For all her studio experience, MacMaster says, the thrill of recording hit a new peak when she joined cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the newly released "Yo-Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace" (Sony Classical).

"He's so awesome -- one of the funnest guys I ever worked with," she says. "He says he's never lost his inner child."

Meanwhile, the outgoing MacMaster keeps finding new audiences.

"When we were in Germany, it was unbelievable," she says. "A sea of people freaking out, people who've never heard Cape Breton music before. There's something deeply communicative in it, and they were all getting it."

December 6, 2008
A Merry Celtic Christmas
MacMaster, Cottars, world-class skaters capture season’s grace and beauty
By ANDREA NEMETZ, Halifax Herald

Kurt Browning skated as Natalie MacMaster played Christmas Jig during Holiday Festival on Ice at the Metro Centre on Friday. Performers included Jeffrey Buttle, Sasha Cohen, Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, Jennifer Robinson, Steven Cousins, Shawn Sawyer and The Cottars. (Ted Pritchard / Staff)

Before rocking Halifax Metro Centre to the sounds of Foreigner’s highly appropriate hit Cold As Ice, Shawn Sawyer urged the crowd not to be cold as ice this Christmas.

The Edmunston, N.B., skater needn’t have worried.

The 7,000 fans assembled Friday for Holiday Festival on Ice couldn’t have given the 10 world-class skaters — plus musical guests The Cottars and Natalie MacMaster — a warmer reception, rising to their feet for standing ovations eight times during the two-hour show.

Opening with Season of Holly and Ivy, ECMA-winning group The Cottars set the tone for the evening with a theme of A Celtic Christmas, as Marie-France Dubreuil, Jennifer Robinson and Jamie Sale skated out in shimmering silver dresses, elegantly twisting glittery tartan scarves.

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning took to the ice for Christmas Jig as MacMaster — seven months pregnant and backed by a five-member band — sizzled on fiddle. The popular skater dazzled with intricate Celtic-inspired footwork sequences, ending with a backwards leap onto the stage to give a grinning MacMaster a big hug.

Jeffrey Buttle’s program to MacMaster’s rendition of Pretty Mary — complete with bagpipes — brought the crowd to its feet.

Clearly a crowd favourite — wolf whistles and shouts of ""we love you"" greeted the 2008 world champion’s every appearance on the beautifully lit ice — Buttle raised his arms above the head in a traditional Irish dancing pose, while urging the enthusiastic crowd to clap along to a program full of jumps, split leaps and cossack jumps as well as his trademark unique spins.

Sasha Cohen’s elegant program to Josephine’s Waltz (accompanied by MacMaster) showcased the 2006 Olympic silver medallist’s mesmerizing spirals, astonishing flexibility and gorgeous spins.

And in Peace Carol, as the Cottars’ music sent shivers down the spine, the flexible Sawyer, who is attempting to qualify for his second Olympic berth, elicited gasps with a back flip. He repeated the move in Cold As Ice, which also featured a gravity defying version of a spread eagle.

The two programs by Sale and David Pelletier drew the night’s loudest standing ovations as the 2002 Olympic gold medallist pairs skaters showcased jaw-dropping lifts — including several rotating lifts with Sale in a unique split position, twists, a death spiral, throw jumps and perfectly-timed pairs spins.

The married couple’s effervescent charisma was evident in Boogie Woogie Christmas, as was their continuing romance in Grown-up Christmas List.

And a cowboy-hat wearing Browning, long revered for his showmanship, brought tears to many eyes as he skated to John Denver’s Christmas for Cowboys. The Caroline, Alta., skater introduced the program saying how sad he was that he wouldn’t have the gift of his father’s company this Christmas, a man who sat tall in the saddle. As the music drew to a close after an emotional skate, he left the hat silhouetted on ice.

The evening was taped by CBC TV for broadcast on Wednesday, December 17 at 9 p.m., and six-time Canadian champion Robinson was treated to chants of encouragement and prolonged applause when she redid for the cameras a triple Salchow she missed during a lovely, lyrical program to The Last Rose of Summer. Her impromptu happy dance charmed the already adoring fans.

November 26, 2008
Natalie will fiddle for Holiday Festival on Ice
Halifax Herald

Fiddling sensation Natalie MacMaster has been added to the Holiday Festival on Ice slated for Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

This year?s show, A Celtic Christmas, is a 90-minute production that features two full cast numbers as well as two individual performances by each skater, and musical guests MacMaster and The Cottars.

The cast features four-time world champion Kurt Browning; 2008 world champion Jeff Buttle; 2002 Olympic gold medallist pairs skaters Jamie Sale & David Pelletier; 2006 Olympic silver medallist Sasha Cohen; 2006 and 2007 world silver medallist ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon; six-time Canadian champion Jennifer Robinson; eight-time British champion Steven Cousins and Edmunston, New Brunswick?s Shawn Sawyer, who is attempting to earn a return visit to the Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver.

"I?m so excited to play for figure skaters!" said MacMaster, in a news release. "This is a first for me and I always love collaborating with other artists. Of course, it?s great to be back in Halifax too."

Halifax Metro Centre has partnered with Feed Nova Scotia and will collect food and cash donations at the door. A portion of the evening?s ticket sales will also be donated to Feed Nova Scotia.

Tickets are available at the Ticket Atlantic box office at Halifax Metro Centre, Atlantic Superstores, by phone 451-1221 or online at www.TicketAtlantic.com.

November 23, 2008
MacMaster executes brilliantly. O'Carolan's Concerto, Tullochgorum, showstoppers for Queen of Cape
Breton fiddle in SNS concert

So much serendipity radiated from the stage of the Cohn Friday night at Symphony Nova Scotia's Traditional Pops Concert, you were still cheerful on Saturday morning as you tackled the 30-plus centimetres of snow that dumped on us overnight.

We had Natalie MacMaster to thank for that. Six months pregnant with her and Donnell Leahy's third child, shaking her blond curls, twitching her long legs and tapping her restless toes, and ever the master fiddler she has always been, she zipped through some three dozen tunes with Symphony Nova Scotia backing her up.

Fellow Cape Bretoner Martin MacDonald, SNS's resident conductor, called the shots from the podium in a bouquet of Scott Macmillan's best arrangements.

SNS has much to thank MacMaster for. She played a major role in her first ever performances with any orchestra, helping with a timely tour, to bail the orchestra out of a nightmarish near-collapse in 1995.

Not one of the countless orchestras she has played with since then get the style so easily as SNS, she explained to the audience. She's living in Ontario now, but the sight of the familiar faces of the SNS musicians delighted her at the first rehearsal Thursday afternoon.

The orchestra opened the program with an instrumental potpourri of Percy Grainger's Scotch Strathspey and Reel (tailored to SNS size by second bassoonist Chris Palmer) in which seven tunes tangled with the Marquis of Huntley Strathspey and an insistently recurring What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor.

Grainger's waggish sense of humour probably free-associated the word "Scotch" in the title. But managing seven tunes at once is a tour-de-force even if you call the work a quodlibet (at least two tunes with the same harmonic changes being played at the same time) as music scholars would.

It was fun, but also a bit stiff and academic in the way the TE-tum TUM-te strathspey rhythm came out with such knife-edge precision. But when MacMaster came out of the wings with Mac Morin on piano and J. D. Blair on drums, and led off a set of three jigs with Scotty's Favorite, she immediately separated the fiddlers from the violinists.

The lift and sparkle of her style was learned and honed to perfection playing for dancers at Inverness County ceilidhs. And it is both infectious and irresistible. Not that SNS's violinists don't know how to pay like fiddlers. That ability lies behind MacMaster's comparison of them to other North American orchestras. It's just that Grainger was slumming and it showed.

MacMaster gave a stunning show, rich with tunes and brilliant in execution. The orchestra played Scott Macmillan's arrangements easily and naturally.

For the slow moments, she played a soft and poignantly felt arrangement of If Ever You Were Mine, in the first half, and in the second, the classic Anniversary Waltz with music by Dave Franklin and lyrics by Al Dubin, memorably introduced to the world by Bing Crosby shortly after its composition in 1941.

For show-stoppers, and MacMaster is a virtuoso fiddler with the kind of technical command and insistence on perfect tuning of a classical player, she whirled through O'Carolan's Concerto, and later an unaccompanied version of her signature piece, Tullochgorum with its brilliant and demanding variations, each more complex and even,
towards the end, faster than those before.

She didn't step-dance and fiddle at the same time, perhaps the only concession to wearing several pounds of new baby around her middle, but she tapped up a storm on Drum Dance with Blair's help. As for step-dancing, Morin took care of that with some truly masterly moves.

A great show, happily sold out, featuring a fine orchestra and the Queen of Cape Breton Fiddle herself.

November 19, 2008
MacMaster returns to play with Symphony Nova Scotia

Natalie MacMaster calls her busy touring schedule nothing compared to what it used to be. About 10 years ago, the Cape Breton fiddler would perform more than 200 shows in the course of a year.

But now married with two children — a third coming in mid-February — MacMaster has different priorities and has cut her time on the road basically in half.

Still, MacMaster is scheduled to perform more than 100 times in 2008, showing that her passion for the fiddle and playing in front of crowds remains very strong.

“Every chance I get to go into my world, my own personal world of music, I just thoroughly enjoy it,” MacMaster said. “There’s no chance in getting sick of it or it to be stale. It’s really lovely for me. I just love it.”

MacMaster is currently touring across Atlantic Canada and will perform back-to-back shows on Friday and Saturday with Symphony Nova Scotia at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

It’s been several years since MacMaster first performed with SNS, and the niece of famed Cape Breton fiddler Bubby MacMaster is excited for it to be happening again. MacMaster will perform songs on her own during the performance, and do several with the symphony, including If Ever You Were Mine.

“It’s very full,” she said of her sound along with the symphony. “You feel like you’re playing music from a movie soundtrack. It’s very lush and so multi-dimensional and layered. It’s big. It’s big and beautiful.”

After ending her tour of Atlantic Canada with a stop in St. John’s on Nov. 26, MacMaster will take about week off before going to the United States for a series of shows. After that, she will take it easy until her new baby is born in February.

“For me, I’ve slowed down with every child,” said MacMaster, who has a three-year-old daughter, Mary Francis, and an 18-month old son, Michael, with her husband and fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy — a member of the Canadian band Leahy.

“When this baby is born, I’ll probably slow down a little bit again,” MacMaster said.

November 15, 2008
Natalie's bumper crop
MacMaster moves to the farm with a growing family, bounty of music
By STEPHEN COOKE, Halifax Herald

HOME IS A relative state of mind for fiddler Natalie MacMaster.

At the moment the Cape Breton-born musician is adjusting to life in a new house with musical husband Donnell Leahy and their children, three-year-old Mary Frances and toddler Michael Joseph, who's just shy of two.

In this case, "new" is also relative; it's a 125-year-old farmhouse on a spread owned by the family just outside of Peterborough, not too far removed from MacMaster's memories of growing up in Troy, on Cape Breton's Ceilidh Trail.

"We've always wanted to raise our children on an actual farm, so we took the plunge and here we are," says MacMaster, who returns to her first home next week for shows in Sydney on Monday and Halifax on Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22. "I just love it, and the kids love it too. They've just come alive in the last two months.

"It's like living at the cottage; the cellphones don't work very well, although we do get high speed Internet, which we didn't have at our old place. But it feels like we're away from business, which is nice."

It also helps to have a little more living space since MacMaster is seven months pregnant with her third child, due around Feb. 10.

"You'll definitely be able to tell when I'm on stage next week. Welcome to my belly world. I hear three is a challenge because now the parents are outnumbered; we don't know if it'll be a boy or a girl yet, but I'm sure as they grow up they'll find their clever little ways to terrorize us," she laughs.

Even so, MacMaster has appearances planned right up until Dec. 20, starting with Monday's performance with Leahy at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, featuring their pianists Mac Morin and Leahy's sister Erin in an event titled Two Fiddles, Two Pianos. "It's very intimate, it's like we're in your home," she says of the show.

At the other end of the scale is MacMaster's two-night stand at Halifax's Rebecca Cohn
Auditorium with Symphony Nova Scotia, plus Morin on keyboards and drummer J.D. Blair.

The energetic performer has a sentimental attachment to SNS, as it provided her first-ever orchestral backing nearly 15 ago, with concertmaster George Maxman, and she also performed at the 1996 Symphony Explosion fundraiser at the Halifax Metro Centre, where she was lowered down onto the stage from the ceiling.

"I love doing these shows, because they're always special for me," she says. "I don't do them all the time, and it's always fresh to play with a new orchestra. I've learned the key for me is to bring my own drummer, and that way there's a link between the rhythm of the symphony and my own rhythm, and that's been a big, big help to me.

"With my band it's a very zippy sound, and with the symphony it's like being on a luxury cruise liner, it's got all this depth and width and it's so multi-dimensional. With Mac on my piano and my own drummer, I just feel so comfortable it's like being clothed in velvet."

MacMaster is also in a classical frame of mind as a featured guest on a new Christmas CD by internationally renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma titled Songs of Joy and Peace. The fiddler has shared bills with him at Carnegie Hall, and performed with him at a fundraiser in Ottawa, but this is the first time they've teamed up together in the studio.

"To get the call and know you're going to be a featured guest, you just keep thinking, 'It's going to be great!' But when you get into the studio with him, it's like any other session, in a way, because he's just so down to earth," she says of the New York City record­ing session.

"When you're in his presence he makes you feel so relaxed, he makes you feel special, like you're the greatest thing since sliced bread. He gives you confi­dence by his very nature; he's a very personable guy, very appre­ciative and very humble."

Songs of Joy and Peace also features guests like Diana Krall, Dave and Matt Brubeck, soprano Renee Fleming and James Tay­lor. For her part, MacMaster con­tributed a medley of her own Christmas Jig and the French­Canadian reel Mouth of the To­bique as well as accompanying her friend Alison Krauss on The Wexford Carol.

MacMaster says the master cellist had no difficulty getting into the youthful spirit of this holiday project.

"He can be quite silly, which people probably wouldn't think because he's a classical artist and he's the creme de la creme, and he's played with the creme de la creme, and you'd assume he'd be all about being 'the serious artist.' "But as he says, his inner child is still very much intact."

November 14, 2008
MacMaster and Leahy will be at The Playhouse on Nov. 20
By LAVERNE STEWART, Fredericton Daily Gleaner

Life on the road and performing in concert sounds exciting but what's it like when you've got toddlers in tow? Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are the parents of two youngsters and are expecting their third baby. They know better than most that it's not always glitz and glamour.

"There are times when you are rushing to get to a certain spot and, as you know, you can't rush kids at that age. So it gets a little frustrating when you are in a hurry.

"Other than that, it's fine. There's a washroom on the tour bus. As long as they're eating well and sleeping well, I'm as content as anything. I have a babysitter on the bus with me so if I need to get a nap, I can.

"They're very good. They adapt well," says MacMaster, the darling of Cape Breton and the face of this region's fiddle music.

During a phone interview with The Daily Gleaner, this musical couple are in a car on their way to perform while the children are at home with their babysitter.

Leahy, who's the frontman for the band Leahy, is behind the wheel and says it is so strange when they are on the road without the kids.

"It's amazing how quickly you become used to the new way of touring. You wonder what you did with your time before children; it's kind of like that on tour. I have so much time today. I actually get to practice," he says.

MacMaster and Leahy have been making beautiful music together since they married six years ago and soon two of Canada's brightest stars will be on the road again with their children, Mary Frances, who turns three on her next birthday and 17-month-old Michael along for the ride.

They bring them because they want to be together as a family.

"Our children come first. We want our children to be well-grounded and rooted and have a home and they have all that. We control our touring and it is dictated by our children," says Leahy.

While many people would like to see their children on stage, MacMaster says she says it's not something she's comfortable with.

"It kind of feels weird. It feels like a cheap way to get applause, bring out your cute kids. It feels a little bit icky to me. But oftentimes she (Mary Frances) will watch the show side-stage and sometimes she will wander out."

When she does, this little girl always gets the audience sighing. Her place on stage along with the other children, she says, will come if and when they decide it's something they want to do.

Someone gave their daughter a tiny fiddle as a gift. She loves to carry it whenever she sees her mommy and daddy with their fiddles on stage or at home.

"It's so cute," says Leahy.

MacMaster is due to deliver the newest member of the family in February.

Is it more of a challenge to play the fiddle and perform in concert when you are six months pregnant?

"I say 'I can dance and play the fiddle and I can make a baby at the same time!' I feel really well."

It's more of a challenge she admits to do this high-energy show at this stage in her pregnancy.

"You don't want to strain yourself or be a hero by trying to do acrobatic feats on stage while you're trying to have a baby. That's just not healthy."

When she and Leahy go on their upcoming Atlantic Canada tour and perform at The Playhouse on Thursday, Nov. 20, their audience can expect a stripped-down, more intimate performance.

It will be just the two of them along with their fiddles and two piano players. Think of having them over to play for you in your living room, they say.

They've appeared onstage at one another's concerts before, and still do so, but their shared billing is something they find particularly special.

"It's wonderful. It's a dream come true," says MacMaster.

To date they've only been able to do this about a dozen times in the run of a year. But MacMaster says that's about to change. They have a huge American tour planned for 2010 which they will be on to promote an album they plan to record together next spring.

Both have astounded audiences with their musical gifts. Leahy is praised by fans and critics for his violin virtuosity.

MacMaster has thrilled crowds with her lush and lyrical melodies. Both are Juno winners and Grammy-nominated artists.

But to the little one's in their lives these accolades aren't as impressive as when their mommy and daddy laugh and play with them on their cattle farm located near Douro, Ont.

"Michael is a tractor fanatic. 'Tractor, tractor, tractor, tractor, tractor.' That's all he wants and cows. 'Bull, bull, bull and tractor,'" says Leahy.

What especially impressed their little ones is when she dressed in costume to take them trick or treating two weeks ago.

"I wore black pants and a black shirt and I cut a hole out of the belly of the shirt and I painted a jack-o'-lantern on my belly. I'm so happy being a mother.

"Being a wife and looking forward to this beautiful spot we have and raising my family. It brings me deep, pure joy."

Performing together in concert makes sense because they are so committed to one another and their music. But equally as important are their children and that's why they bring them along often when they are on tour, says Leahy.

Most kids don't have words such as tour bus, venue, and catering in their vocabularies but these children do. When their parents do this tour they will come along and be with their parents at some shows and will spend time with MacMaster's parents in Cape Breton too.

Leahy says there's nothing better than not having to be away from his children and getting to perform with his wife with just their fiddles
and two piano players.

"That's thrilling to go out with the bare bones, the heart of it all. It's just a lot of fun."

November 13, 2008
And the Nat came back
Natalie MacMaster coming to Membertou Trade & Convention Centre
LAURA JEAN GRANT, Cape Breton Post

MEMBERTOU - She's performed on the world stage but Natalie MacMaster still gets a few extra butterflies before shows at home.

"I get more nervous for my hometown or just Cape Breton in general, than I would for anywhere else," she said. "The people that I'm playing to, it's their music and they know it best so I've gotta play it as best as I can. There's no room for error. Certainly at home people know the music so well that I really want to just be as on my toes as possible."

The renowned Cape Breton fiddler MacMaster performs Monday at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre with her husband, Donnell Leahy, also a well-known fiddler who plays with his siblings in the family band, Leahy. Her show on the island is the first date on a tour through the Maritimes where she will be accompanied by Cape Breton's Mac Morin on piano and Leahy will be joined by his sister, Erin, on piano.

And MacMaster is excited to get home.

"I just played a square dance in Cape Breton in the summer. I'm home in Cape Breton a lot, in Troy, and so I do dances or little appearances here and there but I guess my last big show was the DVD that we made at the Celtic Colours opening night (in 2006)," she said, noting the DVD Natalie MacMaster: Live in Cape Breton was just recently released.

But performing and tours aren't the only things on the minds of MacMaster and Leahy these days as the two are expecting their third child this February. The new addition will join Mary Frances, who turns three years old next month, and one-year-old Michael Joseph, in an increasingly busy household. But MacMaster wouldn't have it any
other way.

"It's wild and crazy and frantic and I love it," she said. "It's short-lived too. I mean they're only little for not that long a time."

MacMaster is also working on her next CD and hopes to squeeze in some time at the recording studio in January before her due date.

"I'm trying to cram in a quick record before the baby comes," she said with a laugh. "It's actually two records being planned right now before the baby comes. One is with my band and one is traditional."

MacMaster will be on tour until Dec. 22 but is looking forward to spending time with friends and family in both Cape Breton and Ontario, where she now resides, this holiday season.

"We're actually having a little bit of a Christmas in November in Cape Breton. We'll get together and have a big meal and exchange some gifts. And then when we finally get back (to Ontario), we'll stay up here for Christmas and Donnell's mother always has 40 people over for dinner and we do the midnight mass here on the 24th and we have Christmas carollers that come to the house which is always really nice," she said, describing some of her holiday plans.

Tickets for the show are available through the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre, which can be reached by phone at 539-2300.

November 12, 2008
MacMaster hits the road with Hubby Leahy
By Bob Mersereau, Telegraph-Journal

Natalie MacMaster has a new album, Yours Truly (Koch), but it is not the focus of her new tour. Instead, Two Fiddles and Two Pianos is a special show for Atlantic Canada. As the name implies, it is stripped-down, just Natalie and her husband Donnell Leahy on fiddles, with Leahy's sister Erin and Mac Morin on pianos.

The Cape Breton star moved to Ontario when she married Leahy, but she still makes it back to the East Coast "four or five times a year," MacMaster says, speaking from her home.

This jaunt will be a special one. "We've been married six years and we haven't done anything like this before," she says. "This is our chance to get out and tour as a family. We have done shows together, but it's been Leahy the group, and Natalie, it's not been Donnell and I."

More laid-back than a traditional concert, MacMaster says they'll both be onstage for the whole show: "It's intertwined, both of us the whole way through, but it's half-and-half, some mine, like the Cape Breton ones, and (some) his."

She promises lots of dancing, too, and that it won't be just straight-ahead music.

"There's one we call Madness, you don't know what we'll play any night," she said. "It's less of a show and more of a session. It's more like we're sitting in your living room."

Two Fiddles and Two Pianos comes to Moncton's Capitol Theatre Nov. 18,
heads to The Playhouse in Fredericton Nov. 20 and to Imperial Theatre
in Saint John Nov. 23.

November 8, 2008
Natalie’s night
MacMaster promises less concert more kitchen party at St. John’s event

Fiddler Natalie MacMaster says her upcoming St. John’s concert will be less like a show and more like a good old-fashioned kitchen party.

MacMaster, from Cape Breton, will perform at the Holy Heart auditorium Nov. 26, in a show called “Two Fiddles and Two Pianos.”

The second fiddle will be that of MacMaster’s husband, Donnell Leahy of the Leahy family band. Leahy’s sister, Erin, will accompany him on piano, while MacMaster’s regular pianist, Mac Morin, will accompany her.

“It’s so much less of a show than what we do normally. It’s much more tangible, touchable, much more close to people. It’s more like us being in your home, playing music,” MacMaster told The Telegram in a phone interview.

MacMaster, niece of famed Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, first began playing the fiddle at age nine, and released her first album, “Four on the Floor,” at the age of 16. Now 36, MacMaster has 10 albums under her belt, as well as two Junos, several East Coast Music Awards, and a Canadian Country Music Award. In 2006, she was one of the youngest-ever recipients of the Order of Canada.

MacMaster married Leahy in 2002, and has two children: Mary Frances, born in 2005, and Michael, born last year.

The last major tour that brought her to this province was about 15 years ago, MacMaster said, when she toured with Great Big Sea. She feels a sense of belonging in this province and has been trying to get back here ever since.

“My agents are always saying, ‘Well, it’s so expensive to fly over there, you don’t have time, it just doesn’t make sense right now,’ and blah, blah, blah,” MacMaster said. “Then you forget about it and other offers come up, and you end up going to the States or somewhere else. Then two years pass and you’re like, ‘I still never played Newfoundland, can we please go there?’”

MacMaster’s latest album, “Yours Truly,” was produced by herself and Leahy, and released about two years ago.

Unusually, MacMaster wrote most of the tunes on the album, which fuses Celtic music with a range of other styles. The songs are a mix of traditional and contemporary tunes, including a traditional medley featuring MacMaster’s aunt, Betty Lou Beaton, on piano, and a rendition of “Danny Boy,” sung by Doobie Brother Michael McDonald.
“Interlude,” a soft, delicate piece, is a thank-you to her fans.

“It wasn’t meant to be made into a complete piece — it was just kind of a pretty little interlude. My husband always said, ‘You should make that your thank-you, instead of writing credits on your CD,’” MacMaster explained.
“I sing and play, and at the end I say thanks to God for our new little baby girl, and then you hear her crying.”

“Farewell to Peter” is a song of “sweet sorrow,” MacMaster said, and a tribute to Canadian newsman Peter Jennings who was a fan and friend of hers.
“I was living in my apartment in Halifax and I got home one day and I was picking up my (phone) messages, and one of the messages was, ‘Hello Natalie, this is Peter Jennings phoning, wanting to invite you to our ABC New Year’s Eve special,’ and that’s how I met him,” she explained.

When Jennings died of complications from lung cancer in 2005, his wife invited MacMaster to perform at a memorial service for him held at Carnegie Hall.
“I immediately thought of this tune that I had written but never titles, and it just reminded me of him. The tune is sad, but it’s also happy,” MacMaster said.
At the upcoming St. John’s show — or “night of music,” as MacMaster prefers to call it — MacMaster and Leahy will step-dance and feverishly fiddle their way through a combination of traditional and contemporary songs, some written by her, some by him, and some by them together.

Songs will range from the serious, like the worldly “Gypsy Boy,” which contains Latin elements, to the well-known Celtic tune, “St. Anne’s Reel.”
“The two piano players get going together at times, and we all dance,” MacMaster said. “It’s fun and it’s serious and it’s sad and it’s happy.”

Tickets for MacMaster’s concert, “Two Fiddles and Two Pianos,” are $34.50 and are available at the Holy Heart box office or by calling 579-4424

October 17, 2008
(Mac)master fiddler
By Gerald M. Gay, arizona daily star

It's not just an incredibly busy music career these days keeping Canadian fiddler Natalie MacMaster busy. • In 2005, she gave birth to her first child, Mary Frances Rose. She had her second, Michael Joseph Alexander, in 2007. • The two new additions have taken a big bite out of MacMaster's creative process. • "I have a babysitter on the road and can say, 'OK. I'm leaving now for an hour,' MacMaster, 36, said in a phone interview. "The thing is, you can't just say that, sit in a room and then have everything come out. You have to be motivated. That has been my biggest challenge." • With two babies on board and a third due in February, MacMaster is squeezing in a few tours before she gives birth, including one that will take the performer through Centennial Hall on Thursday. • The Nova Scotia native talked to the Star last week about motherhood, her new band and hanging with her husband, fiddler Donnell Leahy of the Lakefield, Ontario, family band Leahy.

Is it hard to juggle a bustling music career with being a mom?

"I wouldn't say it is hard to juggle so much as it is to keep both maintained. Like, you can just go ahead and do it, but then you really have to do some advanced thinking in order to keep growing in your music.

"The nature of a woman is to nurture and that takes over so easily. I have to set aside time for my own music. That is the thing I am trying to work on now; making time away from the children to sit and create and do music."

Have you been successful so far?

"I haven't tried it yet. I have been successful at balancing. That part has been fine. There are no issues. The kids are great on the road. I do my shows. The music is great with the new band. Everything is fresh. My big goal is to take some time before the baby is born to record again and, before recording take some time to write and arrange and that sort of thing.

"I have some pre-recorded snippets of ideas and things to listen to again to reignite whatever made me record those in the first place."

You and your husband are both busy touring artists. Do you ever get to spend time together?

"Yeah. We work out our schedule so the two of us are touring at the same time. That way we are home at the same time. We usually do two big bus-style tours a year, in the fall and the spring. They last about a month. Then Donnell and I have our own band as a couple. We do a dozen shows a year like that. It is great when we actually are on the same gig."

Do you two work well together?

"Yes we do. It is miraculous how we share the same interests and same taste in music. We have the same musical sense and same ideas, probably because we come from similar backgrounds. If Donnell and I weren't working together, I would make it so we were. He would be helping me produce my records. He helps me make all of my business decisions. I really value, trust and respect his decisions and he does the same for me."

What can Tucsonans expect from your Centennial Hall show?

"A broad spectrum. My band members are all from different styles with different backgrounds. Those elements are in the show. This isn't necessarily for people who just like fiddle music. It is for people who like music in general. The cellist brings a classical jazz dimension. My drummer brings a funky, edgy dimension. My piper is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays whistle, banjo, guitar. He is just the best, plain and simple. He really is. You'll never hear bagpipe played like this. He can bend notes and do all sorts of things you didn't know they could do."

Would you encourage your own children to become musicians?

"I would for sure, just to enhance their own lives. Music has given me a sense of confidence. It has given me a sense of who I am. It makes you learn a lot about yourself and brings you to a holy place in life. It raises the soul. Even if they never play a note publically, I would like them to be able to play for their own knowledge of what music can stir in them."

October 16, 2008
MacMaster returns to Webb Center
The Winkenburg Sun (Arizona)

Canadian treasure and international music star Natalie MacMaster brings her distinctive fiddling style and energetic step dancing to the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26.

Traveling and performing with a new band steeped in the Celtic tradition, this is a return performance at the Webb Center, which MacMaster last visited in 2006 and describes as one of her favorite venues.

Along with the new band comes a new instrument, a cello, played by 13-year-old Nathaniel Smith. MacMaster says the cello adds depth to the band’s sound.

MacMaster, who qualifies as a fiddling prodigy, hails from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she first picked up a fiddle at the tender age of 9. Honing her craft with the help of her uncle, famed Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, and steeped in the tradition of Celtic fiddle music, MacMaster has performed on stages and at festivals worldwide where her high energy and tight musicianship leave audiences breathless. She has performed with stars such as Faith Hill, The Chieftains and Paul Simon to name just a few, and recorded with the likes of Alison Krauss, Bela Fleck and Sam Bush.

She has released 10 CDs, the last of which, “Yours Truly,” marked a return to her more traditional roots, and features a remarkable rendition of “Danny Boy” with a lead vocal by pop superstar Michael McDonald. She plans to return to the recording studio early next year.

Tickets to see Natalie MacMaster and her band Sunday, Oct. 26 are $40 for adults and $5 for students 18 and younger. For information and to purchase tickets, call the box office at 684-6624 or visit online, www.delewebbcenter.org. A video preview of Natalie MacMaster also is available on the Web site.

September 29, 2008
Kitsap Sun

One: Her uncle is Cape Breton fiddlin' icon Buddy MacMaster, which whom she recorded an album of traditional music in 2005.

Two: She has won two Juno (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) Awards for Best Instrumental Album, and has been the Canadian Country Music Association's "Fiddler of the Year."

Three: She holds honorary doctorates from Niagara University in New York and St. Thomas University.

Four: She's a member of the Order of Canada.

Five: She released her first album, "Four on the Floor," when she was 16 years old.

Six: She met and dated husband Donnell Leahy when she was 19, but they parted ways for 10 years before marrying in 2002 after a two-month courtship.

Seven: She once turned down an offer to join Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" as a featured performer because her own schedule was too busy.

Eight: "Farewell to Peter" on her CD "Your Truly" is a tribute to former NBC News anchor Peter Jennings, who was one of her biggest fans.

Nine: She earned a Bachelor of Education degree from the Nova Scotia Teachers College.

Ten: Natalie and Donnell host an Internet radio show titled "Cape Breton Live," which features live performances recorded at venues along the East Coast.

September 26, 2008
All in the fiddle family
Posted By ELIZABETH YATES, The Expositor (Brantford, ON)

They've already blended their lives and their families, so it makes sense for fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and husband Donnell Leahy to bring their bands together on stage.

There will be one big Celtic crew at the Sanderson Centre on Oct. 2, when the eight siblings in Leahy perform along with six MacMaster musicians. Unlike most double-bills, when two acts take turns in the spotlight, both groups will interact much of the time, MacMaster explains in a telephone interview from home in Lakefield, ON. -- the Leahy home base, where she moved after marrying Donnell in 2002.

"We try to make it an exciting show from start to finish. Musically, it's always moving and changing and fun."

While she regularly performs along with her husband, the two-band marriage is a new one. They debuted the act recently at Casino Rama and, says MacMaster, would love to take it on the road.

Touring together "is completely fun and it's so great for the children," says the mother of two, whose third child is due Feb. 10. Between the two families, there are 22 first cousins, 10 of them under five.

"It's completely awesome. The family is together, making music, and the kids get to hear that. They're around positive people and it's a really healthy environment."

The 36-year-old is proving that marriage, motherhood and music are a potent formula.

The pair arrange their schedules so that each is away from home for only a couple of weeks at a time. MacMaster is often accompanied by Mary Frances, 2 1/2, and Michael Joseph, 15 months; mom Minnie MacMaster sometimes comes along to care for the kids, or there's a trusted babysitter on hand.

Thrilled by her third pregnancy, she's riding a ripe career that began at age nine, fiddling for a square dance at home in Cape Breton, N. S.

September 20, 2008
Natalie MacMaster tours with two kids, one on the way

You look at Natalie MacMaster's touring schedule for 2008 and you can see that she's playing at least a dozen times a month. This road warrior's schedule is for a mother of two children under the age of three -with a third on the way.

MacMaster, for one, is not impressed.

"To me, it's easy," says the Cape Breton fiddler who seems to have played most American and Canadian stages.

"We used to do so much more. The way I used to tour, we were always flying back and forth across the border.

"Now, I have someone come with me and since I'm not nursing anymore I can take a nap when I need to."

The fiddling virtuoso married another fiddler extraordinaire Donnell Leahy of the Lakefield family band Leahy six years ago. Their first child. Mary Frances, arrived two years and eight months ago, just before her 10th and latest album,Yours Truly.

"We had finished recording it, but we waited until Mary Frances was born so we could put her voice on at the end of it," says MacMaster, whose second child, Michael is 14 months old, and whose third child is due in February.

MacMaster loves motherhood and says she'd like "lots more" children before she's done. She has two older siblings. "but I come from a large extended family," she says.

Her husband's group has eight brothers and sisters in it.

She assumes Mary Frances will learn the violin "but she does seem to be interested in the cello."

After her first child was born, MacMaster wondered what it would be like performing on stage and how it would affect her performance.

"I played my first show a month after Mary Frances was born," MacMaster says.

"And the thing was, I hardly even thought of her. This was my spot, just my music and me. I wasn't expecting that but it's been the same every time since."

What has changed is her song-writing habits. She wrote half of the songs onYours Truly"but I haven't written a thing since," MacMaster says.

"What I need is time to noodle, which is how I usually write songs. I need to have someone keep the kids so I can do that."

However, studio time has been booked in January to start work on a new CD and MacMaster expects it to be likeYours Truly, a mixture of traditional and original songs.

"There'll be some stuff that no one has heard before as well as some traditional," she says.

"It'll feature my new band that I've had for a year now, including a cello player."

Husband Donnell co-produced Yours Truly and MacMaster says their musical partnership will continue in the future.

"He's an extension of myself as his tastes are similar," she says.

"He can friggin' play circles around me on the fiddle," she says.

"But we make a good team. I've got the grooves and the rhythm and he's got the technical ability. But I still get weak when I hear him play."

The couple have performed together on short tours, sometimes taking along two pianos as well. MacMaster would love to have a tour where she and her band perform with Leahy.

"We did do one show together with Leahy at Casino Rama where we integrated both shows and went for 100 minutes straight," she says. "It was great."

MacMaster and Leahy married after a two-month courtship, although it wasn't as whirlwind as it sounds.

"We had dated when I was 19 and he was 23," MacMaster says.

"We talked about marriage then but I was too young. We broke up for 10 years and then came the two-month courtship.

"I was told never to marry another musician. Those are the rules. But sometimes you have to break them."

The pair have also been helping young musicians.

In 2005, they started Cape Breton Live, an Internet radio station that featured up-and-coming acts. It's still in operation, although others have taken over its management.

September 22, 2008

New letter from Natalie to the fans...
click here to read

Here is a photo sent in by Natalie
& Donnell of their two children:
Michael Joseph and Mary Frances.

<< Click photo for larger view.


August 28, 2008
Natalie raised the roof while she raised money for community hall
DAN MACDONALD, The Cape Breton Post

Last Wednesday night I made a trip to Creignish for a show that was billed as A Community Hall Renovation’s Fundraiser. This was a square dance with an all-star lineup that included Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy.

Special guests included singer Denise Black (Donnell’s sister) as well as pianists Allan Dewar and Mac Morin. Also appearing were Sabin Jacques and Rachel Aucoin, a talented couple from Quebec who are friends of Natalie’s and happened to be vacationing in the area. It was a music-filled evening that even included a square set danced to an accordion.
For me it was old home week as I saw many friends and former neighbours. I caught up on the news and some gossip and got an idea of the plans for the community hall. I was part of the original planning group for the facility and it was quite modern when it was built but that was more 30 years ago.

I was amazed at all the tourists who were part of the standing room only audience. From what I saw more then half the crowd were from ‘away.’ I know that I met people from North Carolina, Vancouver, Colorado and Illinois — and that was just at one table. All were there to see and hear Natalie.

And she certainly didn’t disappoint, playing up a storm and getting the dancers on the floor early. At every break she chatted with old friends and fans, posed for pictures and signed a few autographs. She played very well with her usual drive and lift for the dancers. This wasn’t the place for a showy performance: this was a ‘meat and potatoes’ crowd who was there for the music, so that’s what she dished up. And did I mention that the music for the evening was all donated: a gift from a star to the community where she started out.

Natalie also shared some news: she’s expecting again, a third child that’s due in February.

August 26
, 2008
PBS AIR DATES - Natalie MacMaster: 'Bringing it Home' TV Special

Sunday, September 7 at 6:30 pm on WLIW21 (New York, NY) **
Sunday, September 14 at 1:30 pm on WLIW21 (New York, NY) **
(Please check your local listings to verify stations and broadcast dates).

Watch Video Clip** During these broadcasts, WLIW21 will offer exclusive tickets to Natalie’s concert at Town Hall in NYC before they’re available to the public. WLIW21 will also offer an exclusive meet and greet for this concert. Tune in to find out how you can attend!

Viewers can support their local public television station’s decision to air this kind of music programming by making a donation. There are various “thank you” gifts including concert DVDs and CDs, along with public television membership benefits like discounts to local museums.

To support your local PBS station or find airdates in your area for NATALIE MACMASTER: BRINGING IT HOME, visit www.pbs.org/stationfinder. If your station does not have this concert scheduled, let them know you want to see Natalie MacMaster on TV in your town! Once a station sees public demand for a show it might convince them to add it to their schedule.

Watch video clip from the TV Special (PBS)
Watch video clip from the TV Special (

August 4, 2008
MacMaster brings Canadian flavour
By GLENN KAUTH, Edmonton Sun

For the first time, organizers have added a dose of Canadiana to Edmonton's annual celebration of multiculturalism.

"We looked around and we saw 62 pavilions representing 85 cultures. We thought, where was the Canadian culture?" said Heritage Festival executive director Jack Little.

That's why the organizers chose to showcase Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster as their first-ever ticketed event, he explained. MacMaster performed two shows at Hawrelak Park's amphitheatre yesterday before a crowd that paid between $18 and $24 for a ticket.

For concert attendee Joanne Leslie, the CanCon flavour was a welcome addition, despite the fact she came more for the opening act, the African drumming group Wajjo, than for MacMaster.

"I think it's really important," she said. "Sometimes multiculturalism is over-rated. Sometimes, we should be celebrated."

The MacMaster show was one of the draws to the Heritage Festival for Kenneth Auld, who lives in British Columbia but was in Edmonton to visit his son Kevin.

"I'm a lover of Cape Breton and everything Cape Breton. It's kind of inherent in the bones," said Kenneth, whose Scottish ancestry was visible from the tartan cap he wore yesterday.

The elder Auld added that the show was one way of compensating for the lack of a Scottish pavilion at Heritage Festival.

His son, meanwhile, didn't mind the change to having paid shows at the event.

"It's not a huge cost, and I think it's worth it," Kevin said.

For Leslie, the concert was one reason she returned to the Heritage Festival for the fist time in years.

"I think it's really neat to bring together a big-name Canadian act with some local musicians from Africa," said Leslie.

July 18, 2008
MacMaster brings island music out of isolation
By Margaret Hair, Steamboat Pilot and Today

Steamboat Springs ­ It's not often that a writer gets the chance to ask a well-established, almost-three-decades-in-the-making musician a question she has never heard before.  That this was possible with Natalie MacMaster ­ who in 25-plus years of playing has popularized and preserved the traditional fiddle music of Cape Breton, an island off of Nova Scotia, Canada, ­ likely has more to do with MacMaster's unique musical upbringing than it does with any level of journalistic insight.

"I grew up with fiddle music. That was my life and that was what I was surrounded by, and also all of my family members played it, and it was kind of a natural way of life for me," MacMaster said on the phone earlier this week.

Because she started playing fiddle when she was 9 years old, because she started traditional step dancing four years before that, and because her uncle is hallmark Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, Natalie MacMaster acknowledges, "There was never any doubt in my mind that I would stop, even from the first day, that's what I was going to do."

Those elements likely come into play in MacMaster's serious contemplation of the
question: "Do you think bringing Cape Breton music to a wider audience helps to preserve it?"

Now, this is a question that I ask often, substituting the blues or American roots music or
old-time string bands or Beethoven piano concertos. It's basic, it's open-ended, and it
usually offers a decent jumping off point to finding out why any musician does what he does.

But for MacMaster that question is not basic, because preservation was never the goal ­ for almost 30 years, she has simply played the music she knows, understands and loves. And so her answer is philosophical:

"Sometimes when you introduce more people to a type of music, then it's open to people of other cultures learning it. And then when people from other cultures learn it they might not play it as authentic," she said, allowing that other cultures can play a traditional music authentically, but are by nature more likely to bring in outside elements.

"I see lots of people who aren't from Cape Breton playing Cape Breton music, and it's never the same as Cape Bretoners. ... In that regard, I guess it's open to ­ it becomes susceptible to change, the more people who aren't from there that learn it," she said.

So the question is not "Are you preserving this music?" The question for MacMaster is, "How do you preserve this music? And if you keep it pure, is that a good idea?" It could go either way, but MacMaster is fairly certain sharing traditions is a more likely route to keeping them alive.

"On the same hand, to shelter something, it'll die. If you just don't share it with the generations, it ends. Wouldn't it? You have to pass it down. And in order to pass it down you have to pass it around," she said, pondering what might have happened if Cape Breton music had never left Cape Breton.

"Maybe it would die out, too, because if you just keep it on its own island, you never know," she said about holding traditional music in isolation. "Sometimes it takes popularity in other areas to make your own appreciate your own."

Seven solo albums after her introduction into the recording world, it's too late for MacMaster to act on the implications of sharing the sounds of her family and her island with the world. All she can do ­ and all she's ever done ­ is briefly look back, and keep playing the music that "was like learning to speak."

July 17, 2008
Canadian Natalie MacMaster adds new sounds to the Celtic tradition
By Leslie Brefeld, Summit Daily News, CO

BRECKENRIDGE ­ Celtic musician Natalie MacMaster respects the tradition of her Cape Breton-style fiddling, while also adding a contemporary touch.

“I stay with the traditional in that that’s what I play. It varies with the musicians I surround it with,” MacMaster said.

MacMaster has played with Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, The Chieftains, Luciano Pavarotti and Alison Krauss. Her latest CD, “Blueprint,” features Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Edgar Meyer.

While on tour, her band includes a bass player, a bagpiper, a pianist and a cellist, which MacMaster said offers a show that is half fully traditional, and half experimental.

A new CD she will start working on in the fall will have the same balance.

She said, “To do a completely experimental record only satisfies one part of me, and doing an only traditional record only satisfies one part of me.”

MacMaster has been bringing her family on the road, including her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, 1-year-old son and husband Donnell Leahy. Leahy, a member of the sibling band of the same name, will also perform in her Breckenridge concert on Sunday at the Riverwalk. MacMaster also recently found out that a third child is on the way.

MacMaster said touring with the kids hasn’t changed the music, but hopes the music will have an effect on her children.

“I so want them to grow up hearing live music every day of their lives,” she said.

On whether she wants them to follow in her and her husband’s footsteps, she said, “Not necessarily for a career, but I want them to be good musicians.

“It enhances life. Music makes everything more beautiful. It teaches you a lot about spirituality, about love and pain, about everything,” MacMaster said.

July 11, 2008
Milton Canadian Champion: Fiddles to fill the air on St. Paul
Mike Zettel

There will be a hoedown on the front lawn of the former St. Paul Street United Church this Saturday as the inaugural Downtown St. Catharines Fiddle Fest gets underway.

Tying in with the sixth annual Classic Car Show, the Fiddle Fest will feature a competition in 10 fiddle and five step dance categories. Anne Deyme, owner of Ryson's Music and organizer for the festival, said the competition will feature players from across the region. But since there are no other fiddle festivals anywhere across Ontario this weekend, there could be fiddlers from all across the province.

"By the luck of the draw I picked that," she said of the weekend schedule. "It's bringing people into the city."

Among the prizes are a quilt donated by the church and, for the competitor with the highest score, a violin donated by Ryson's and shipped to Canadian musician Natalie MacMaster to be autographed. Deyme said the violin, which is coloured a light purple, was quite attractive to MacMaster, and jokes it almost wasn't returned.

"Natalie didn't want to give it back," Deyme said.

Photo: Anne Deyme, owner of Ryson's Music, displays a violin signed by Nataile MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy, one of the prizes at this Saturday's Fiddle Fest competition, which will tie in with the Downtown Classic Car show.

Elizabeth Fritshaw, event co-ordinator for the Downtown Association, said the festival is a good fit for the car show and will give the enthusiasts a reason to stay in the downtown longer.

"A lot of them will enjoy the fiddle music," she said. "It's not just country, not just Celtic. It's used in quite a variety of genres, so I think it's a really good tie together.

"And it's one more thing to draw people down here," she said.

The festival will also provide an opportunity for people to tour the church, which will hold its official grand opening as the new Silver Spire United Church, the amalgamation of the St. Paul Street United Church with the former Memorial and Welland Avenue churches.

Deyme said Fiddle Fest also stretches the festivities on St. Paul Street beyond Carlisle Street when traditionally most events seemed to centre around the intersection of St. Paul and James Streets. She said there's now more effort in including all businesses on St. Paul Street in Downtown Association activities.

"Everybody seems to be getting together for this," she said. "So far, the businesses -- we're all quite happy. Everybody's going out of their way for this."

June 29, 2008
Preview: Natalie MacMaster at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival
Ann Arbor News

Fiddler Natalie MacMaster is one of those artists who really can have it both ways.

She grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, so she's steeped in that region's distinctive style of traditional Celtic music. So she can easily and intuitively play delicate airs and fiery, percussive jigs and reels in a trad-bound style that will satisfy even the most
die-hard traditionalists.

And for the early part of her career, that's the approach she took.

About 10 years ago, however, she began broadening her musical palette, drawing on rock and pop elements - and several of her albums since then have showcased a lively Celt-rock synergy. Indeed, she typically tours with a drummer, bassist and guitarist - as well as a bagpiper - giving her an ensemble that can raise a huge musical racket.

MacMaster comes to the Power Center on Thursday for an Ann Arbor Summer Festival show. And this time out, she'll be joined for several numbers by her husband, Donnell Leahy, said Robb Woulfe, the festival's executive director. Donnell Leahy is the leader of, and one of the fiddlers for, the Canadian Celt-pop group Leahy.

MacMaster's last album, "Yours Truly" from 2006, was co-produced by MacMaster and Leahy. Last year, MacMaster told The Ann Arbor News that "even if Donnell hadn't co-produced the record, his input would have been inevitable. Since he's also a fiddler, I really value his opinion, because he knows the instrument inside and out, and also knows my capabilities."

In addition to her fiery fiddling talents, MacMaster is also a very charismatic performer, with a playful sense of humor, a natural charm and an easy give-and-take with the audience. And, as a highly talented step dancer, she is not at all shy about unleashing an
exciting, crowd-pleasing routine - simultaneously playing the fiddle while step-dancing. It's become her trademark, and it always seems to bring the house down.

"Natalie is definitely a favorite with Summer Festival audiences," concurred Woulfe. "Since she combines traditional roots music with pop sensibilities, she appeals to people with a wide variety of musical tastes. And then there's her extraordinary showmanship - she absolutely tears up the stage with her high-energy fiddling and step dancing. She is an artist and entertainer at the top of her game."

June 9, 2008
Fiddling with her beau
Lancaster Journal 

Was it hot Sunday evening? It's quite possible thousands of people on the Long's Park lawn didn't notice.

Although it was still above 90 degrees in the shade when the music started shortly after 7:30 p.m., the dual fiddle wizardry of Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy was like a refreshing breeze over the crowd even as the married Canadian pair heated up the stage at the Long's Park Amphitheater.

Sunday marked the second week of the 13-week free concert series at the park.

The show began with a Cape Breton medley of tunes, evoking the sounds of MacMaster's Nova Scotia home, where she started playing the fiddle at age 9.

After seeing her play Sunday, you might think she was born with a bow in her hand.

Leahy, the oldest sibling in the musical Leahy family from rural Ontario, matched his wife note for note, charging through the music with relish.

The couple demonstrated amazing synergy, tossing tunes back and forth between them, sometimes sharing melodies or harmonizing with one another. One would occasionally step back and allow the other the full glare of the spotlight.

And the audience didn't waste time, either, clapping and dancing from the very first set.

"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," MacMaster told the crowd. "This is very much a family affair."

Sunday's playlist ranged wildly, from "Tullochgorum," one of Cape Breton's signature fiddle tunes, to the frantic "Orange Blossom Special." One tune set, dubbed "Madness" by the band, is "a little chaotic," MacMaster said. "Everybody's going to do something a little bit different. It changes every night."

Despite six years of marriage, both fiddlers maintain busy touring schedules individually, and joint performances such as Sunday's are rare for them.

Their children — Mary Frances Rose Leahy, born in 2005, and Michael Joseph Alexander Leahy, born in 2007 — watched portions of the show from the foot of the stage, huddled in their young baby sitter's arms, where MacMaster could keep a maternal eye on them as she played.

The two fiddlers shared the spotlight not only with each other, but also with their touring band: J.D. Blair on drums, Erin Leahy on piano, Sabin Jacques on accordion and 14-year-old Nathaniel Smith on cello.

Calling it a Celtic music show was selling it short. Sunday's performance incorporated elements of classical violin, ragtime piano, Quebecois accordion, even an exhausting tap-shoe-and-drum set and a little vocal percussion.

For the audience, it all boiled down to an excuse to dance.

"It's good. It's fun," said 7-year-old Hannah, the enthusiastically dancing daughter of Rob and Kathryn Kapchinske of Lancaster. "It's kind of ..." — Hannah groped for words, waving her hand in the air until she grinned and finished — "real loud."

"The beat is great," said Nina de Vitry, nearly 11, who was dancing up front with pal Emma Rast, 12.

De Vitry, of Lancaster, has been studying violin for four years and has started playing fiddle styles over the past six months. Sunday's performance has inspired her to new heights, she said.

"It's fun to dance with your friends," de Vitry said. "And when the musicians ask you to dance, you can't say no."

The small dance floor at the foot of the amphitheater stage was packed for much of the performance by those who knew traditional Scottish and Irish dance steps and those who just wished they did, plus a fair number of people who just couldn't resist moving to the infectious, can't-sit-still melodies.

The audience wasn't alone in dancing. MacMaster and Leahy are both accomplished stepdancers, and both did their share of fancy footwork on the stage.

For 16-year-old dancers Lauren Tanking and Brigette Bircher from the Coyle School of Irish Dance in Harrisburg, the show became a night to remember when MacMaster leapt from the stage to dance a few rounds with them, arm in arm and kicking high.

"It was amazing," Tanking said.

Both teens grew up with the music, they said — Tanking in her Irish immigrant grandparents' home, Bircher from her mother, who also was an Irish dancer.

"We didn't expect that," Bircher said of MacMaster's sudden appearance between them. "It just happened."

Backstage after the show, MacMaster and Leahy said it's still a challenge to combine their music into a single performance.

"It's harder than you would expect," Leahy said. "But we play different styles. If we put a tune together, we play it different and ... what happens is we mask each other's qualities."

They're also a little timid when playing together, he said, because neither wants to take the limelight away from the other.

It's even more difficult with two young children in the house, MacMaster added.

"Sometimes we'll have a baby sitter in our home for four days, just so we can practice," she said. "We have to take our music home with us.

"We both love music," MacMaster said. "Sometimes it's a grind, but when you put it together and get past those humps, it's a complete joy."

June 8, 2008
Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy at Long's Park Amphitheater, Lancaster, PA
Tom Knapp, Rambles.net

Was it hot Sunday evening? It's quite possible thousands of people on the Long's Park lawn in Lancaster, Pa., didn't notice.

Although it was still above 90 degrees in the shade when the music started shortly after 7:30 p.m., the dual fiddle wizardry of Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy was like a refreshing breeze over the crowd even as the married Canadian pair heated up the stage at the Long's Park Amphitheater.

Sunday marked the second week of the 13-week free concert series at the park.

The show began with a Cape Breton medley of tunes, evoking the sounds of MacMaster's Nova Scotia home where she started playing the fiddle at age 9. After seeing her play Sunday, you might think she was born with a bow in her hand.

Leahy, the oldest sibling in the musical Leahy family from rural Ontario, matched his wife note for note, charging through the music with relish.

The couple demonstrated amazing synergy, tossing tunes back and forth between them, sometimes sharing melodies or harmonizing to one another, occasionally stepping back and allowing the other the full glare of the spotlight. And the audience didn't waste time, either, clapping and dancing from the very first set.

"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," MacMaster told the crowd. "This is very much a family affair."

Sunday's playlist ranged wildly, from "Tullochgorum," one of Cape Breton's signature fiddle tunes, to the frantic "Orange Blossom Special." For the "Anniversary Waltz," the wildly dancing crowd was replaced by a small group of graceful waltzers.

For some tunes the couple stood -- or danced -- while for mellower sets they sat and relaxed into the music. One tune set, dubbed "Madness" by the band, is "a little chaotic," MacMaster said. "Everybody's going to do something a little bit different. It changes every night."

Despite six years of marriage, both fiddlers maintain busy touring schedules individually, and joint performances such as Sunday's are still rare for them. Their children -- Mary Frances Rose Leahy, born in 2005, and Michael Joseph Alexander Leahy, born in 2007 -- watched portions of the show from the foot of the stage, huddled in their young babysitter's arms where MacMaster could keep a maternal eye on them as she played.

The two fiddlers not only shared the spotlight with each other, but also with their touring band: J.D. Blair on drums, Erin Leahy on piano, Sabin Jacques on accordion and 14-year-old Nathaniel Smith on cello.

Calling it a Celtic music show was selling it short. Sunday's performance incorporated elements of classical violin, ragtime piano, Quebecois accordion, rock 'n' roll, even an exhausting tap-shoe-and-drum set and a little vocal percussion. For the audience, it all boiled down to an excuse to dance.

"It's good. It's fun," said 7-year-old Hannah, the enthusiastically dancing daughter of Rob and Kathryn Kapchinske of Lancaster. "It's kind of..." -- Hannah groped for words, waving her hand in the air until she grinned and finished -- "real loud."

"The beat is great," said Nina de Vitry, nearly 11, who was dancing up front with pal Emma Rast, 12. De Vitry, of Lancaster, has been studying violin for four years, and has started playing fiddle styles over the past six months. Sunday's performance has inspired her to new heights, she said.

"It's fun to dance with your friends," de Vitry said. "And when the musicians ask you to dance, you can't say no."

The small dance floor at the foot of the amphitheater stage was packed for much of the performance by those who knew traditional Scottish and Irish dance steps and those who just wished they did, plus a fair number of people who just couldn't resist moving to the infectious, can't-sit-still melodies. And the audience wasn't alone in dancing. MacMaster and Leahy are both accomplished stepdancers, and both did their share of fancy footwork on the stage.

"We love it," MacMaster shouted. "Anybody who has got something to share, come on down here. If you're a little shy, go dance under a tree."

For 16-year-old dancers Lauren Tanking and Brigette Bircher from the Coyle School of Irish Dance in Harrisburg, the show became a night to remember when MacMaster leapt from the stage to dance a few rounds with them, arm in arm and kicking high.

"It was amazing," Tanking said.

Both teens grew up with the music, they said -- Tanking in her Irish immigrant grandparents' home, Bircher from her mother, who was also an Irish dancer. Bircher also got the chance to dance with MacMaster once before, several years earlier at a solo show at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg.

"We didn't expect that," Bircher said of MacMaster's sudden appearance between them. "It just happened."

June 5, 2008
In tune at Trent: Music stars join convocation
BY FIONA ISAACSON, Peterborough Examiner 

Natalie & DonnellBefore presenting them with their honorary doctorate degrees, Trent University Prof. Roy Hagman quipped that Natalie Mac-Master and Donnell Leahy are the "Brad and Angelina" of the fiddling world.

The award-winning musicians and Lakefield residents were honoured  yesterday at Trent's afternoon convocation.

Hagman, chairman of the modern languages and literature program,
called the couple "superstars" who never sacrificed the traditional
roots of their music.

MacMaster, credited with lifting traditional East Coast music to its contemporary prominence, has won two Juno Awards, 11 East Coast Music Awards and several Canadian Country Awards for Fiddler of the Year. In 2000, she was nominated for a Grammy Award and in 2006, she became one of the youngest people named to the Order of Canada.

Leahy, considered one of the best fiddlers in the world, has won three Juno Awards, created three albums that have collectively sold more than half a million copies and developed a summer music camp in the Kawarthas for young musicians.

"We've seen spectacular success," Hagman said. "Thus they've ensured that a great folk tradition, far from dying out, would thrive and grow into a new century."

MacMaster said music not only brought Leahy and her together, but "taught us about love, about joy and pain, and about God."

"May the passions you pursue in life teach the same, through the love you have for what you do, the hard work you put into it and the joy you receive in all your accomplishments," she said.

Leahy said this was their first recognition as a couple.

"We are thrilled and honoured. Sometimes we think music can speak better than words so we thought we'd play a few tunes for you."

They then put on a show for the crowd, moving around in their graduation gowns under the cloudy sky.

Trent chancellor Roberta Bondar said the new honorary doctorates "really embody what we try and believe in so much here at Trent... and that is a passion and love for their wonderful music and the ability to reach out and touch others."

"It's one of those things where you go through your life doing your thing and trying to be good at it. Then all of a sudden this honour comes by and you never expect it, you never think about it," MacMaster later told The Examiner.

Leahy said their focus right now is family, which includes a 2 1/2- year-old daughter and an 11- month-old son.

"So to be recognized as a couple, and as a couple in music, is awesome." Family was on the mind of many graduates yesterday, especially bachelor of science graduate Melissa Rae Lunn.

Her stepfather, mother and husband were sitting in the third row and she's due to give birth to her first child next month.

Lunn, who was on the president's and dean's honours list and also received the Bagnani Medal for highest overall standing in a general program, said the baby kicked throughout the ceremony.

"That's our girl," her stepfather, Randy Wilson, said with a laugh.

"To do all this and be that way and go to school, keep a house, she does a lot . . . small but mighty."

Lunn's husband Jason said it was an exciting day and that the couple was rushing off to their first prenatal class last night.

"I wouldn't have been able to do it without these guys," Lunn said. "My chapter as a student is done and as mother begins."

Special degrees and honours presented yesterday afternoon

* Honorary doctor of law degrees: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy.
* Governor Genera's Silver medal: Edward Stokan, bachelor of science honours in physics.
* Bagnani Medal (students who achieve high overall standing): Melissa Rae Lunn.
* Professors: Alan Brunger, geography; David Lasenby, biology; and Gary T. Reker, psychology.

May 15, 2008
The tale of the growing cake.
MacMaster learns never to fiddle with recipes
by Marcy Cornblum, Metro News Vancouver

Natalie MacMaster is a world famous fiddler and step dancer. She first picked up the fiddle at age nine and is the niece of famed Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster. Among her numerous awards, she is especially proud of being named a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. Her latest album Yours Truly was co-produced by Natalie and her husband, fellow fiddle virtuoso Donnell Leahy of the Canadian band Leahy.

Natalie has a Bachelor of Education degree from the Nova Scotia Teacher's College. As part of a national tour, Natalie will perform at Casino Rama on May 23 and 24. She will then take the stage at Ottawa's National Arts Centre on June 5 and Edmonton's Hawrelak Park Amphitheatre on Aug. 8.

Q - What is your fondest memory from your family kitchen?
A - When I think of my parents' kitchen I immediately think of great food and music. I always enjoyed playing the fiddle while sitting in the rocking chair in the kitchen.

Q - What kitchen aromas bring back fond memories?
A - The smell of my mom's homemade cinnamon rolls. I also love the smell of fresh baked bread and deep fried chicken.

Q - Who is your favourite cook?
A - I really enjoy fine dining at restaurants where I get to try foods prepared by a variety of chefs.

Q - What is your favourite food to cook?
A - I love to prepare pasta. I experiment with different sauces from recipes in cookbooks.

Q - How did the first meal you prepared turn out?
A - I never truly discovered the joy of cooking until I got married. One of the most memorable meals was the first time I had my in-laws over for dinner. I decided to bake a cake and inadvertently put three cups of baking powder in the mixing bowl instead of three cups of flour. Needless to say, the results were interesting. I kept checking the oven and the cake just kept growing and growing. I took pictures of the finished product.

Q - What kitchen gadget can't you live without?
A - I love my cheese grater. Many of my dishes call for cheese and having a good cheese grater is really indispensable to me.

Q - Is there a cultural dish that you prepare that ties into a holiday?
A - I learned to make Shepherd's Pie just the way my mom does. Whenever the family gets together either my mom or I make it. It is a great recipe!

May 10, 2008
Leahy, MacMaster set to play Casino Rama May 23-24
By Bergen Werner, Peterborough Examiner

Lakefield's world renowned family music and dance troupe Leahy performs at Casino Rama on May 23 and 24. Special guest will be Natalie MacMaster, award winning fiddler, who is married to Donnell Leahy. MacMaster performed last week at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School, in Lindsay. She was joined on stage by sister-in-laws Erin and Maria Leahy.

Tickets ($25) are available at Casino Rama's box office at
416-870-8000 or 1-800-832-7529 or online at www.casinorama.com. You
have to be 19 years of age or older to attend concerts and events at
the casino in Orillia. Also performing this month will be Petula
Clark on May 15 and 16, Don Rickles on May 29, Diana Ross on May 30 and 31.

May 6, 2008
Cape Breton Live: 'Take 02' Compilation CD featuring
14 live tracks released May 1st.

After the success of the "Take 01" CD, the Cape Breton Live team has released a second compilation CD featuring 14 live tracks from various Cape Breton Live shows. The recording includes tracks recorded live at square dances, concerts, pubs and house parties and showcases some of the finest players in the Cape Breton traditional style. 
Featured on the recording are unique live performances by: Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy, Buddy MacMaster, Brenda Stubbert, Kimberley Fraser, Kinnon Beaton, Betty Beaton, Kenneth MacKenzie, Jackie Dunn MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac, Howie MacDonald, Troy MacGillivray, Doug MacPhee, Jeff MacDonald, Mary Jane Lamond, Andrea Beaton, Cheryl Smith, Ian MacDougall, Mac Morin, Jerry Holland, Carl MacKenzie, Ryan J. MacNeil, Marion Dewar, Dave MacIsaac and more...

Cape Breton Live was born in 2005 as a joint venture of Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy and Cheryl Smith. The online radio program began with the intent of broadcasting 5 trial shows of live traditional music showcasing the talents of Cape Breton musicians. The initial run of shows were so well received worldwide that the program has now been online for over 2 years, has broadcast close to 50 shows, toured Quebec and Ontario and released 2 compilation CD's. 

Now you can take a little piece of  Cape Breton home with you. The CD is available online at: www.capebretonlive.com and will be made available in local stores shortly. Track listing and sound clips are also available online.

April 29, 2008
Volunteers stars of Shell Theatre shows
Theatre events, concerts built on backs of volunteers
By Conal MacMillan, Saskatchewan Record

The Shell Theatre is expected to use 3,000 volunteer hours this season to put on its shows – ranging from Natalie MacMaster to the Lights Up Performing Arts Society-sponsored Splash Hip Hop Show.

Photo: Conal MacMillan/
Record File

The Shell Theatre in the Dow Centennial Centre is operated on the strong backs of local volunteers. Without them, the theatre wouldn’t be able to operate, according to the DCC events supervisor.

“I can’t imagine not having them,” Marion Kluthe said. “They’re just fabulous. The generosity of giving their time is just unbelievable.”

Kluthe estimated volunteers will have donated 3,000 hours of their own time to help operate the theatre by the time the current season officially ends in June.

Those hours will have spanned concerts, dance performances, plays, ballets, magic shows and comedy tours that featured headliners, such as Natalie MacMaster and Kalan Porter, as well as amateurs, such as local students.
Through those hours Kluthe said the volunteers have become like family.

“It’s not just they come and they usher,” she said. “You actually get to know these people; their heart, their soul. And it’s nice.”

The volunteers fill front-line roles at the theatre, acting as ushers, and are responsible for offering the best customer service to theatre guests, Kluthe said. They are also tasked with taking tickets, seating guests and answering questions about the facility.

“Without them, I don’t know where I would be.”

Theatre volunteer Lesley Macmillan cherishes every hour she spends at the nearly four-year-old facility.

“I’m a people person,” she explained. “So I like to be amongst people and it’s wonderful just seeing everybody.”

The local volunteer has donated her time to the Shell Theatre since it opened in 2004.

While there is the added bonus that volunteers are able to see some of the performances for free, Macmillan said the main benefit is catching up with acquaintances she hasn’t seen in months while keeping in touch with friends who frequent the theatre.

“It’s amazing how many people you see that you haven’t seen for months and months and months.”

Though Macmillan volunteers more than many at the theatre, Kluthe said all volunteers play an integral role in the operation of the facility, regardless of how much time they donate.

“Whether they give 10 hours or 10,000 hours, they’re all important,” she added.

April 5, 2008
Violinist entrances with feeling rather than force
By PUNCH SHAW,Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH -- For someone just fiddling around, she got good results. The Celtic Fiddle united the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra with Canadian bow master Natalie MacMaster at Bass Hall on Friday.  It was a fine concert, but not necessarily for the expected reasons.

Most of us, for example, tend to think of Irish music when the Celtic adjective is used. But while MacMaster did one number from the Shamrock Isle, most of her program was Scottish music (turns out those Celts were everywhere -- Ireland, Scotland, Boston Garden) filtered through the styles of her native Nova Scotia.

We also tend to anticipate step dancing as part of a Celtic evening. But MacMaster did not step dance Friday. Her pianist, Mac Morin, did on one number. And the headlining fiddler tap danced on another. But that was as far as that went.

What MacMaster did do was play her instrument beautifully throughout the evening. This was not a night of horsehair-burning speed and violin gymnastics -- although the 35-year-old fiddler showed, in flashes, that she was certainly capable of that.

Instead, MacMaster's strong suit was squeezing melancholy, Celtic-flavored laments from her amplified instrument with an emphasis on lyricism, not pyrotechnics. If Ever You Were Mine and Anniversary Waltz were especially sweet.

The orchestra, under the baton of Jeffrey Pollock, was also in fine form. The show made good use of an ensemble that was heavy in the strings and a little light in the brass.

Overall, it was a lovely, surprisingly low-key evening of music that transcended geography or stereotypes.

PHOTO: Celtic fiddler and step-dancer Natalie MacMaster performs with the Fort Worth Symphony at the Bass Performance Hall in downtown Fort Worth Friday.
(Special to the Star-Telegram/Bob Haynes)

March 13, 2008
Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy to get honorary Trent degrees
Peterborough Examiner (article excerpt)

Internationally renown fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy are among six people who will be honoured by Trent University. Trent President Bonnie Patterson announced this year*s recipients of honorary degrees to be presented at the university*s convocation ceremonies June 4, 5 and 6.

Joining Lakefield residents MacMaster and Leahy are an award-winning filmmaker, a pioneer in the Canadian broadcast industry, an renowned authority on rare books and a distinguished Parliamentarian

Inuit filmmaker and sculptor Zacharias Kunuk, Alliance Atlantis Communications Incorporated Executive Chairman Michael MacMillan, Canadian literature champion Hugh Anson-Cartwright and former Secretary of State for External Affairs Flora MacDonald all will be honoured.

"I am delighted the university will have the opportunity to honour such a talented group of individuals whose accomplishments embody the spirit of Trent," Patterson stated.

"Each individual has made a significant difference both in Canada and around the world as leaders in their fields of music, film, business, humanitarianism and literature."

Well-known to international audiences as one of Canada's major musical talents, MacMaster is credited with lifting traditional East Coast music to its contemporary prominence. Renowned for her flamboyant fiddling and step-dancing prowess, she has won two Juno Awards and eleven East Coast Music Awards, in addition to several Canadian Country Awards for Fiddler of the Year. In 2000, she was nominated for a Grammy Award and in 2006, she became one of the youngest people named to the Order of Canada.

Leahy, considered one of the best fiddlers in the world, has played a major role in the Peterborough area*s musical community. He has won three Juno Awards, created three albums that have collectively sold more than half a million copies, and developed a
summer music camp in the Kawarthas for young aspiring musicians.

MacMaster and Leahy will be honoured during the afternoon ceremony June 4th.

February 22, 2008
Natalie MacMaster: Cape Breton comes to Randolph
By Art Edelstein, The Barre Montpelier Times

Natalie MacMaster, a fiddler and step dancer so adept at her instrument and style that she has virtually single handedly brought Cape Breton music to the world at large, will be ensconced at Randolph's Chandler Music Hall for two evening performances, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 26 and 27, at 7:30 p.m. MacMaster is well known here
having performed previously at this venerable venue and in Burlington.

What MacMaster and her four-man band bring to the music of their native Canadian island is intense energy wrapped in a very attractive package. The band performs the jigs and reels that have come to Cape Breton via Scotland and Ireland with a foot-tapping energy that invigorates and animates audiences.

On the slow ballads, MacMaster plays, with what one reviewer has called "irresistible, keening passion."

The music is in MacMaster's blood, as she is a daughter of this part of Nova Scotia, where the music of Scotland wound up after a tumultuous cross-Atlantic voyage in the 18th century.

This performer obviously loves what she does and shows it in performance with the apparent joy that emerges in the fiery jigs and reels, quieter waltzes and new contemporary pieces. It is said by reviewers that her audiences witness her absolute love of the music and, right from the start, are convinced that something special is
about to be experienced. As she swoops and dances, and jumps and laughs with boundless energy, her deep connection with her art is evident and her energy is contagious.

MacMaster has been fiddling since age 9 and has won numerous rewards for her early traditional recordings while also receiving a slew of accolades with her subsequent releases. In her more recent albums "In My Hands," which fuses jazz, Latin and the guest vocals of Alison Krauss, and the Grammy-nominated "My Roots are Showing," she has gained an even wider audience of followers.

On the album "Blueprint," MacMaster's band included bluegrass stalwarts Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Edgar Meyer. This album won her the "Best Female Artist of the Year" and "Best Roots /Traditional Solo Recording" at Canada's East Coast Music Awards.

Over the years MacMaster has had CDs charted on Billboard's Top 20 Selling World Music charts and four of her releases have been certified "gold" (sales of 50,000+) in Canada. MacMaster was one of the youngest people ever named a member of the
prestigious Order of Canada ­ Canada's highest civilian honor.

MacMaster's live shows are always energetic events. While this reviewer has not heard her most recent band perform, the combination of Mac Morin on keyboards, Matt MacIsaac on pipes, whistles and banjo, J.D. Blair on drums, along with cellist Nathaniel Smith, sounds interesting.

Cape Breton music has a pulse different from the more recognizable Irish styles. With MacMaster and her band the listener is swept up in the sound and carried away to a place of harsh weather, bleak landscapes and strong family ties.

February 17, 2008
MacMaster's fiddle has adoring fans reeling
Concert Review: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Centennial Concert Hall
(Feb. 15th. Attendance: 1,820) -- Winnipeg Free Press

TALK about feeling the love! The minute Natalie MacMaster stepped onto the stage at the Centennial Concert Hall Friday night, the audience responded with overwhelmingly resounding enthusiasm.

Despite fighting a cold, the Cape Breton-born fiddler gave a high-energy performance in the first of three Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts. The audience was eating out of the palm of MacMaster's hand after just one tune.

While her trademark step dancing was limited to just two numbers, every step she did take (and she's as agile as ever) met with fervent cheers. Even her talented pianist, Mac Morin, showed his dancing feet in the traditional Strathspey and Three Reels. If you didn't know better, you'd think his ankles were made of rubber.

At the helm was P.E.I.-born conductor/composer/guitarist Scott Macmillan, also the arranger of most of the music on the program. The wisely balanced musical menu included two of his original works for orchestra, A Hail to the Gaels and Song for the Cape.

The former began as a wistful Atlantic overture, evoking the smell of the ocean and craggy cliffs of the shore. It transitioned into a rousing and optimistic number, melodic and sprightly. Macmillan's loose-limbed conducting style seemed to strike a chord with the WSO, who responded with earnest energy.

And then the star emerged. Dressed in a snow-white pantsuit, MacMaster entered modestly, seeming genuinely surprised at the loud reception. After just a few notes on her fiddle, the audience was swaying and tapping to Tunes a Plenty, a catchy medley of rhythmic Celtic melodies.

The touching lament, If Ever You Were Mine, MacMaster's most requested tune, followed. Sad and romantic, the slightly rough edge that makes her playing so authentic added a bittersweet touch to this lovely song. Macmillan's inspired arrangement featured the cellos taking the melody momentarily -- very nice.

O'Carolan's Concerto, written by 18th-century Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan, was a classically styled work sporting a distinct Irish brogue. Its intricacy gave MacMaster a chance to show the depth of her technical abilities, staying jaunty throughout.

Violinist Gwen Hoebig stepped from her seat as concertmaster to join MacMaster in two works, Bach/Devil's Dream, in which Hoebig opened with a Bach unaccompanied sonata that turned into a reel, foot-stamping included. MacMaster joined in and they played back and forth in a terrific exchange between Baroque and Celtic. Who knew they were so compatible?

Anniversary Waltz was a sentimental favourite, and one that MacMaster usually plays with husband Donnell Leahy of the popular group Leahy. Hoebig used a modified "gypsy violin" style as the two played this plaintive melody, familiarly known as Oh, How We Danced.

MacMaster's fresh personality and bouncy zeal is delightful and infectious -- and no one can touch her when it comes to playing the fiddle.

February 14, 2008
MacMaster mixes music & motherhood

For years now, Cape Breton's Natalie MacMaster has been wowing audiences with her feverish fiddle-playing and her stellar dance steps. Which probably explains how she's so deft at balancing her jam-packed schedule with her duties as a mom. With the birth of first child Mary Frances in 2005, touring became a true family affair for MacMaster and husband Donnell Leahy. But with another new addition to the fold -- Michael Joseph, born last June -- you'd think MacMaster's hands would be twice as full.

"Now that there's two, there's not that much extra work," says MacMaster, the East Coast fiddling phenom who kicks off a three-night stint with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra tomorrow. "It's doable, because they travel with me, and there are so many daily chores that are removed from your schedule when you're travelling, like washing
the dishes or doing laundry. Also, I have a lot of great help when I'm on the road. I travel with a babysitter, which makes things a lot easier."

And while MacMaster prefers to tour almost exclusively with her husband (a fellow fiddler, and a member of the Leahy family band), diverging schedules will prevent the couple from spending Valentine's Day together this year.

"I'll be seeing him off that morning," says MacMaster, the niece of Cape Breton legend Buddy MacMaster, from a rehearsal in Nebraska. "It's going to be hanging out with the kids and the babysitter. Maybe we'll go get an ice cream or something."

No stranger to the symphony setup, MacMaster marks her second collaboration with the WSO's Pops ensemble this weekend. She says the set -- arranged by Halifax composer Scott MacMillan -- casts the traditional sounds she favours in a far more epic light.

"I usually compare it to a speed boat versus a luxury liner," says MacMaster, who's also hard at work on a PBS special and a book. "When I play with my band, it's very manoeuvrable and fast and wild. And when I play with an orchestra, it's much more lush. Maybe the boat moves a bit slower, but there are a lot more luxuries."

A Grammy nominee and multiple Juno winner, MacMaster is touring in support of the 2007 disc Yours Truly, a project she knew from the outset would be more than just a traditional record. In fact, when all was said and done, many of the album's songwriting credits went to MacMaster, who says she's often shied away from taking too much of the
spotlight for herself.

"I didn't plan it like this, but there's actually a lot of my own compositions on the record. Usually I don't like my own stuff, but this time I liked it enough not only to record, but to favour it over a lot of other people's stuff."

One of the tracks -- the haunting Song for Peter -- was written for a departed friend, late Canadian newsman Peter Jennings. Another -- a cover of the Irish standard Danny Boy -- found her collaborating with adult-contemporary icon Michael McDonald.

In the past, MacMaster has worked with everyone from cousin Ashley MacIsaac to Celtic act The Chieftains to bluegrass legend Bela Fleck. Her pending PBS project has her paired with classical cellist Yo Yo Ma, and she says she looks for just one thing in a potential musical match.

"It's all about their intentions for the music," she explains. "It's about keeping it pure and letting it breathe, and turn into what it should, as opposed to saying, 'OK, we're going to write a hit, or a pop song, or something like that.' "

Speaking of family, MacMaster says she unfortunately didn't get to jam with another famous relative -- distant cousin Jack White of Detroit, who toured the East Coast as part of The White Stripes' Canadian jaunt last summer.

"I've never met him," she says. "I actually wasn't at home -- I was out touring when he stopped through there. I might have even been in Detroit, come to think of it."

February 4, 2008
Review: MacMaster's fiddling, lively jigs prove more than a step above

Ah, me fair MacMaster, ye play sooch a guld fiedle and make sweit musik.

Yeah, it was Celtic night Nova Scotia-style at the Holland Performing Arts Center on Saturday. Natalie MacMaster, one of the world's finest Celtic fiddlers, was in town with her red-hot quintet to play the jigs, reels, marches, airs, clogs and other tunes for which she's become so justly popular.

It was a lively show.

For the better part of two hours, MacMaster pranced around the stage, playing her fiddle with such frenetic energy that it was a wonder the audience didn't jump up and step dance with her. Probably they were too exhausted from watching her play.

Indeed, MacMaster often seemed more like a rock star than a Canadian folk musician. Tall and lean, she wore the sort of white silk suit and shaggy blond hair that would have made Rod Stewart proud. Stewart certainly would have appreciated MacMaster's performance style, since she spent the evening running from one part of the stage to the next to trade riffs and hot licks with the various members of her band.

MacMaster plays a kind of Celtic music called Cape Breton fiddling, named for the region of Nova Scotia where it arose. It's basically a vigorous kind of Scottish folk music (Scottish immigrants first brought it to North America) that's full of traditional dance rhythms step dancing, Cape Breton square dancing and highland dancing. MacMaster, herself, proved to be an expert Cape Breton soft-shoe artist.

To the untrained American ear, the style sounds like a mix of Appalachian folk, bluegrass and boogie-woogie Cape Breton music features all sorts of funky boogie-woogie-like progressions.

MacMaster was able to play it all, tossing off vigorous jigs with a big tone, fearsome bow arm, uncanny sense of rhythms and an impeccable ear for melody. Her airs and other slow songs were heartfelt laments.

In many respects, MacMaster's music sounded a lot like what you might hear while downing a Guinness in a local Irish pub. What separated MacMaster from the pub scene, aside from the high level of her playing, was the sound (and quality) of her band. The group: pianist Mac Morin, drummer J.D. Blair, bagpiper Matt MacIsaac and cellist Nathaniel Smith ? played with the hard drive and amplification of a top-notch rock band.

MacMaster appeared at the Holland as the latest installment in the Omaha Performing Arts Society's popular entertainer series. And eh, MacMaster, thenk ye lass for sooch a guld concert, and let's hope ye be reit back to Omaha soon.

February 3, 2008
Natalie MacMaster at the Lied
Daily Nebraskan (The independant student newspaper of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Natalie MacMaster, the renowned Nova Scotian fiddler and step dancer, performed with her band of five on Friday night at the Lied Center. Her band consisted of a pianist, a pubescent cellist, a Nashville drummer, a bassist and a bagpipe/whistle player.

MacMaster came on stage and began playing immediately, stopping only after a few songs to ask the audience to kick off their shoes and dance in the aisles - literally. Before the end of the first half of the show, she showcased her step dancing, sans fiddle, as she mimicked and complemented drum beats.

After intermission, she shared her philosophy of surrounding herself with musicians better than herself because, as she said, they make her look good. She introduced each of the members of her band and they each got opportunities to show off; the bassist sang a solo, the pianist step danced a jig and everyone got a solo in one of the final
pieces, Madness.

MacMaster's music literally made toes tap and heads bob, and while no one took up her offer to dance in the aisles, she had everyone standing - and a few dancing and wiggling in place - during the encore performance.

February 1, 2008
Natalie MacMaster is a virtuoso of the fiddle
BY JOHN PITCHER, Omaha World Herald

Natalie MacMaster will never forget her first conversation with Peter Jennings.

"He called me at home and told me he was a big fan, and he invited me to be on his news show," she said. "What really blew me away, though, was that he called personally. Imagine a man like that making his own phone calls."

MacMaster, the Canadian-born Celtic fiddle virtuoso who performs Saturday night at the Holland Performing Arts Center, shouldn't have been surprised. Before becoming the anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight," Jennings had been an old-fashioned, shoe-leather foreign correspondent. So naturally he made his own phone calls.

More importantly, though, Jennings loved folk music and jazz. It stands to reason that he would be one of the first journalists of national stature to recognize his fellow Canadian's talent and report about it.

MacMaster repaid the favor following the anchor's death in 2005, recording a tribute called "Farewell to Peter." The song, an instrumental elegy, is the most heart-rending piece on MacMaster's 2006 album "Yours Truly."

"Peter loved Cape Breton music, and the song was something I had to do," she said.

You have to wonder whether Jennings, or most other people living outside Nova Scotia, would have known anything about Cape Breton fiddle playing were it not for MacMaster. She is perhaps the only famous exponent of this regional style of Celtic fiddle music, which is characterized by a pronounced rhythmic drive and intense up-bowing.

"It never dawned on me growing up that I'd be doing this, since nobody I knew made a career out of playing Cape Breton fiddle," she says. "All the fiddlers I knew had day jobs."

All the fiddlers MacMaster knew included, well, pretty much everybody she knew.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1972, MacMaster grew up in an extremely musical family. In fact, her uncle Buddy MacMaster was widely considered to be Nova Scotia's top Cape Breton fiddler.

"I still hear his sound in my head every time I play," she says.

MacMaster began playing fiddle at age 9 and released her first album at age 16. She has gone on to record 10 more, with four of those discs being certified gold in Canada.

MacMaster is known for her flamboyant virtuosity. She'll never settle for one note if she can play three or four. She's also known for her musical and professional seriousness.

At one point, she gave as many as 250 concerts a year, playing everything from a gig for 200 Japanese travel agents to opening a concert for 80,000 Santana fans.

Since the birth of her second child ? she now has a 2-year-old girl and a 6-month-old boy ? she has cut back considerably on her concerts. But she says she'll never entirely give up the road.

"I've got a great baby sitter, a great band and a cushy bus, so I'm going to keep playing," she said.

February 1, 2008
Violinist jigs through Jesse
By Sarah Handelman

When Natalie MacMaster performed at the 2005 Midwest Arts Conference in Indianapolis, she didn't just fiddle  she clogged.

Ancient Scottish and Canadian melodies flooded from her violin over the percussive taps of her clogs. With a four-piece band behind her, MacMaster invigorated the audience and inspired Shelley Dotson, the event services manager at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis, to help bring the Canadian fiddler to Missouri.

She seems to perform in a way as if no one else is there, says Dotson. Its like a garage performance, and you just happen to be watching. Whether she dances a quick jig or plays a Scottish ballad, MacMaster shares a piece of herself and her home at every performance. The violinists heritage is rooted in Nova Scotias music scene, and her energetic spirit and creative vigor add life to the ancient melodies she brings to the stage.

As the niece of famed Canadian fiddler Buddy MacMaster, she has music in her veins. His musicianship coupled with her love of the people and traditional songs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, make MacMaster a force on stage.

The style of Cape Breton and our music is easygoing, and its meant to be interpreted however the individual feels it, she says. Take it for what it is. However, she isn't only tied to the music of her home. Just because I am a Cape Breton fiddler doesn't mean that's all I do, she says.

MacMaster is one of hundreds of Canadian musicians who make up East Coast music, a genre of the traditional and contemporary tunes of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. These musicians play the songs that have been handed down to them through generations. Its music that is very much homebred, says MacMaster, who comes from a family of musicians. Music that comes from the kitchen, really.

Cape Breton fiddling can be traced back to ancient Scottish folk songs, but MacMaster doesnt stop at tradition. Yours Truly, her fourth album, comprises pieces written by the fiddler herself. Writing and recording original music was a first for MacMaster, who looked beyond traditional Canadian melodies. MacMaster infuses elements of jazz and rock into her music to create a more accessible, updated sound.

Her music is a really effective combination of tradition and innovation, says Darry Dolezal, a cello professor at MU. It has folk roots, but she brings a lot of sophistication and modern ideas to it as well. With a cellist, bagpiper, drummer, pianist and MacMaster, the band isnt large, but its big enough to create an atmosphere that is purely Canadian.

Although the concerts focus is the fiddling and Canadian music, its hard not to dance to the infectious beats that drive the show. Don't be surprised if MacMaster puts on her dancing shoes. Its actually not that difficult to fiddle and dance at the same time, says MacMaster, who has step danced longer than she has fiddled. But if you have to pick one over the other, keeping the melody going is the most important.

Since the birth of her second child in June, MacMaster has had to make dramatic cuts in her touring. For now, she brings her kids on the road. She says motherhood and musicianship is doable but admits it can be cumbersome.

MacMaster will continue to pursue the music that has always been a part of her. She hopes the people who listen will hear more than just an old folk tune. They enter into your soul, MacMaster says. There are a lot of great old melodies that are much more than surface tunes.

January 31, 2008
Review: MacMaster brings energetic hoot
By ERIK ERNST For the State Journal, Madison, WI 

Natalie MacMaster is undoubtedly proud of her heritage. Hailing from the Eastern Canadian island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, MacMaster has forged a career out of melding the native traditional music of her home with a few modern trappings. Pulled from traditional Canadian square dances, filled with Scottish and Gaelic foundations and infused with touches of American folk, country and jazz, she described it best as "music to dance to and have a hoot."

So, it was no surprise that her concert at the Overture Center Wednesday night served as a musical travelogue, history lesson and folk dance festival.

A fireball of energy with a fiddle in her hand, MacMaster rarely stopped her percussive step-dancing throughout the 2½-hour set.

Backed by a talented five-piece band, most of the songs quickly sprung to life, before venturing into new directions.

"Flea as a Bird," a Scottish clog, was accented by JD Blair's jazzy drum interlude. Virtuosic 13-year-old cellist Nathaniel Smith drove "Volcanic Jig" from its mournful center into an angry dirge that was soon accented by a staccato response from MacMaster's fiddle. The slower "Josefin's Waltz" displayed the rich tone of her instrument. As the band began "G Medley," MacMaster prompted the three-quarter capacity audience to move, saying, "Don't worry about etiquette. This is a beautiful theater, but it needs to be shook up a bit." As she played, she danced across the stage, twirling and whooping in time.

Throughout the evening MacMaster was a gracious host. It was almost as if she was welcoming the crowd into her living room, as she spun tales about her family and her own musical path on the Canadian island.

When she asked if anyone else was from Cape Breton, one fan shouted out that she had honeymooned in the island's small town of Mabou.

"Well, then I know where you stayed," MacMaster slyly replied. "Because, there is only one place there."

After an intermission, multi-instrumentalist Matt MacIsaac performed an intensely rhythmic bagpipe piece before MacMaster took the stage by herself for the traditional "Tullochgorum" - a piece that featured her fastest and most intricate fiddling of the night.

"Madness" was a musical amalgamation highlighting the diverse skill sets of the band members.

At the end of the set, "Reel of Tulloch" roused the clapping crowd to its feet and found MacMaster removing her tap shoes to mix a few Moonwalking moves into her energetic highland steps.

January 19
, 2008
'Natalie MacMaster & Friends' Repeat Broadcast Tonight

Saturday, January 19th 7:00pm ET Bravo! TV Canada
In November 2006, Natalie joined the 'Cape Breton Live' tour for a special concert at The Rose Theatre in Brampton, Ontario. The concert featured musical friends: Andrea Beaton, Troy MacGillivray, Glenn Graham, Howie MacDonald, Cheryl Smith, Buddy MacDonald, Kate Quinn and Bob Quinn.

Portions of this concert can heard online at
Cape Breton Live Radio.
Photos from this concert also available

January 19, 2008
How's this for a change: Motherhood takes the pressure off
By Walter Tunis, Kentucky.com

All was seemingly calm as Natalie MacMaster balanced a phone in one hand and her 7-month old son, Michael Joseph, in the other.

The conversation flowed easily at first as the famed Cape Breton fiddler discussed the art of collaboration, her 2006 album Yours Truly and a trimmed touring schedule of 75 to 100 concerts this year for the working mother of two (daughter Mary Frances turned 2 in December).

Then came an eruption on the phone line, a vocal dissension from Michael that quickly shifted MacMaster's role from musician to mom.

"Oh, and this was all going so smoothly," she remarked. But it is a brief interruption. Michael is soon settled, making another appearance later by way of a curious coo. Otherwise, the balancing act resumed.

Certainly the Grammy-nominated MacMaster is not the first professional musician to juggle parenthood and a career. But although making her family her priority, especially since Michael's arrival, MacMaster better appreciates her music, a mesh of the Celtic-based traditional sound that is all but a second tongue on Canada's Cape Breton Island with adventurous contemporary and Americana accents.

"I have this sort of abandon now," she said. "Having two children and being married is my focus. That is No. 1 for me. That means music has taken on a slightly different air. I've realized I don't have to play music. But I want to. And I can choose to play as much or as little as I like. On those terms, I'm finding I'm enjoying it more. I guess the pressure is off.

"I've actually been fortunate enough to have had good business experiences during my career, so I've never really had pressure put on me. But certainly the pressure I exert on myself is off. With Michael, I was off about five months from show to show. I really felt myself longing to get back onstage. And once I was onstage, I just appreciated it a lot more."

Perhaps that's because fiddling has surrounded MacMaster for much of her life. Her husband is fiddler Donnell Leahy, who co-produced Yours Truly. Her uncle is Cape Breton fiddle great Buddy MacMaster, who cut a sublime album of traditional music with his niece in 2005. Her cousin is renegade fiddle stylist Ashley MacIsaac. And one of MacMaster's finest albums, 2001's Blueprint, a Nashville session featuring the progressive bluegrass playing of B la Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and others, was co-produced by the extraordinary West Coast fiddler Darol Anger.

"There is certainly a community out there of fiddlers," MacMaster said. "They share a commonality, a passion. It's close-knit, it's supportive and it's wonderful."

Two extended fiddle communities have profoundly influenced MacMaster's music. One is the Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp, an institute of sorts founded by the Grammy-winning, bluegrass-turned-classical artist. Scores of all-star instrumentalists, including MacMaster, have been instructors. It was at an O'Connor Camp that MacMaster met Anger.

"Darol once put it this way: 'There was life before camp and there is life after camp.' I really understand that distinction," she said. "So much of my world has opened up in such a positive way through meeting fiddlers at those camps."

But the deepest and most supportive fiddle community for MacMaster has been Cape Breton itself. The Nova Scotia island has been a home for fiddle music since Scottish immigrants started settling there in the 18th century. MacMaster's music has regularly adopted contemporary instrumentation (guitars, keyboards, electric bass), but there is a rustic, wooden tone to her playing that heavily references Cape Breton tradition. She embraces the style completely on the second disc of her fine 2002 concert album, Live, which was cut with an unadorned trio at a Cape Breton square dance.

"You're surrounded by music there," MacMaster said of Cape Breton. "It's in the environment around you. Your father plays. Your uncle plays. Somebody in your family plays and they teach you, inspire you and make you want to learn. There's a real hand-me-down tradition to this music. But you also play piano. You also dance. And it becomes part of life as opposed to, 'I want to be a music star.' That has its merits, too. But this music is something special.

"It's a true music. It comes from hardships. It comes from joys. It comes from life, culture and tradition born way back in Scotland that has survived today. This is music that speaks to a person's human spirit."

January 16, 2008
The Roots of Cape Breton. The Style and Energy of Natalie MacMaster
By Demain66 Blogspot - Dayton, Ohio

(The edited article appeared in the Dayton City Paper Vol.5/No.03/January 16th, 2007)

The willowy resonance of the fiddle, long and flowing, trailed across the ocean to North America, far from its native Scottish soil, taking root in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. Natalie MacMaster was born into this melodic heritage in Inverness County, Nova Scotia from a long lineage of musicians. Her uncle, Buddy MacMaster as well as two of her cousins, Ashley MacIsaac and Andrea Beaton, are also well known Cape Breton fiddlers. Natalie first took up the fiddle when she was nine and has since become a world renowned fiddler in the Cape Breton style, winning awards and accolades along her journey. Her style is one steeped in tradition, yet elements of jazz, bluegrass and Latin influences pepper the many raucous reels and jigs, making them forever

J.T.: Coming from such a musical background, do you view your music as an extension of your family, almost like an heirloom?

Natalie: Yes! Well put. Definitely it's an extension, but more than an heirloom. An heirloom is something that's delicate and something that's? well, then again, it has been passed down from generation to
generation. It's definitely a way of life though. It's not just something to look at and marvel at. It's something that exists through our lives and in our lives and it's very much a part of living. Certainly, I grew up with it very strongly, in the thick of it. The parents that I have both come from long lines of musicians, so I get it honestly for sure.

J.T.: Now, have you ever started on a piece with one thing in mind, but it turned into another type of animal, all on its own?

Natalie: Well, certainly when writing, yes. When performing and playing a tune that I already know, we call that 'going in the woods'. It's a term, like when you start something and you don't end up where you started and basically made a royal mistake and went into another piece, that's called 'going in the woods'. Well, I have gone in the
woods a few times, but it doesn't happen very often.

J.T.: In terms of your original pieces, have you ever started on, lets say a sadder or slower piece and it metamorphosed into something completely different.

Natalie: Yes it has. Now, for me, because I'm not a vocalist, there's that whole element. Melodies are just melodies and I guess you could say, 'Did you ever start a piece that intended to be something and turned into something else?' All the time that happens. I start a few bars of something and I think, 'Oh, this is going to be a great?' and it ends up being something else. The key to that, for me anyway, is just letting it go where it wants to go without trying to make it become something, because if you force it, then you usually end up with something that sounds like it's forced. Just let it flow.

J.T.: Why do you think that Celtic styled music is so widely accepted internationally?

Natalie: I think because it's music that comes from a real place and it's a tradition. It's stood this test of time. It's not a fad. It'll be here long after you're gone. It has truth and honesty to it by the very nature of it. That's real and people like what is real. People
are attracted to what is real. They're attracted to what is not real too! (Laughs) But, generally speaking, it has the power of longevity and speaks to a person's soul.

J.T.: I recently watched a Celtic performer and I noticed that during the performance, the music seemed to draw the people in as if they were one group instead of separate individuals. From the stage, do you see your music as bringing people together to experience it as a community instead of singular observers?

Natalie: All the time I see unity. The music creates, especially folk or Celtic or Cape Breton or whatever you want to call it?f iddle music? it definitely brings people together. No question. I love it! I love it for that reason. I get up on stage and I see all these people from all different backgrounds and all different beliefs and all different shapes and sizes and they all come together. Here they are all together and they're very?joyous and celebrating music together. Definitely exciting.

J.T.: There is so much sadness conveyed in some of your music?why do you think that the fiddle can bring about such a range of emotion, from a raucous reel to a melancholy melody in so few turns?

Natalie: I think just by the nature of the instrument. It's just a
beautiful instrument. It has a tone to it and?but now that I'm thinking about it, I may get technical about it. By the very nature of a violin bow, you have the ability to put a lot of pressure on it and play short bows and have something fast and exciting. Then, because of the length of the bow, you draw the whole bow and play lightly and pull a little bit of vibrato in with your left hand, you have such a beautiful note, a beautiful tone that can have such a sweet sound to it.

J.T.: Are there pieces that you perform that still hold the same energy within you as the first time you performed it?

Natalie: Yeah, that's a great question. Sometimes the more you play a tune, the more you can let go of the thought process to play the tune
and get more into the meaning of it. If you know a tune really, really well, you can enter into a deeper place with it? thinking less about, 'O.K. I have to move to this melody' or 'do this here, do that there.' Whereas, if you know it really well, you don't have to think about those sort of things. It's kind of like going to a different place and feeling it. You can play it a bunch of times so that you can have the freedom to play with the abandon of playing something almost for the first time.

J.T.: Your rendition of Danny Boy with Michael McDonald lent such a soulful texture to this familiar song. How far can Celtic music be pushed into other genres?

Natalie: Oh, I think it can go anywhere. It can go anywhere and any genre at all. I think any instrument can cross over into any culture. It might not be part of the tradition, and therefore might create a type of sound within the tradition. It's all about the player? the talent of the player.

J.T.: With all of the styles and genres that you've so artfully wended together, what is your next goal?

Natalie: Well, let's be clear that those touches of different styles are not coming from my fiddle. I play Cape Breton fiddle. They come more from the arrangements. For the most part, those influences are all sort of coincidental. It's on my bio somewhere?'touches of jazz, classical, bluegrass'?I've never played bluegrass and they're referring to my album Blueprint where I have the crème de le crème from the bluegrass world, but I was just looking for really great players. My producer, Darrell Anger, he's right in with those guys. They're the best of the best. So, luckily I had a great producer who had great relationships with these people and they also recognized and respected my talent and, lo and behold, we got to work in the studio together. The fact that it was bluegrass was an afterthought. For example, the Latin thing?that comes from my tune Flamenco Fling and that was a tune where I had this great melody written by a friend of mine and I took it to my producer and I was like, 'Listen to this. I think that this is something really fun. It has kind of a Latin feel.' He listened to it and said, 'Totally! Let's write a third section to it and let's put a horn section in it and maybe a Flamenco guitarist like Jesse Cook' and we let it have that Latin sound that it had naturally. So it's more of a natural thing.

J.T.: It's not forced to be something...

Natalie: Yeah! The piece dictates what I do. So, I'll be looking for material and if something speaks to me, I let that emotion come through.

J.T.: Do you ever listen to something and you can hear your style imprint itself over it?

Natalie: Yeah! A lot of times I'll be shopping in the mall and I'll hear something and I'm like, 'The fiddle can fit totally over that!' In fact, my husband was telling me the other day, 'Natalie! You've got to hear Santana's new single with the lead singer from Nickleback.' He said, 'I would love to do a fiddle tune over that!' So, I was listening to it and totally it lends itself to?I can see where that would work.

J.T.: Are there any collaborations that you really want to pursue or do they pretty much happen organically?

Natalie: They actually happen organically as well. It's funny how things just happen. Somebody just asked me earlier today, 'Who would be someone that you'd really like to work with?' This is a far stretch, I know, but I would love to do something with Sting. I don't think that Sting has a clue who Natalie MacMaster is. So anyway, we'll see...

(The edited article appeared in the Dayton City Paper Vol.5/No.03/January 16th, 2007. This is the original article as I wrote it.)

January 5, 2008
Cape Breton flavour added to documentary about Parton's literacy program
LAURA JEAN GRANT, The Cape Breton Post

A documentary detailing a country music legend's campaign for children's literacy will feature some Cape Breton flavour.

The Book Lady, chronicling Dolly Parton's Dollywood Foundation and her Imagination Library program in both the United States and Canada, shot some footage in Cape Breton this week, conducting interviews with renowned fiddler Natalie MacMaster and a Waycobah-area family that has been involved in the library program.

The documentary is being filmed by Halifax-based Emotion Pictures which includes Sydney native Brad Horvath.

"The documentary is two-fold", said Horvath, who serves as producer on the project.

"(It) will show another side of Dolly and shed light on the importance of reading to preschool children. We hope it will also inspire people to get involved in this initiative."

Imagination Library is a program that mails free, age-appropriate books each month to preschool children. The Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated singer, songwriter and actress has given millions of books to American children since initially setting up Imagination Library in 1996 to aid children in her home state of Tennessee.

In 2007, she partnered with Canadian charitable organization, Invest in Kids, and brought the campaign to several Canadian communities, including two in Nova Scotia,  Dartmouth and Waycobah.

Several months ago, Horvath and Halifax-based director Natasha Ryan travelled with a small crew to meet Parton in Tennessee and have since interviewed a number of prominent Canadians and Americans for the documentary including Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis, country music singer Keith Urban, actress and singer Miley Cyrus, star of the Disney Channel hit series Hannah Montana, figure skating
champion Kurt Browning and children?s author Robert Munsch.

Horvath said he was thrilled to include a piece of home in the documentary and MacMaster, an admirer of Parton's and a mother of two young children who is committed to the literacy cause,  was a natural fit for the documentary.

"Natalie was lovely. We had a great time with her," he said, noting after doing an interview with the fiddler they taped MacMaster?s young nephew reading a book to her.

After completing filming with MacMaster in her home community of Troy, the documentarians moved on to the Waycobah First Nation where they interviewed a mother who has been receiving books for her children through the program as well as local health centre staff who help administer the program in the community.

Halifax-based filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald serves as executive producer
on The Book Lady, which has been pre-sold to CBC-TV for national
broadcast. Horvath noted other broadcasters have also expressed
interest in the documentary.

Photo: Natalie MacMaster's nephew, Malcolm, reads the book A Fiddle for Angus by Budge Wilson to his aunt as a crew filmed footage for a documentary about Dolly Parton's work in promoting children's literacy. The documentarians visited MacMaster at her home in Troy this week. Submitted by Brad Horvath