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December 17, 2010
Fiddler Natalie MacMaster brings sounds of Nova Scotia close to home
Bernie Petit, Gaston Gazette

In the grand scheme of things, whether you want to call it the fiddle or the violin, it’s all the same, said Natalie MacMaster. But if you’re at “Christmas in Cape Breton,” the upcoming holiday concert at Knight Theater in Charlotte featuring MacMaster, expect to hear plenty of traditional Celtic fiddle music.

“Some people consider a fiddle folk music and the violin classical,” said MacMaster, who grew up in the Cape Breton region of Nova Scotia and picked up the fiddle at 9 years old. “I’m sure I call it a fiddle more often, but I think they’re interchangeable in my mind.”

Hailed as “a ball of fire, performing jigs and reels with unstoppable, foot-tapping energy and ballads with irresistible, keening passion” by the “Los Angles Times,” MacMaster has appeared onstage with rock guitarist Carlos Santana and fellow fiddler Alison Krauss. She’s also recorded with the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma and is a distant relative of singer/guitarist Jack White of the White Stripes.

“It was actually him who found out we’re distant cousins,” said MacMaster from a tour stop in Maine. “I’ve never met him, but I’ve met his family. I’ve got some pretty cool bloodlines, a lot of musicians in my bloodlines.”

So how does someone from Nova Scotia end up playing Celtic music on the fiddle?

“How can you not? It’s my whole ancestry alive and well,” said MacMaster, who takes a modern approach when performing her homeland’s style of fiddling, which originated in Scotland.

“It was what I grew up with. It’s part of living. It’s not something I do on the side, it’s part of my life, part of the culture and my family and all that.”

Growing up in Cape Breton, MacMaster said there would always be lots of house parties around the holidays filled with fiddle music and songs – the kind of music ideal for getting folks to dance.

Her Christmas concert is a way to share her cherished memories of those celebrations with audiences, said MacMaster, who is expecting her fourth child with husband, fellow fiddler Donnell Leahy, in January.

MacMaster and her band will run through several holiday favorites, such as “O Holy Night,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “Christmas in Killarney” and “Winter Wonderland.”

“It’s a good blend of religious and secular music,” she said, “and a lot of fiddle tunes.”

December 6, 2010
Nova Scotian folk fiddler provides a Celtic Christmas
By Hannah Rishel, The Daily Collegian

Photo: Asit Mishra/The Daily Collegian

‘Tis the season for Celtic folk.

Nova Scotian folk fiddler Natalie MacMaster performed her show, “Christmas in Cape Breton,” at Eisenhower Auditorium Thursday evening.

The performance, hosted by the Center for the Performing Arts, incorporated traditional Christmas music with a Celtic spin.

MacMaster also drew upon local talent as she welcomed the Nittany Valley Children’s Choir to join her on stage for a number of songs.

Amy Vashaw, audience and program development director for the CPA, said the Christmas show was made “especially compelling” by the inclusion of the children’s choir.

George Trudeau, Director of the CPA, said he was proud to match MacMaster up with local talent.

“We have a wonderful children’s choir here, and we’re always pleased to be able to offer that to musicians like this,” he said.

Attendee Catherine Posey of Bellefonte, 31, said the Eisenhower show was her third time watching MacMaster perform.

“Seeing her live is a great experience that everybody should have,” Posey said.

Posey added that MacMaster does not follow the standard Celtic music formula.

“She does very interesting things with the genre by branching off into jazz and other influences,” Posey said.

And MacMaster’s Celtic style was well-received, Vashaw said.

“It’s similar in sound to local Pennsylvanian folk, so it’s very popular in this area.”

As MacMaster took to the stage in a shiny red blouse, she rubbed her pregnant belly and referred to it as her “little disco ball.”

Her fourth child-to-be did not stop MacMaster from fiddling and step dancing throughout the first show of her Christmas season tour.

Trudeau said Macmaster was a natural musician.

“It’s in her blood,” Trudeau said. “In Cape Breton, it’s all about getting together with family and just jamming.”

And MacMaster emphasized this point on stage.

“There’s no such thing as a Cape Breton house party without live music,” she said.

Posey said she was glad to see Nova Scotian music represented at Penn State.

“It’s just wonderful to have musicians come here from so many different areas around the world,” she said.

Vashaw added that MacMaster’s music made for a “joyous way to spend the evening” that was seasonally appropriate.

“It is a fantastic and unique way to celebrate the holiday season,” she said.

October 7
, 2010

For Immediate Release
Natalie MacMaster to release her first book "Natalie MacMaster's Cape Breton Aire"

Troy, Nova Scotia, October 6, 2010

Natalie MacMaster is set to release her first book on Saturday, October 9, 2010 from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique, Cape Breton.

Natalie: wife, mother, virtuoso Cape Breton fiddler; winner of numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards, two honorary degrees, an honorary doctorate and the Order of Canada; can now add the title of book publisher to her credits. In the works for several years, this book is the story of a musical life and place. It is filled with Natalie’s story of the music that she has known since before she was born and takes the reader on a musical history journey. It features beautiful photos of Natalie’s beloved Cape Breton Island; its landscape and it’s people, taken by well respected photographer Eric Roth. He calls it “the assignment of a lifetime”. Eileen McNamara, Professor of the Practice in Journalism, Brandeis University and the recipient of many distinguished awards including a Pulitzer Prize organized Natalie’s words for the book. Alistair MacLeod says in his afterword “It is a tribute, not only to her exceptional skills, but also to those who preceded her and, in many ways, shaped her past.

October 29, 2010
Red-hot ticket…
Edmonds Beacon

The Natalie Macmaster and Donnell Leahy concert Saturday evening at the Edmonds Center for the Arts was a hot ticket to world class fiddle playing.

Natalie Macmaster and Donnell Leahy played an intense set of Celtic music to a very appreciative sold-out crowd. The husband and wife team were accompanied by two piano players and the red-hot concert featured different members of the band step-dancing at times to the music as well. From the first note to the last chorus, Macmaster and Leahy provided a night of incredible music.

October 28, 2010
The women of the fiddle
By Andrew Gilbert

For centuries, Celtic music traditions were passed down father to son, a male instrumental confederacy into which few women were welcomed. But in less than a generation, a glorious revolution overturned the old conventions, and nowhere are the results more visible than in the far-flung fiddle community.

Irish-American fiddle star Eileen Ivers is one of the trailblazers, an incandescent player who's created a turbocharged Afro-Celtic sound with her band Immigrant Soul.

But before she expanded the Irish tradition, she immersed herself in it, first making her mark with Mick Moloney's Green Fields of America. The County Limerick troubadour, banjo expert and ethnomusicologist had played an essential role in the Dublin folk revival scene in the late 1960s before relocating to the United States, where he was struck by the rising generation of female players.

Always looking to stir the pot, Moloney created Cherish the Ladies in 1985, an all-female all-star band led by Joanie Madden, the first American to win the senior all-Ireland championship on the tin whistle. Ivers helped found the hugely popular group, which boosted her career and set the stage for Immigrant Soul.

"It was wonderful, because Joanie and I were childhood friends who went to grammar school together in the Bronx," says Ivers, 45, who performs with Immigrant Soul on Wednesday at Villa Montalvo and next Thursday at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. "The fact that there weren't really other women out there when we started never entered into my psyche.

"The fiddle was something I wanted to play as a kid. It was only years later that someone said this is very unusual."

The dearth of female players may not have made an impression on Ivers, but her example has inspired countless young women to pursue their musical passion.

As a little girl growing up in Cape Breton, Natalie MacMaster had the best role model possible for a life in music. Her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, is a revered fiddler in the Cape Breton tradition. But in the small Scottish-inflected communities off the coast of Canada's far eastern province Nova Scotia, female fiddlers were few and far between.

"There really weren't other people besides my friends," says MacMaster, 38, who performs Friday at Campbell's Heritage Theatre as part of a series of Bay Area gigs. "Before we started, the three or four women fiddlers I had heard of, half of them were passed away and the others seemed very old.

"I was 16 when I discovered Eileen, and she had this new sound I never heard before. I was such a fan, I was in an Eileen phase for two years."

MacMaster first gained fame for her mastery of the Cape Breton sound, which hearkens back to the music of the Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides brought to Canada by immigrants fleeing land enclosures and famine in the 18th and 19th centuries. After collecting a shelf-full of East Coast Music Awards for her traditional albums, she started branching out, incorporating elements of jazz and Latin music.

Like Ivers, she's transcended her roots without severing them, collaborating with artists from across the musical spectrum. Fiddle renegade Darol Anger produced MacMaster's 2002 album "Blueprint" (Rounder) in Nashville, surrounding her with stylistically omnivorous string stars such as Béla Fleck, Sam Bush and Edgar Meyer. She appears on two tracks on the eponymous 2005 U.S. debut by Kiran Ahluwalia, the brilliant Indian-born, Toronto-based interpreter of Indo-Persian love songs known as ghazals.

For her Bay Area gigs, MacMaster is revealing a different side of her musical life, collaborating with her husband, Canadian fiddle star Donnell Leahy. Best known as part of the popular Ontario family folk group Leahy, he's stepping out on his own for a tour with his wife for the first time. They're joined by two pianists, Mac Morin from MacMaster's band, and Donnell's sister Erin Leahy.

"It's completely different than our own shows," MacMaster says. "It's pared down, so you hear everything, what we're doing and the pianos. People don't realize that piano is the main accompaniment for fiddle music in our tradition. It's a hell of a style, very rollicking. We're coming with the pure drive from the tradition that we grew up with. It's dance music. Very rhythmical."

While Ivers is performing with her working band, she's also touring with a set of new music she uncovered while doing research on early Irish immigration to America. As the name Immigrant Soul suggests, she's fascinated by the evolution of Irish culture in the New World, particularly the intermingling of Celtic and African-American music and dance.

"We have a huge love and respect for the Irish tradition, and we never want to dilute that element, the gorgeous slow tunes, the heartbreaking tunes about immigrating and lost love, and the dance music, so upbeat and joyous and improvisational," Ivers says. "I love marrying those components with styles that haven't been in the mix but really support each other. It broadens the audience, and makes a lot of new fans of the music."

October 22, 2010
Masters of the fiddle: Fiddle is at the heart of their music
Mail Tribune

The violin sings but the fiddle dances, according to Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster, masters of the four-stringed instrument. Together, the two blend a whirlwind of music, dance and song that combines the best of traditional Canadian, Celtic and bluegrass styles.

Leahy and MacMaster will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.

From Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, MacMaster is known as a performer whose proficiency amplifies the traditional northern East Coast sound for contemporary times. Her style has resonated with audiences from around the world with 10 albums, many of them gold-selling.

MacMaster has worked with master violinist Mark O'Connor, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, banjo prodigy Béla Fleck, fellow fiddler Alison Krauss and guitarist Carlos Santana. But it's the jigs, reels, waltzes and traditional folk of her Canadian homeland that feed her soul.

Husband Leahy is leader of his own Ontario-based family band that bears his surname. Leahy's fiddling mixes traditional Celtic with country, jazz, rock and even classical styles. Leahy and his band have sold thousands of CDs worldwide. They propelled themselves onto the global stage in 1997 as the opening act for Shania Twain's "Come On Over" world tour. The band also has picked up Juno Awards for Best New Group, Best Country Group and Best Instrumental Album.

Leahy and MacMaster met about 20 years ago. While Leahy and his band of siblings were touring Germany, one of his sisters kept playing a cassette of fiddle music. When Leahy learned that the phenomenal fiddler in question was an 18-year-old from Cape Breton, he had to meet her. The two hit it off both musically and romantically and dated for two years before drifting apart. They reconnected 10 years later and were married in 2002.

Leahy and MacMaster will be joined by pianists Mac Morin and Erin Leahy for the show at the Craterian Theater.

October 19, 2010
Natalie MacMaster – Booked Up
Stephanie Beaumont, Sea and Be Scene

Author... The latest title in the long and ever growing list of accomplishments for mega award winning musician Natalie MacMaster.

Cape Breton Aire (The Story of a Musical Life & Place) is a beautiful tribute to her homeland and her journey thus far. Wonderfully fitting indeed - that she could celebrate its launch at home in Cape Breton at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, during the Celtic Colours International Festival. And even more lovely that she could be surrounded by her greatest fans - her family.

The event was just as natural as the artist herself - complete with truly tasty homemade food, great conversation, a spontaneous jig or two and of course Natalie’s amazing playing.

(Photo by Eric Roth)How great it was to catch up with the woman who never seems to stop – between touring the world to perform, writing and promoting a book, raising a growing family...not to mention building a home...the girl’s got it all going on! We’re so thrilled she made the time for us and while we’re on the subject – during the interview - Natalie shared with us her mantra of sorts when it comes to time management...
Natalie & family

“No times a good time – so anytime works”.
Love that! Love her!

Natalie MacMaster we salute you!!! SABS

For all things Natalie MacMaster, including how you can get a copy of her brand new book, visit: www.nataliemacmaster.com

For more information on the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre visit: www.celticmusiccentre.com 

October 15, 2010
"Love at first listen" for Leahy, MacMaster
MacMaster and Leahy: They formed a bond professionally and personally

When Donnell Leahy heard the fiddling of Natalie MacMaster, it was instant love.

“It was love at first listen and love at first sight,” said Leahy, now MacMaster’s husband. The couple, both masters of the fiddle, are playing Thursday in Olympia.

Leahy, who is best known as part of the family band Leahy, heard MacMaster playing on a cassette tape.

“It was copied from another tape, so it didn’t have a picture,” he said. All the young fiddler knew was that the fiddler was a young woman from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, his mother’s hometown.

“My mom knew her people, and you know a lot about a person when you know her people,” he said. “I called her up out of the blue and asked her out to dinner. She has a lot of fun teasing me about it,” he said. “When I asked her out, I said to her, ‘Could you bring along your fiddle? I don’t know what you look like.’ ”

The couple hit it off immediately, playing music together after that first dinner. They dated for two years, then broke up for a decade before getting back together and marrying in 2003.

These days, they are fiddling, farming and raising three children, with a fourth on the way.

“I never did anything else other than farming and music,” said Leahy, who grew up on a cattle farm in Lakefield, Ontario, with parents who had their own band and took up the fiddle at the age of 3. “I never tried to.”

In fact, he never even thought about what he’d do with himself until he went to university.

“When you’re a farmer, you are many things,” he said. “You’re a veterinarian; you’re a crop specialist; you’re a mechanic.

“It’s the same in music. You are not just a musician. You become a writer and a performer and a host and there is so much business involved. You get so much in those two ways of life.”

MacMaster also grew up with music, though she didn’t take up performing until age 9. She’s the niece of famed fiddler Buddy MacMaster

“That was training by osmosis,” she told The Olympian in 2008. “Hearing it and being around it. It was part of life.”

MacMaster has been nominated for a Grammy and won multiple Junos and Canadian Country Music Awards. Her latest venture is a photo book, “Natalie MacMaster’s Cape Breton Aire,” about Cape Breton Island at the tip of Nova Scotia.

The book features MacMaster’s words with photos by Eric Roth, who documented the island’s scenery and culture as well as concerts by MacMaster and Leahy. “He just took these beautiful, honest pictures,” Leahy said.

And the life documented in the book – family, farming and fiddling – is what the couple lives. “Definitely, number one for me is family,” MacMaster said.

Although music is their livelihood, she and Leahy also take care of a 150-acre farm – with help so they are free to tour.

“It’s a wonderful outlet for us to play the music and travel the way we do and then be able to go back to that groundedness of the farm, the land, to that the simple way,” Leahy said.

The couple hasn’t played that many shows together in the past, but this year they are changing that, touring with children Mary Frances, 4; Michael, 3; and Clare, 19 months. Their fourth child is due in January.

“We so want to be all together as much as possible,” he said. “And when Natalie and I go out together, of course we have the whole family intact. Touring is certainly different than it used to be,” he added. “It’s better, but it’s different. Does the hotel have a swimming pool? That’s an important question.”

This tour is different on stage, too. Instead of a large band, it’s just two fiddles plus pianos played by Leahy’s sister Erin Leahy and Mac Morin, MacMaster’s longtime pianist.

“It’s been such a fresh approach for us,” he said. “Putting together music with two pianos is new to everyone. It’s new to the piano players to learn how to play with another piano player.”

MacMaster and Leahy faced a similar challenge.

“When we first started playing together, it was really difficult,” Leahy said. “Our natural thing is to be the lead, but when we played together, our natural thing was to back off and give the other one the lead.

“We each have our own thing going, but neither of us was delivering it. We were both giving way. We had to get comfortable playing together and still present Natalie MacMaster and still present Donnell Leahy but together.”

October 10, 2010
A Cape Breton soul
In her first book, Natalie MacMaster talks about how her life has
been shaped by family and the people and beauty of Cape Breton
By KRISTIN NORD, Halifax Chronicle Herald

Natalie MacMaster’s Cape Breton Aire is published by MacMaster Music, Inc.

Natalie MacMaster launched her book Natalie MacMaster’s Cape Breton Aire in Judique yesterday. She’s giving three sold-out shows today and Monday during Celtic Colours.

NATALIE MacMASTER’S Cape Breton Aire: The Story of a Musical Life and Place would seek to introduce you to the influences of family, faith and natural beauty that have infused her music.

And to capture the pieces that have made up this famous Cape Breton fiddler’s life she’s enlisted Eric Roth, a gifted photographer, and Eileen MacNamara, a prize-winning journalist. While Roth provides the visual frame, MacNamara has distilled many hours of MacMaster’s thoughts and observations.

MacMaster’s aim, she said in a telephone interview last week from Ontario, was to offer in fragments a sense of place and inspiration. The book functions as a tender family scrapbook and a photographic travelogue that delves into the world of this Cape Breton musician.

Her heritage stems not only from an august musical lineage that includes her beloved uncle, Buddy MacMaster, and a remarkable constellation of talented aunts and uncles and cousins, but also from two highly spirited grandmothers who jigged tunes and instilled a love of God and music and great fun in the lives of their children.

The Beaton-MacMaster families were poor in material wealth, but strong in musical genes and in spirit. These are Scots Catholic families that worship regularly and view the gifts bestowed upon them as gifts to be shared with their communities.

Children from these Cape Breton parishes often perform at church festivals when they are very young. For Natalie, her debut came at Glendale less than a year after she’d begun playing her first ¾-size fiddle.

"By the time I picked up the fiddle, I felt as if I had nine years of experience already," she recalls. "I had so many melodies in my head; I could hum a lot of tunes."

Her parents encouraged her playing from the very start, transporting her to the halls and packing a blanket and a pillow in the backseat on the nights when they knew she’d be up late playing for a dance. Their behind-the-scenes guidance, Natalie will quickly tell you, kept her grounded.

"If I was responsible to play at a concert, then I had to practise. My dad never made me take a gig, but if I took the gig I was going to have to take responsibility for it."

They nurtured her musical education much as they had always done, through the music making that was part of daily life and through access to recordings that helped to refine her taste and her ear.

"The source of the music for me is not the books or the archives, it’s the house parties where the music was captured on tape," she writes. "They are just gold, those tapes."

Natalie said she never dreamed that her playing could be parlayed into a full-time career, much less make her a global phenomenon. But she knew as a young person that talent would not be enough. Overcoming stage fright, and the early injuries caused by tension were obstacles that she had to conquer. Hard work, determination, and openness to the world around her were the skills she would need to get to ever-higher levels.

She touches on these, as well as her challenges now as a professional musician with a growing family, with refreshing candour.

The timing had been right to introduce Cape Breton music to the rest of the world, but one of her early champions, Mike Denney, who helped present her in festivals throughout the United States and who now divides his year between Belle Cote and Portland, Maine, watched her hone her stagecraft skills.

Natalie "was like a sponge, absorbing and responding to everything," Denney said, but she was also exceedingly shy. While the MacMasters in private are dry-witted and hilarious, it was a leap for Natalie to see that she could show that side of herself on stage, he added.

Just minutes from the MacMaster house in Troy is the stately sanctuary where Natalie’s family worships. Beyond that is the string of towns that were once Gaelic-speaking settlements. Roth trains his camera primarily on the sights along Route 19 from Troy north to Judique and Mabou, and further, through Glenora, Dunvegan, Inverness, and the Margarees.

When locals hear Gaelic in the fiddle, it refers to how the music has been shaped by the language.

"The music is like the people and the land — strong, powerful, and rugged. It all blends. It all matches," she says.

As the photographic journey progresses, fans who’ve followed Natalie’s career may find themselves leaping to fill in the spaces of the narrative that have been left partially to the imagination.

There’s the faded sign to Charlie’s Music Store in Cheticamp, where Natalie delivered her first cassette at the age of 16, and one of the annual concerts sponsored by the Cape Breton Fiddler’s Association, where she cut her teeth as a performer.

There are wonderful renderings of Natalie firing up the dance sets at Glencoe Mills, and performing at Celtic Colours. And Natalie’s favourite — a portrait of Buddy, at home and at ease. "Eric really captured his sweetness," she says.

As the tunes Cape Breton musicians play follow the twists and turns of lives and landscape, so too do the familiar sights of the island’s history and bounty further enhance the repertoire. They emanate from homes and dimly lighted church halls. They are found in the Cape Islander listing on the shore after the lobster season, or in the vestiges of the mining towns’ red rows, now sheathed in vinyl siding.

Roth juxtaposes these iconic images with scenes depicting the lives of Natalie’s immediate and extended families. The MacMaster house still brims "with music and dancing and people laughing and talking." The fiddle still rests on top of the piano in the family music room, in case a visitor might like to share a tune.

While Natalie now lives on a farm in Ontario, one imagines the life she and her husband, Donnell Leahy, have chosen for their family will not be averse to change but will remain faithful to the sources of who they are and where they came from.

With their marriage, yet another music lineage has been combined and is now appearing up in the temperaments of their children. Mary Frances, their oldest, is showing interest in playing the fiddle. Could there be another version of the story thus far?

As the writer Alistair MacLeod comments of Natalie in the afterward: "If it was ‘in her nature’ to be musical, there is also no denying the ‘nurture’ that surrounded her from her earliest childhood and which dates back, as she says, to her mother’s womb."

And so, 11 recordings, two DVDs, many East Coast and Juno awards and a Grammy-nomination later, Natalie remains the person she has always been.

She will continue to draw upon her life and memories, and will keep the lessons of her upbringing close to her heart. As she conjures this scene, from a rich repository of many such evenings, we once again return to her message, and to the source of her art.

It was a summer’s night a few years ago when Natalie and Buddy were setting up for a joint release party. What had begun as a family project to record jointly a selection of tunes Buddy was known for had turned out so well that they’d decided to mass produce it.

"The hall in Judique was packed so tight that night with relatives that it could have been a family reunion," says Natalie. There in the spotlight Buddy was opening his fiddle case and taking a seat beside Natalie on the narrow stage.

Betty Lou Beaton, Natalie’s aunt, one of a succession of sisters and a daughter who have accompanied him so ably throughout the years, "slid behind the piano." Meanwhile, her cousin, Andrea, was tuning up for the dance that was to follow.

"My sister-in-law collected tickets at the front door and then served tea and Mom’s banana bread from the communal kitchen." With the music underway, Natalie’s mom, Minnie, one of the island’s celebrated step dancers, joined them onstage for a joyful display of footwork.

"That night represented what I love most about Cape Breton — there is no division among our lives, our families and friends, and our music," she says, and therein is essence of what she cherishes. It is all so wonderfully interwoven.

October 10, 2010
AT THE ADMIRAL: No Domestic Violins Here, Just Family Fiddlin'
Husband-wife duo of Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster team up on Bremerton.

For their first full-fledged tour together, Canadian fiddle superstars Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy wanted to do something different. So they left their bands at home.

Well, most of their bands.

“We’re each bringing along our piano players,” MacMaster said during a recent phone interview as the couple prepared to set out on the “2 Fiddles, 2 Pianos” tour that brings them to the Admiral Theatre on Oct. 22.

“It sounds like an odd combination, fiddles and pianos, like they might step on each other musically,” said MacMaster, who, like her husband, has some history playing at the Admiral. “But we liked the concept of it, and then we practiced, and it was like, ‘OK, this is awesome.’

“The music is full, but sparse enough that you can hear all the intricacies.”

And that’s important to MacMaster, who views the current tour as more than just another of the three or four road jaunts that she and her own band, or Leahy and his seven talented siblings, take each year. More than just getting to share the bus, the stage and the succession of hotels rooms that entail life on the road with her husband of eight years, MacMaster sees the current concerts as a showcase for her virtuoso soulmate.

“The thing I love the most about this tour,” she said, “is that the world gets to hear Donnell. He has devoted himself to his family band (which performs under the family surname — pronounced LAY-hee), and he’s made it a point to play with them. He’s just awesome, but nobody knows it, because he’s seen and heard as part of the band.

“I’m just happy and proud to provide him, in some way, to the world, and to get to witness the crowds hearing him in his own show.”

Of course, even though he does indeed devote the lion’s share of his career to Leahy, Donnell is anything but an obscurity — he’s widely known as a virtuoso on his instrument. He’s enough of a heavyweight to intimidate even MacMaster, who was a Cape Breton fiddle legend long before the two joined forces (“He can play friggin’ circles around me on the fiddle,” she told a Canadian newspaper back in 2008).

One thing doesn’t change from tour to tour with MacMaster. The children travel with her.

And, similar to her last Bremerton visit — back in October 2008 — she’ll be carrying the latest family addition as she plays. She and Leahy will welcome their fourth child in February, adding to a brood that already includes Mary Frances Rose (who turns 5 on Dec. 3), Michael Joseph Alexander (nearly 31/2) and Claire Marie, who did stage time with Mom at the Admiral before being born in February 2009.

“The mornings are awesome,” MacMaster said of traipsing around North America with her young’uns in tow. “Instead of sleeping in, or walking, I spend the mornings with my kids. It’s a very precious time of every day.”

MacMaster is committed to homeschooling her children, which allows her to combine career and family — albeit aboard a bus a good portion of the time.

The kids’ nap time is work time for MacMaster, who fits in bits of recording, mixing and rehearsing. When the family’s on the road, her offspring are awake in time to go with her to the venue for sound check.

“Sometimes, they like to go up on stage and pretend they’re stars,” she laughed.

The set list for the “2 Fiddles, 2 Pianos” tour is fluid, changing from night to night. But MacMaster said it invariably contains “some Leahy, some from my band, and about a third of it is stuff only Donnell and I do together.” She added that both of them were pleasantly surprised by how well all of the music fit into the unique instrumentation.

“We didn’t know what we could do until we started trying stuff,” she said of the fiddles-and-ivories attack. “It gives us a chance to solo. You really hear what we do.”

At the end of the “2 Fiddles, 2 Pianos” tour, MacMaster and Leahy will rejoin their respective bands for pre-holiday tours — Leahy travelling through November, MacMaster until mid-December. It’ll be the first time that MacMaster won’t have all of her children along for the ride.

“This year, Donnell will take our son with him,” she said, the slightest hint of wistfulness creeping into her voice. “It’ll be Daddy and his little boy. They’ll get to bond, and I’ll be with the girls.”

October 7, 2010
For Immediate Release
Natalie MacMaster to release her first book "Natalie MacMaster's Cape Breton Aire"

Troy, Nova Scotia, October 6, 2010

Natalie MacMaster is set to release her first book on Saturday, October 9, 2010 from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center in Judique, Cape Breton.

Natalie: wife, mother, virtuoso Cape Breton fiddler; winner of numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards, two honorary degrees, an honorary doctorate and the Order of Canada; can now add the title of book publisher to her credits. In the works for several years, this book is the story of a musical life and place. It is filled with Natalie’s story of the music that she has known since before she was born and takes the reader on a musical history journey. It features beautiful photos of Natalie’s beloved Cape Breton Island; its landscape and it’s people, taken by well respected photographer Eric Roth. He calls it “the assignment of a lifetime”. Eileen McNamara, Professor of the Practice in Journalism, Brandeis University and the recipient of many distinguished awards including a Pulitzer Prize organized Natalie’s words for the book. Alistair MacLeod says in his afterword “It is a tribute, not only to her exceptional skills, but also to those who preceded her and, in many ways, shaped her past.

Celtic Music Interpretive Centre website: www.celticmusiccentre.com

October 2010

Natalie chats with Stephanie Beaumont of Sea and Be Scene,
at her Book Launch ...
View article here

September 24, 2010
Have you ever seen a fiddler do the moonwalk?
By Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, Ill.

Sept. 23--LEBANON -- If you've never seen Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster moonwalk to "Play That Funky Music," you really need to circle Nov. 20 on your calendar.

That's when the internationally renowned musician will team up with her equally well-known husband, Donnell Leahy, to light up the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts stage as part of McKendree University's 2010-2011 Performance Series, which opens Wednesday with Hot Club of San Francisco.

You might want to get those tickets now. Five shows in the series are sold out already -- the Golden Dragon Acrobats, Christmas shows by The Lettermen and the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America, the Vienna Boys Choir and a Beatles tribute -- and several others are going fast. However, a few tickets for the sellouts may be available on the day of the show; call the Hett box office at 537-6863 to find out.

MacMaster's history has been one of being a whirling dervish of energy on stage. The 38-year-old spins, dances, hops, and scissors-kicks, all the while playing her Cape Breton fiddle tunes at lightning speed, broken bow hairs swinging in the breeze. She has toured with stars ranging from the Chieftains and Faith Hill to Carlos Santana and Alison Krauss.

She may have to take it a little easy here -- she's expecting her fourth child in January -- but that will do nothing to diminish her artistry.

"With the music that I play, there's a very strong connection between family upbringing, scenery, community, faith," says MacMaster, who began performing at a square dance in Nova Scotia at age 9 and has gone on to win Fiddler of the Year honors by the Canadian Country Music Association and be inducted into the Order of Canada. "I feel really blessed to have been born and raised here in Cape Breton, because it's very down to earth."

September 7, 2010
Turns out guitarist Lifeson has a few goods licks on canvas
By ANGELA MOMBOURQUETTE, Community Herald, (Halifax, NS)

PERHAPS the first word that comes to mind when you think of fiddler Natalie MacMaster isn’t "painter." Ditto actor Brent Butt of Corner Gas fame, and legendary Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson.

And, although I think we could all agree that these folks are talented artists in their own rights, I’m guessing that, like me, you’ve never thought of them as artists in the sense of painters, with brushes. On canvas.

But the Kidney Foundation of Canada has seen their full artistic potential, and it’s currently gearing up for a clever fundraiser called Brush of Hope. The foundation invites celebrities — mostly Canadian — to create a work of art on canvas, which will be auctioned off on eBay to raise money for kidney research in Canada.

It’s the brainchild of Tim Fox, who is the executive director of the New Brunswick-P.E.I. branch of the Kidney Foundation. He brought the idea with him when he moved to Atlantic Canada from the Ontario branch of the foundation, and he’s been spreading the word via a Facebook group called Brush of Hope — Celebrity Paintings for Kidney Research.

"Last year was the first year that we did in the Maritimes, and it was very popular here," Fox told me. "So many of the local musicians really picked up on it — there was a lot of "Atlantic Canada" flavour to it. I was thrilled, because I was literally getting people Facebooking me saying, ‘Can I paint too?’ It was wonderful."

Last year the project raised $13,000. This year, Fox hopes to raise at least $15,000, which shouldn’t be too difficult, given the list of celebrities he’s already got on board. The Facebook site already features paintings done by a whole host of familiar personalities, including musicians Jill Barber, Christina Martin, and Natalie MacMaster. There are also works by Canadian and American football players such as Glenn January (of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers), and former NFL player Steve Christie. The site even boasts a limited edition print by Leonard Cohen.

Promised, but not yet posted, are works by Cathy Jones, Shaun Majumder, Brent Butt, Ron James, Tie Domi, and a long list of athletes, musicians, actors and comedians, including the aforementioned Alex Lifeson.

"Alex is definitely a highlight for us," says Fox. "We asked him if he would paint for us, and I think, to be honest, he was very pleasantly surprised with how well his first painting sold. It sold for $3,000, and that really got him excited, so he painted the next year and it sold for $5,700. He has been with us every step of the way."

That’s a nice chunk of change, but I’m betting that you and I will be able to get a lovely little work of art with a bit of celebrity cachet for a whole lot less than that.

Either way, the money goes toward a good cause. "Organ donation awareness and transplantation is a big part of the mission of the kidney foundation," says Fox. "At any given time, about four thousand Canadians are waiting for a transplant, and just under three thousand of those are waiting for a kidney."

If you think you might like to do some good and be the proud owner of an Alfie Zappacosta original, check out the Facebook site. More paintings will be posted between now and October, and the auction will run on eBay from Oct. 21 to 31. Each painting will start at US$49 and will, of course, be sold to the highest bidder. And hands off my Jill Barber.

September 2, 2010
A zest for performing
The Standard (St Catharines, ON)

Maritime fiddling sensation Natalie MacMaster hits the stage running Friday night in what promises to be a sensational wrap-up to this year's IlluminAqua series.

The Cape Breton-born virtuoso was last in Niagara a couple of years ago at Brock University's Centre for the Arts as an expectant mother. At that time, she performed an electrifying show with her husband, fiddle phenomenon Donnell Leahy of the celebrated Leahy Family.

She was mesmerizing, as she strutted out on stage with her band, about eight months pregnant, to start the show off with a dazzling solo set before Leahy joined his wife.

The internationally acclaimed MacMaster has the respect and admiration of the crème de la crème of top-notch musicians, says her website: master violinist Mark O'Connor, whose camp MacMaster frequents as a guest instructor; legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who recently invited her to prominently participate as a guest performer on his 2008 holidaythemed album Songs Of Joy & Peace; banjo prodigy Béla Fleck; fellow fiddling marvel Alison Krauss; spiritually electrifying superstar guitarist Carlos Santana.

The list goes on.

But to MacMaster, her family now shapes and informs her musicianship as much as the jigs, reels, waltzes, strathspeys, marches and traditional folk that feed her spiritual soul.

"Not so much the sound as the delivery," says MacMaster, who married Leahy in 2002.

"I am a mom now. I am a wife. Those things are my priorities in life, and I think people get a sense of that -- of that part of who I am -- through my show.

"But my music itself hasn't changed."

If anything, she says on her website, family has reinvigorated her commitment to the stage and her audience.

"I like being on stage even more. When I appear onstage, that's my departure from momhood -- and I transform into Natalie MacMaster the entertainer, the fiddler, the performer.

"I relish that now more."

Born June 13, 1972, to Alex and Minnie MacMaster in Troy, Inverness County, N.S., MacMaster's musical lineage includes an array of amazing fiddlers, including her uncle, fiddle prodigy Buddy MacMaster (with whom Natalie recorded the 2005 gem Traditional Music From Cape Breton Island), her cousin Andrea Beaton and the late, great Canadian folk icon John Allan Cameron.

However, MacMaster forged her own sound, debuting her fiddling prowess at the age of nine at a concert in Glendale, Cape Breton. She delivered her first album, Four On The Floor, at the age of 16.

"It's been quite a journey, traveling through many different paths," she says.

And it's far from over.

August 2, 2010
Pack up her bow? Fiddlesticks!
J.D. Considine, Globe & Mail

It’s a bit before 9 o’clock on a sunny Thursday morning, and a bright, chipper Natalie MacMaster is in the chapel of the Lakefield College School in Lakefield, Ont., leading an advanced fiddle class at the Leahy Music Camp. She’s standing by the altar, fiddle in hand, with 15 fellow fiddlers, from precocious grade schoolers to grey-haired seniors, sitting in a semi-circle around her.

For most of the last half hour, she’s been teaching them a strathspey, a Scottish style of dance tune that’s common in Cape Breton, N.S., where she grew up, but relatively rare elsewhere in Canadian fiddling circles. She leads them through the tune one bar at a time, playing a few notes, then listening as the students echo it. Although she promises to have sheet music available for them later in the day, the instruction is entirely by ear, and a couple phrases take several passes before the class gets both the notes and the rhythm right.

“ I’m always shocked when someone of a high calibre or quality of musicianship and ability is attracted to what I do.”

Once they’ve learned all 16 bars, MacMaster teaches what, to her, is the heart of the music: the dance step. “We don’t get together to play tunes,” she says. She has everyone stand, and demonstrates the kick step used to dance a strathspey. Starting with the left foot, it’s hop, out, hop, back, and then switch to the right. It’s a simple step, and one the class seems to master quickly.

But they haven’t got it quite right. “Try and make it even,” says MacMaster, who points out that they’re syncopating the step, when it should be clockwork steady. She dances barefoot, so they can hear the rhythm, and once they do the step to her satisfaction, she has them sit, and takes them through the tune again.

Natalie MacMaster gets ready for class in Lakefield, Ont., July 8, 2010.

The playing is notably improved, although how much of that can be owed to the dancing, and how much to MacMaster’s bubbly enthusiasm, is hard to say.
There aren’t many fiddle greats who would include a bit of dance instruction in a master class, but there aren’t many fiddlers whose gifts are as singular as MacMaster’s. Internationally acclaimed for her virtuoso performances of traditional Cape Breton fiddle tunes, MacMaster, 38, has performed and recorded with some of the best in the world – not just such Celtic music giants as the Chieftains and Eileen Ivers, but stars as diverse as rock guitarist Carlos Santana, country violinist Mark O’Connor, bluegrass ace Alison Krauss, jazz banjo player Béla Fleck, and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
“I’m always shocked when someone of a high calibre or quality of musicianship and ability is attracted to what I do,” MacMaster says after the class. She isn’t a trained musician – “The only lessons I took were from [Cape Breton fiddler] Stan Chapman, when I was 10 and 11,” she says. “But it’s not structured teaching, like Suzuki or a classical method.” – yet she knows enough about string technique to recognize that the rough-edged Cape Breton sound is miles away from, say, O’Connor’s Paganini-inspired flights of fancy.

“I think what they’re attracted to is the fact that it’s got this great feel, and that it isn’t about the other, technical side,” she says. “People maybe aren’t used to hearing that so much.”

Her husband, fiddler Donnell Leahy, has a different take on what makes MacMaster’s playing so attractive. “Honesty,” he says. “Honesty in her music. It’s confident, honest and humble. And that’s her – that’s her playing, that’s her attitude.” She is, he adds, “one of the most musical people I’ve met.”

Unlike most virtuosos, however, MacMaster leads a life that is not defined by music. She and Leahy have three children, with a fourth on the way, and they consider that just a start. “The children are our No. 1 priority,” she says. “He comes from 11 siblings, surrounded by family, and we’re very focused in that direction. We’ve always wanted to have kids, and we’re so happy that we’re able to have more than one.”
That she’s able to balance touring, recording and teaching with three children under 5 is a constant source of amazement to her fans. “I get this question a lot these days from other mothers,” she says, chuckling. “ ‘How do you do it?’ they say, and I say, ‘I don’t know. I have no answers. All I know is that I know no time is a good time, so any time works.’

“ Every weekend, the kids have just one of us, and there’s one weekend where they don’t have either of us.”

“We’d have no kids if we were trying to wait for the right time. And who’s going to sit and wait for life to have its right moments? Life is a ball that just rolls, and you just get on it. And sometimes you’re going to get squished, and sometimes you’re going to be at the top.”

MacMaster isn’t of the you-can-have-it-all school of motherhood, and freely admits that she considered putting her musical career on hold while raising her ever-growing brood. “I struggled with this about a year and a half ago,” she says. “How important is it for me to keep up music, as opposed to the importance of being home all the time with the children?”

Natalie MacMaster leads a fiddle class at Lakefield College.

Ultimately, she decided that the most important thing was to be true to who she is. “I might say I’m wrong in a year, or 10 years, but I think it’s important for our children to have their mother and father doing what their gift is, and doing it really well. Doing it in moderation, but so that they see it and hear it.”

Letting their children “see it” means often bringing them along on tour. “I call myself ‘a stay-at-home mom on the road,’ ” says MacMaster. “We take our children with us everywhere. There are occasions where neither myself or Donnell are with the children – like six days out of the whole year – and we have the grandparents or somebody staying with them for the night.”

Even those small absences are hard for MacMaster. “Oftentimes, we are with our children physically but not mentally, and that’s the part that bothers me,” she says. “They’re here today. I’ll see them for lunch, then I’ll teach in the afternoon, and I’ll see them for dinner. But I wouldn’t want to be doing this all the time.”

MacMaster and Leahy, who live in Lakefield, are building a new house for their family, which has led to the opportunity for a bit more touring than usual. “We had a lot of offers coming in this year for me to do festivals and things,” she says. “I’ve shied away from that the last few summers because I’ve wanted to stay home. But this year, Donnell said, ‘You know, we’re not really settled in any place anyway. You might as well go.’
“I think there’s one weekend where Donnell is playing and I’m playing. Most other weekends, I’d say it’s probably 60 per cent me away, and 40 per cent Donnell away. So every weekend, the kids have just one of us, and there’s one weekend where they don’t have either of us. But that’s okay.”

Both MacMaster and Leahy come from musical families. His band, Leahy, consists of him and seven of his siblings; her fiddling relatives include uncle Buddy MacMaster and cousins Ashley MacIsaac and Andrea Beaton. Both MacMaster and Leahy grew up in households where instruments were almost constantly in use. “Natalie’s mother made a comment, which was also true in our house, that you never had to get the fiddle out of its case,” says Leahy. “There was always one sitting on the piano, and maybe one on the kitchen table.”

Not surprisingly, they look forward to their children becoming involved in what they do. Although their own children aren’t quite old enough to take up the bow, they still participate. “Every time we pull out the fiddles and start practising at home, they start dancing,” says MacMaster, beaming. “They start playing, they start singing.
“When we’re on the road, they see us performing,” she adds. “I think that’s more healthy than me not doing that, saying I’m giving up my career for the next however long, and being at home all the time. I think they’re getting more the other way, even though it requires a little more flexibility. We have to be on the go a lot. They’re travelling a lot. But I think the pros outweigh the cons.”

Still, motherhood has clearly affected her musical output. Her last album came out four years ago (although there’s a new disc due this fall), and even though she has continued to perform and record – most notably on Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning Songs of Joy & Peace – there has been a bit of a lull in her career of late.

That will definitely change this fall. In addition to the as-yet-untitled album and accompanying tour, MacMaster is putting out a book of photos and reflections entitled Natalie MacMaster’s Cape Breton Aire that looks at her attachment to the distinctive culture in which she grew up.

Cape Breton is “a very powerfully influential scene, especially on the East Coast,” notes Robin Elliott, who holds the Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music at the University of Toronto. “A lot of that is thanks to Natalie MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac, who in the mid-nineties really put Cape Breton fiddle music on the map internationally.”
Musically, there are several things that set Cape Breton apart, adds Elliott. Its fiddling is “quite different from the way most other fiddle players [play], especially the right-hand ornaments,” she says. “It gives it a very distinctive sound that not many other fiddle traditions would try to imitate.”

There’s also an unusually strong connection to centuries-old Scottish traditions. “Because the Scots in Cape Breton came over in the 18th century, and were isolated from what was happening in Scotland, the thinking is that they sort of preserved traces of what was happening earlier in Scotland,” Elliott explains.

Even today, Cape Breton fiddlers don’t take too kindly to fiddling around with a tune. “In fact, the allure of the music – which sounds totally boring – is that you play the tune the way it was written,” says MacMaster. “In most other cultures, it’s all about getting the improv, all the little changes that you make to the tune. Not at home. That’s discouraged.”

That enforced fidelity comes with its own burdens at a Cape Breton square dance. “I told my class the other day, ‘When you’re playing at a Cape Breton function, you have to have stamina, and you have to have memory,’ ” MacMaster says, “because you’re changing tunes every minute, and you’re playing for four hours without a break. How many tunes is that? I mean, there’s going to be a few minutes here and there when you’re putting rosin on your bow and retuning, but it’s a pile of tunes.”

Even so, MacMaster didn’t study music so much as pick it up through osmosis: It was, she says, “part of a way of life, and there was a purpose behind it.

“Now, when I travel, I’m performing. We’re onstage, it’s quiet, people paid a good ticket, and they better get their money’s worth. So we deliver our show. We have the outfit, which we don’t at home. We’ve got the sparkles and the hair and we’ve got the arranged ending. And all that is to present it to the crowds, which is a great thing.

“But it never used to be about performing, you know? And still it isn’t in Cape Breton. You play some music, and people receive it and enjoy it, and they chat – it’s a casual thing, and it’s a beautiful thing.”  

August 17, 2010
Natalie on ABC News "Weekend Window" feature on Cape Breton
[Click to watch video]

Click to watch video


August 1, 2010
Natalie MacMaster, mighty mom and fiddle virtuoso,
brings Nova Scotian flavor to Meijer Gardens
Lorilee Craker, The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS -- Fiddler Natalie MacMaster has used up her secret weapons as her call with The Press begins.

"I have three (children) here, so I better hope for the best," she says, calling from her Lakefield, Ont. home. "They've already gone through the Popsicles."

MacMaster, 38, calls herself a wife and a mother first (pregnant with her fourth baby, she and husband Donnell Leahy, of Canadian Celtic band Leahy, are parents to Mary Francis, 4, Michael, 3, and Claire Marie, 1), but her huge cadre of fans would call her a marvel on the fiddle.

Born and raised in Canada's craggy Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, MacMaster's childhood soundtrack were jigs, reels, strathspeys and traditional folk music mastered by her family members, neighbors, and the community. Because to live on Cape Breton Island is to live and breathe music.

Delbridge Langdon Jr./The Grand Rapids PressIn this 2009 file photo, Natalie MacMaster plays along with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

"My children are getting as much music as I did, but not as much live music,' she said, handing baby Claire Marie some keys to entertain her. "Here (in Ontario), we have the odd party -- we are the only musicians in the area. But at home, there would be a session at the Red Shoe Pub, house parties with music and lots of different functions where music would be played."

With the Cape Breton musical culture to shape and guide her, MacMaster became a fiddle virtuoso, releasing her first album at 19 years of age, and going on to record multiple gold albums and performing with the likes of The Chieftains, Paul Simon, Faith Hill, Luciano Pavarotti and Carlos Santana or as a solo artist to audiences all over the world.

But her biggest fans are two preschoolers and a toddler, who stay pretty quiet despite the Popsicle shortage. Besides touring with either Mom or Dad, the wee Leahys spend lots of time on the family cattle farm, where MacMaster hopes they learn the benefits of hearty work.

"Donnell takes them out on the tractor, or they'll "help" fix a fence, or he'll say, 'You watch so the cows don't move from that spot," she said, explaining how they are instilling the ethic in their kids. "Our society today is not a work society -- you get the odd person that's a good worker. It's good for your being, and (her children) will take it with them the rest of their lives."

Traveling from farm to stage and back again has taught Canada's native daughter the value of giving yourself 100 percent to whatever endeavor your hands find to do.
"There's nothing more beautiful in any trade than someone that puts the work into it, whether it be brick laying or playing music," MacMaster said.

As for the little Leahys taking up the fiddle, there's no question.

"My motto with my kids and myself is these three things: Talent -- pray for it; Inspiration -- go find it; and Work -- do it," she said. "I stand over the three of them every night and pray God will give them the gift of music, because music always gives and it never stops."

June 23, 2010
MacMaster coming home for Celtic Colours
Halifax Chronicle Herald

Celtic Colours International Festival will roll out the welcome mat for some of the event’s favourite performers during the 2010 edition, taking place across Cape Breton Island from Oct. 8 to 16.

Now in its 14th year, Celtic Colours will be a homecoming for Cape Breton artists like Natalie MacMaster and Bruce Guthro, both of whom haven’t performed at the festival in a couple of years, as well as familiar guests from overseas like Irish fiddler Liz Doherty and Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser.

"It will be nice to welcome back some artists who have spent considerable time in Cape Breton and feel at home on the island," says festival artistic director Joella Foulds in a news release.

This year’s peformers will also include Scottish guitarist Tony McManus, Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant, Irish flute player and Gaelic singer Nuala Kennedy and Irish-American guitarist-singer-songwriter John Doyle.

Other Canadian and East Coast acts scheduled for the fall include Donnell and Erin Leahy from the Ontario family band Leahy, Acadian group Vishten and Cape Breton Celtic stars the Cottars.

New to the festival this year are artists like Terry Kelly, Old Man Leudecke, De Temps Antan, the Once, Madison Violet, Suedan, and Meantime. The festival will also be rich with homegrown island talent, including J.P. Cormier, Mary Jane Lamond, Carl MacKenzie, Howie MacDonald, Brenda Stubbert, Doug MacPhee, Dave MacIsaac and Rita MacNeil.

New special projects this year include a presentation of new Gaelic songs written in collaboration with local artist-in-residence Lewis MacKinnon and established Gaelic composers from Cape Breton and Scotland; newly composed tunes written with visiting artists-in-residence Chris Stout and Catriona McKay; and collaborations between young songwriters and tunemakers on new compositions based on traditional repertoire.

There will also be a celebration of the music of beloved fiddler and composer Brenda Stubbert and a reunion of Cape Breton Celtic super group Beolach.

Tickets for Celtic Colours International Festival go on sale July 5 at the festival box office in Sydney’s Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion and by phone at 567-3000 or 1-888-355-774.

For a complete lineup or to purchase tickets online, visit www.celtic-colours.com.

June 23, 2010
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy will headline Moncton's Canada Day Festivities
Times & Transcript

The award-winning musicians will be a part of Lounsbury Group's presentation of "Whoa Canada!" - a free street party that hopes to get people up and moving.

"We are thrilled to have the calibre of talent that Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy will bring to our Canada Day activities right here in Moncton," said Mayor George LeBlanc yesterday. "They are both known world-wide, not only for their outstanding musical ability but also for getting the crowd going - what a great fit for Moncton's downtown celebration."

MacMaster, a native of Nova Scotia, began playing fiddle at the age of nine. At the age of 16 she released her first album, Four on the Floor, with Road to the Isle following in 1991. In total she has released 11 albums since 1989, the latest being 2006's Yours Truly.

She has also received a number of Canadian music awards, including recognition as Artist of the Year at the East Coast Music Awards.

Donnell Lahey is a member of the famed Leahy Family Band and is also MacMaster's husband.

The Whoa Canada! concert stage, located directly under the pedway in front of Moncton City Hall at 655 Main Street, will light up on July 1 at 3 p.m. Additional featured performers include Africo, Kevin McIntyre, Mel Keith and the Strombachs, The Once and Gadelle.

After MacMaster and Leahy's performance, the attention will turn to the river, when the traditional Canada Day Fireworks Display' will fill the skies. The City of Moncton says the best viewing for the fireworks is from Riverfront Park in downtown Moncton. The fireworks are a presentation of the City of Moncton, the Town of Riverview, the City of Dieppe, and Crystal Palace.

After the fireworks, the Oxygen Complex will host a 19 after-party on Westmorland Street with live outdoor entertainment.

Moncton's Whoa Canada! is more than just live music and fireworks, however. In addition to a number of local food vendors, the children's PlayZone will include a variety of games and special fun courtesy of the Toronto Argonauts. The Argos will be playing in the region's first regular season CFL game here in Moncton in September and will be taking part in Whoa Canada! to stir up some team pride. The kids' PlayZone, featuring the Argos activities, as well as a variety of inflatable games, facepainting, clowns, cotton candy and more will be open from 12 until 8 p.m. Most activities are free.

The Moncton Museum will also offer exciting activities for the whole family as well from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This event's main activity will consist of a simulated archaeological dig at Bore Park where kids of all ages will discover Canada's rich heritage. Also, take part in other fun activities such as an early settler planting station and a Mi'kmaq inspired transportation craft. Details on this event can be found at www.moncton.ca/heritage or by calling 856-4383.

All Whoa Canada! activities take place on Main Street, which will be closed from Mechanic Street to Sommet Lane at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1 until 3 a.m. on Thursday, July 2, giving vehicles access to the Delta Beauséjour hotel. Botsford Street will also be closed from Main Street to Queen Street, while still leaving the Queen-Botsford intersection open to traffic.

June 21, 2010
MacMaster expecting good things in life and career
Laura Jean Grant, Cape Breton Post

Cape Breton fiddling sensation expecting fourth child; will perform tonight at Ceilidh Hall

INGONISH — Natalie MacMaster sums up what’s new in her world in just four short words.

“New baby, new CD,” said the renowned fiddler from Troy, who confirmed she’s pregnant and due in January, during a telephone interview with the Cape Breton Post.

MacMaster is home from Ontario for a 10-day summer vacation with husband and fellow fiddler, Donnell Leahy, and their three kids — Mary Frances who is four-and-a-half-years-old, Michael who will celebrate his third birthday this week while in Cape Breton, and Clare, who is 16 months old.

With another baby on the way, MacMaster admits life is pretty busy at the moment, with her and Donnell juggling a growing family and two music careers. But they’re handling it all pretty well, even mastering life on the road as a family of five when tour dates dictate they all travel together.

“It’s totally doable. It’s not smooth sailing but it’s definitely worth the few extra ups and downs for the sake of what the kids are getting from it and what we’re getting from it by having them,” she said. “And we’re together.”

The Leahy-MacMaster clan is on the road again but this time it’s for a well-deserved family vacation to Cape Breton. MacMaster is fitting in one public performance while she’s on the island, tonight at 8 p.m. in Ingonish Beach at the Keltic Lodge’s Ceilidh Hall. She’ll be joined by a few other musicians, including fellow Troy native, Mac Morin.

“We just thought it might be nice to head up that way — it’s been years since I’ve been up that way — and incorporate it into our vacation. It’s always good to keep playing at home,” she said.

MacMaster, the daughter of Alex and Minnie MacMaster, is thrilled to be home for a visit, and so too are the kids.

“They love it. Grandma and Grandpa are the main attraction for sure, and then all their uncles and aunts and cousins, mind you they’re not cousin-deprived up here. There’s 27 first cousins here on Donnell’s side, and then they have five cousins at home (in Cape Breton),” she said.

Once vacation is over, the busy schedule resumes for MacMaster with a hectic touring schedule in the United States over the next few months, and final preparations for her 11th recording which she expects to release later this year. MacMaster and Donnell will also be heading back to Cape Breton in a few months, for the Celtic Colours International Festival, Oct. 8-16.

Tickets to MacMaster’s performance tonight are available by calling the Keltic Lodge at 285-2880. Tickets are $20 for general admission, and $30 for VIP seating. MacMaster’s show is the first in the Keltic Lodge’s summer concert series which will include shows by Matt Minglewood on July 27, Dave Gunning on Aug. 15, J.P. Cormier on Sept. 5, and Sons of Maxwell on Oct. 10.

April 2010

Natalie on EWTN: April 16-17-18-19

Tune in to EWTN's (Global Catholic Television) "The World Over Live with Raymond Arroyo" to watch an interview with Canadian fiddlers Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy, currently on tour, talking about their music, family and faith.

The program will air:
Friday April 16, 8pm ET
Saturday April 17th, 1am ET
Sunday, April 18th, 4pm ET
Monday, April 19th, 10am and 11pm ET
(check local listing to verify times)

March 21, 2010
Canadian ‘Masters of the Fiddle’ reel in large, lively crowd
John Levasseur, The Daily Campus

Canadian fiddlers Donnell Leahy (left) and Natalie MacMaster performing in Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts Friday evening.

Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts was filled with the sounds of a lively Cape Breton ceilidh Friday evening when Canadian fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy came to perform.

Jigs, reels, airs and all sorts of traditional Scottish and Irish music kept the large audience involved. The crowd couldn’t seem to stop clapping, tapping, stomping and dancing along to the infectiously upbeat highlands sounds. This show was part of a month-long tour of the U.S. Northeast entitled “Masters of the Fiddle.”

MacMaster and Leahy stepped onto the stage, which was set up with two grand pianos for their respective pianists. A lively, moderately paced jig started the evening, featuring solo and dual fiddling sections increasing in tempo throughout the tune.

The audience at once began to stomp and clap along in the middle of the song. The performers segued seamlessly into the next song, a slower but no less lively piano piece, with the fiddlers joining in at the middle as the tempo began to pick up. MacMaster also gave the audience a taste of what was to come by slipping in some step dancing near the end of the piece.

Before they started their next tune, MacMaster took the opportunity to introduce herself, her fellow performer and husband Leahy and their respective pianists.

“I’ve been performing since I was 10, playing Cape Breton music is very much a hand-me-down tradition,” MacMaster said. “This is quite a treat tonight.”

The next few songs included a mid-paced waltz, a quick jig and a reel that steadily increased in tempo and showcased Leahy’s ability to play seemingly incredibly fast.
The most notable tune of that set, however, was one where MacMaster and the two pianists took turns step dancing to the music while being backed by the other musicians.

Each had a distinctive style to their dancing, most notably MacMaster’s un-traditional and decidedly un-Celtic moonwalking across the stage, which elicited cheers from the audience.

For their last song before the intermission, the four musicians played “Madness,” a tune so named “because we never know what’s going to come out of everyone,” said MacMaster. The piece began traditionally enough, with MacMaster’s intricate and agile fiddling backed by her pianist. Next, Leahy’s pianist swapped the mood around by breaking out into a minor 12-bar blues two-step for several choruses. Living up to the absurdity of the song’s name, Leahy played a few choruses of the “Chicken Dance Song” and then abruptly switched to a legato, classical music violin cadenza.

Finally, MacMaster’s pianist started off his bit with a traditional Irish reel and changed it into “You Are My Sunshine” at double the normal tempo.

The show resumed with the pianists walking on stage and playing a solo traditional Scottish song, “Robert Cormack of Aberdeen,” a slow, relaxing and peaceful song.
The energy level soon returned back to its high point with the next few songs, including Leahy’s original “Gypsy Boy” and the traditional Scottish “Killiecrankie.” Song after song, MacMaster and Leahy continued to pull off impressive pyrotechnics on their fiddles.
Right before the last song of the evening, MacMaster and Leahy both took a few moments to tell the audience about themselves, relating how they both met and eventually married. Then they wrapped up with a big thank you to everyone in the audience and to the sound and lighting technicians.

“For us it’s just eat dinner, come here and play,” MacMaster said. “But it’s these people who are here hours before the show and make sure it can happen.”

The musicians went all-out for the last tune, “St. Anne’s Reel,” where they combined every trick and technique they had used previously. There was fast solo and duet fiddling, lively call and response from the pianos, step dancing from all the musicians and even some switching up instruments between the fiddle players and pianists for a few choruses.

Pulling out all the stops only left the audience wanting more, and after a rowdy crowd stomped, shouted, whooped and cheered for a few minutes after a standing ovation, the performers came out for an encore. Though not as elaborate as their final song, the one jig they played seemed to satisfy the audience well enough, who gave a standing ovation at the conclusion.

February 24, 2010
Natalie MacMaster: She's Playing as Fast as She Can
by David McDonough

Natalie MacMaster bounds onto a stage playing her fiddle “with reckless abandon — but it’s controlled reckless abandon,” the late John Allan Cameron, fellow Cape Breton musician, once said. She leaps around, seemingly unable to stand still, and combines her expertise in Cape Breton step dancing with virtuoso bowing. It’s almost impossible to stay in your seat when she’s at work.

It’s startling to hear that being onstage is, in a way, downtime for MacMaster. “It’s kind of like going to the spa,” she says in a phone interview while on the road in her current tour. MacMaster and her husband, Donnell Leahy, an equally accomplished fiddler, bring their music to McCarter Theater in Princeton on Friday, February 26. Also performing is the Celtic string band Time for Three.

This is the first tour for the McMaster-Leahy couple. Natalie, 37, has performed for years with her own band, while Donnell shot to fame with his family’s group, Leahy — eight brothers and sisters from Ontario, all of whom play, dance and sing traditional Canadian-Celtic music. Leahy became well-known in 1998 when they were the opening act for Shania Twain on her first world tour.

This time, the duo performs with just two pianos as back-up. “We don’t actually have that much experience playing together,” admits MacMaster. “It’s very fresh and new. We chose the two pianos because we wanted it to be totally different from Leahy and from the Natalie MacMaster band. But we are enjoying it just as much, oh my gosh, absolutely. There’s great joy in variety. And the change of not having a full band is refreshing; although I’m sure by the end of it we’ll be anxious to play with the full band, too. One complements the other. But it’s great — our first tour together, and great for us to be able to travel together instead of being apart. And we have our three children with us.”

MacMaster knows something about traveling. She’s been an acknowledged master of the Cape Breton style since she was 16, and she has cross-pollinated on albums with the likes of classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bluegrass fiddler Allison Krauss, and rock guitar legend Carlos Santana. “Oh, that’s probably the most exciting part of what I do, the collaboration, and the unknown,” says MacMaster. “Meeting people and seeing people who aren’t from my tradition enjoying it; being inspired to work together and inspiring me to play things that maybe I wouldn’t normally think of.”

She has recorded 10 albums, including the 2000 Grammy-nominated “My Roots Are Showing.” She’s a show-stopping stepper, too, often playing and dancing simultaneously, which shouldn’t really be possible. But MacMaster seemingly can’t help herself.

The music of Cape Breton, on the Atlantic coast off Nova Scotia, has its origins in Scotland. Brought over by Scottish immigrants fleeing their English oppressors in the late 18th century, it features high-energy and a strong pulse driven by the fiddler’s heel tapping into the floor. That is one of the reasons that dancing is such a great part of the music.

“The Cape Breton fiddling style has a very distinct groove,” MacMaster says. “There are fewer slurs in the bowing (than traditional Irish or Scots fiddling) and more continuous bow rhythm. It’s a very intense beat and one that sort of puts you in a trance. It’s very steady and very strong, and ever-present.”

Although MacMaster’s music has branched out a bit, the Cape Breton influence is always there when she’s onstage. “I personally feel a need to stick to it,” she says of the Cape Breton sound. “Because I like to satisfy the locals and let them know that just because I’m traveling and touring, and just because I don’t live in Cape Breton anymore, I don’t want them thinking that I’ve abandoned my traditions and my culture. I have great pride when I do the traditional music. And I want them to be proud, you know?”

MacMaster’s father, Alex, retired 12 years ago from his lifelong job as a paper maker at a paper mill not far from Cape Breton Island. Her mother, Minnie, worked as a secretary for a number of years and for the past 20 years has been the office manager’s assistant for Natalie and her company, MacMaster Music Inc.

One surprise for knowledgeable fiddle freaks is to find out that MacMaster did not study with her uncle, famed fiddler Buddy MacMaster, even though she started playing at age nine. “I took lessons with Stan Chapman, a great fiddler and teacher, for about two years,” she says of her formal musical education. “But I credit my style very much to Buddy, because I listened to him more than anyone. I’ve asked him so many questions over the years — what are you doing in this section, that sort of thing. Listening has been a huge part of my learning. Ninety-five percent of my repertoire I just learned by ear. I have not opened a book very much. I’m very glad that I can read music, but mostly I just listen.”

The Cape Breton music was considered endangered in the late 20th century. A 1971 CBC documentary, “The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler,” opened a lot of eyes to the problem. A Cape Breton priest and music aficionado, Father John Angus Rankin, and others took matter in hand. That led to the forming of the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association and an annual October festival, Celtic Colours International, which attracts artists and visitors from around the world.

‘I would definitely attribute the renaissance to that film,” says MacMaster. “What happened was that Rankin and some others decided to show that this music was still alive, and it came back. There were over 100 fiddlers who gathered but they were all older — over 50, a large percentage of them. When I was growing up, there were not a lot of kids my age interested in the music, not at all. A handful, maybe eight or ten, were my age. But now — well, I just did a DVD a couple of years ago and had the Cape Breton Fiddlers Association join me onstage. I would say that a large percentage of them were women under the age of 20. It was just like a real ‘Whoa!’”

Young women in traditional music: it’s a relatively new concept in an old tradition, but in the last 30 years or so, more and more female instrumentalists have become not just part of the Celtic music scene, but vital to it, from the all-female Irish-American group Cherish the Ladies, to fiddlers like Eileen Ivers and Winifred Horan, and accordionists like Sharon Shannon. Throw in MacMaster’s playing and dancing, and you have one hell of a band without needing a second locker room.

“The nature of the times,” says MacMaster. “A way of life in the old days was that the men did the work and the women stayed home and took care of the children, and worked at the laundry and the cooking. When did they have time for music? But I’m a traditionalist; I call myself a stay-at-home mom on the road.”

MacMaster and Leahy have three children all under the age of six; in fact, their youngest will be turning one around the time you read this. MacMaster has mentioned with some pride that she was back onstage performing only three weeks after she gave birth. That’s not something she could have envisioned when she got a phone call some years back from a man named Donnell Leahy who wanted to meet her. He had never seen her, but his mother is from Cape Breton, and he was intrigued by a cassette of her music.

“Intrigued enough to make the 22-hour drive to meet me,” MacMaster says, and if she’s blushing, you can’t tell over the phone. Now, was it a real date, or just two musicians getting together? “No, it was a date. Donnell goes in the front door, as he likes to say himself. He doesn’t beat about the bush.”

So, eight married years, three kids, and an 800-acre farm in Ontario later, the whole family is on the road, at least for now. “It’s month by month, year by year,” says MacMaster, sounding like any working mom. “The oldest hasn’t started school yet. I’ve been home-schooling a little this year to see if I can do it. And if that goes well, maybe we would continue next year. She’s so little; I think I feel as long as she’s home for a bit each year to get piano lessons or swimming lessons or normal things.”

Of course being a mother is time-consuming, and MacMaster admits that she hasn’t done as much writing since the family came along. But the trade-off is that motherhood has given her a greater appreciation for her other job. “I think I possibly enjoy my time onstage now more than ever,” she says. “It’s me time. It used to be that when I was onstage that was my work, giving to the public. It still is, but because I give all day to the children, (onstage) is just about me and the music.”

February 19, 2010
MacMaster & Leahy: Canadian fiddling at its best
By ART EDELSTEIN, Times Argus, Vermont

We're hearing a lot about Canadians these days, that is if you've tuned into the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Steady these neighbors to the north are but, it is often said, they aren't very exciting. That will be proven untrue when two of Canada's best fiddlers, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, perform for two nights at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on March 2 and 3.

These two fine musicians, who happen to be married to each other, are performing in a concert billed as "Masters of the Fiddle," and there is little reason to doubt that claim. With MacMaster's Cape Breton and Leahy's Irish fiddle styles these two great musicians will certainly dazzle the audience. This is a band-lite concert with just two accompanying musicians, Erin Leahy, a sibling and member of the super-group Leahy, who step dances, plays piano and fiddles, and Matt Morin who tours and plays piano with MacMaster's touring band.

Neither MacMaster nor Leahy is a stranger to the Chandler stage. She has performed here several times and Leahy, the family band with which Donnell Leahy normally appears, braved a snowstorm a year back to perform at this 575-seat venue.

In videos found at YouTube I had the chance to see these fine musicians in concert and they truly lit up the stage. After many years as performers they know how to excite an audience as well as make fiddling seem as easy as playing ice hockey on a Quebec pond.

Of course the music is foremost in their concerts. MacMaster is the scion of a famous Cape Breton musical family and a long musical tradition. This music has its roots in Scotland and her fiddle style certainly represents that sound.

Leahy plays with more of the Irish tradition in his music. Together, there doesn't appear to be much that separates these two Celtic countries and the music they produced. Both fiddlers move easily from one style to the other.

MacMaster glides through the music while Leahy has a more energetic punch in his playing.

Becky McMeekin Chandler's director, said she is expecting two big turnouts for this very special concert set. "We have booked MacMaster in the past for two shows and they've sold out."

McMeekin believes this concert is unusual because the performers do not often tour together, committed as they are to their solo careers. This show, says McMeekin, will be different from what audiences here have seen in the past from MacMaster and Leahy in their other musical presentations.

MacMaster is an electrifying performer whose passionate proficiency on the fiddle stars while playing the jigs, reels, waltzes, and strathspeys that are the sound of Cape Breton. She has played worldwide and produced 10 albums in a career that began in her teens and is now 27 years long. To Canadians she is a national treasure.

Leahy is an equal match for his wife's skill and charisma. As leader of Leahy, the Lakefield, Ontario-based eight-piece family outfit that bears his surname, Donnell has helped the band pass the half-million mark in combined worldwide sales of its four CDs. His dynamic presence and performance abilities have helped propel the band onto the global stage in a highly praised run as the opening act for Shania Twain's recent world tour. Under his leadership, the band has earned multiple Juno Awards (Canadian Grammies), including Best New Group, Best Country Group and Best Instrumental Album.

This is a special concert, for as Leahy says, "Touring has always been a challenge, and with children there are always a lot of logistics to work out, but we want to be together as a family, and we want to play together. Although Natalie's style is very different from mine, we love the combination. Everything makes sense for us to tour together."

McMeekin said the audience for these two concerts will also be able to see some of the recent renovations to this venerable venue. Newly renovated bathroom facilities are now open.

February 1, 2010
Canadian stars shine (Grammy Awards)
By Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen

Beyonce wins for best female pop vocal performance for "Halo" at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles January 31, 2010.

Beyonce wins for best female pop vocal performance for "Halo" at the 52nd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles January 31, 2010.
Photograph by: Mike Blake, REUTERS

Taking a cue from Lady Gaga’s futuristic image, the 52nd annual Grammy Awards delivered a show that was packed with space-age costumes and effects, including an all-star tribute to Michael Jackson that American TV viewers were able to watch in 3D.

Although Canadians didn’t get the 3D version, there was plenty of entertainment in the action-packed three-and-a-half hour show. For Canuck celebrity-spotters, one highlight was the first Hollywood red-carpet appearance by country superstar Carrie Underwood and fiancé Mike Fisher, the Sens player who scored the winning goal in Saturday’s game.

In the end, pop diva Beyoncé went home with the most awards, racking up six Grammys, including the prestigious song of the year award for her hit, Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). “This has been an amazing night for me,” she said. After winning four R & B awards in the pre-show ceremony, the singer also surprised the audience with a rock-oriented performance that incorporated a version of Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know.

Country sweetheart Taylor Swift capped off the night with four statues, including the coveted album of the year award.

“I just hope you know how much this means to us,” said Swift, clearly thrilled with the win. “We get to take this back to Nashville.”

Thanks to Swift, country music was well-represented on music’s biggest night. The pretty 20-year-old won best female country vocal performance, best country song and best country album, all for work on her latest disc, Fearless. She also performed with one of her childhood heroes, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame.

Another blonde country singer, Underwood, won one and lost one, picking up the award for the best country collaboration in the pre-awards telecast. Radiant in a shimmering gold gown, the future Mrs. Fisher was also one of the stars in the Jackson tribute, along with Céline Dion, Usher, Smokey Robinson and Jennifer Hudson.

Two of Michael Jackson’s children made a rare high-profile appearance, giving a thank-you speech on behalf of their father that tugged at the heartstrings. “Our father was always concerned with the planet and humanity,” said Prince Michael, 12. “Through all his songs, his message was simple: love. We will continue to spread his message and help the world.”

A pair of upsets came early in the night, when a country act, the Zac Brown Band, won for best new artist, and a rock band, Kings of Leon, landed the award for record of the year for their song, Use Somebody, snatching it away from divas Beyoncé, Swift and Lady Gaga.

Swift’s Grammy total put her ahead of Lady Gaga, who did not get a chance to show off her outrageous outfits at the podium. But the televised festivities began with a performance by Gaga, dressed in a big-shouldered turquoise bodysuit that showed lots of leg. Her lavish version of Poker Face, one of the year’s biggest hits, morphed into a duet with Elton John on his classic, Your Song.

And even before she performed, Gaga had already won two Grammys, reeling in the pre-show awards for best dance recording for Poker Face and best electronic/dance album for her disc, The Fame.

Also in keeping with the futuristic theme were performances by Beyoncé, accompanied by a legion of storm-troopers, and Black Eyed Peas. Other performance highlights included a rap extravaganza featuring Eminem, Lil Wayne and Toronto up-and-comer Drake.

Just two of this year’s dozen Canadian nominees went home with statues. Contemporary crooner Michael Bublé won the traditional pop vocal album award for his live album, Michael Bublé Meets Madison Square Garden, triumphing over veterans Tony Bennett and Harry Connick Jr., while Michael J. Fox earned the award for best spoken-word recording for his album, Always Looking Up.

Two more Canadians, jazz pianist Diana Krall and Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster, shared in the award for best classical-crossover album. They are among the almost two dozen guest performers on the winning album, Yo Yo Ma & Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace.

The Ottawa folk trio, Finest Kind, who shared in the best traditional folk nomination for their participation in a multi-artist tribute to Utah Phillips, did not win. Instead, Loudon Wainwright III won the award for his album, High Wide and Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project.

January 31, 2010
MacMaster, Leahy crank up fiddle, step dance
Carol Rifkin, Take 5

Natalie MacMaster has charmed audiences with her high-energy fiddling, step dancing and Cape Breton talent for years now; her current tour pairs MacMaster with husband Donnell Leahy, lead fiddle and dancer with Canada's famous music and dance company, the Leahy family.

The combination is powerful and technically brilliant; catch them on their first tour together when they arrive at Diana Wortham Theatre next week for a two-day run.

MacMaster spoke about the show and more in a recent interview.

Question:  What is the show like with you and Donnell?

Answer: It's a very uptempo, lively, danceable, exciting show. The show consists of two fiddles and two pianos. That is it; there is no big band. The beauty of that is in the arrangement.

With just two fiddles and two pianos, if you holler out “St. Anne's Reel,” well everybody might just play on top of each other. We've arranged it so that musically, we have all the dynamics working without muddying up each other's sounds, so it's very complementary to all of us.

Q: Who does it sound like?

A: The show is very much a representation of Natalie MacMaster and of Donnell Leahy from the Leahy Family, but really, it's a blend of Donnell and I as husband and wife, and our sound together, which really has its own unique sound. Our styles are so different; we've had to learn how to play together. The fear is always that you are just playing with each other and covering up the beauty of what the other is doing, so we've had to come up with ways, through arrangement, that we enhance what the other does. I'm really excited about it; it's a great little intimate setting that showcases our fiddling.

Q: So it's really true twin fiddling.

A: Yes, very much so. It has a good variety. It's very much Natalie MacMaster with a lot of Cape Breton moments but reflects us both.

Q: So it will continue to be Cape Breton and Canadian fiddle tunes.

A: Yeah, but if you've ever heard a Leahy show, their sound is a bit more worldly. It's cultural because there is a lot of French and Irish influence and, of course, Canadian influence. They have a really unique sound, and we are doing some Leahy pieces in the show. Generally speaking, there are those elements, but it's a fresh sound, Donnell and I together, you know.

Q: You still dance?

A: Oh yes, there is lots of dancing; we all dance. Our piano players, I must say, they steal the show every night.

There is a piano duet they do, too. It's the piano player from my band, Mac Morin, and the piano player from Donnell's band, which is his sister Erin Leahy.

Q: So you have relatives with you.

A: Oh yeah, it's a family night. I inherited seven sisters.

Q: What is new or different in terms of musical content?

A: There are some original pieces, there's a tune Donnell and I wrote for our wedding and a tune that Donnell wrote called “Gypsy Boy.”

Q: Do you have a recording of this yet?

A: No, we don't. It's awful not to have a recording of the show. With three children, sometimes it's hard to get to the things you want to do. They are coming with us.

Q: Are they in the show?

A: No, they are only 4, 2 1/2 and 10 months.

Q: Have they started dancing yet?

A: Mary Frances has started; she's very musical.

Q: You have a new live DVD.

A: Oh yes, there is a lot of material; I have a new recording, and Leahy has a new recording.

Q: Will the Natalie MacMaster Band and Leahy tour together?

A: I don't know. We've done it in Canada, but it's a big production. It's two full bands and a lot of equipment, so the venue has to be really big, and it takes a lot of planning. We just take it one tour at a time for now, but I wouldn't be opposed to that at all.

Q: Is it still fun? On the road with family?

A: Oh my gosh, yes. In fact, it's completely fun because it's so new. We have not ever toured together before. We have played shows together, myself and Donnell, but not many. This is our first actual tour.

Q: Anything you want to say to people?

A: Even if you are not a fan of our music, you should take a chance on our show.

You will not be disappointed.

January 24, 2010
'Masters of the Fiddle': MacMaster and Leahy fiddle frenzy at DWT
BlueRidge Now, News Online

ASHEVILLE -- The Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place presents "Masters of the Fiddle," a whirlwind evening of fiddle-driven music, dance and song with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy Feb. 1 and 2.

The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available.

This married duo of multiple Juno Award winners, Canada's version of the Grammy award, is coming through Asheville during a rare three-month joint tour.

The couple, who usually perform solo gigs, have graced the Diana Wortham Theatre stage separately in seasons past to sell-out crowds.

Now they are combining their exceptional talents into an energy-filled performance for two nights as part of the theatre's Mainstage Series.

"Touring has always been a challenge, and with children there are always a lot of logistics to work out," says Donnell Leahy. "But we want to be together as a family, and we want to play together ... We love the combination."

Known for her flamboyant skill and trademark step-dancing, Natalie MacMaster has a signature sound that has resonated with world audiences through 10 albums, multiple gold sales figures, numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards, and garnered her a reputation as one of Canada's most captivating performers.

But to MacMaster, her beloved family now shapes and informs her musicianship as much as the jigs, reels, airs, waltzes, strathspeys, marches and traditional folk that feed her spiritual soul.

"Not so much the sound as the delivery," says MacMaster. "I am a mom now. I am a wife. Those things are my priorities in life, and I think people get a sense of that -- of that part of who I am -- through my show. But my music itself hasn't changed."

MacMaster's other half is equally impressive. The son of a fiddle-playing father and a champion step-dancing mother who lead their own bands, the self-taught Leahy is widely acclaimed for his agility on the fiddle.

He grew up on a Canadian farm with 10 siblings, eight of whom are the members of his band named Leahy, the Lakefield, Ontario-based family ensemble that bears his surname and has wowed Asheville audiences in past Mainstage seasons.

His band Leahy became a fast favorite on the festival circuit. By the late 1990s, Leahy the band had won Juno Awards for Best Instrumental Group, Best New Group and Best Country Group and sold more than half a million copies of albums.

For more information about "Masters of the Fiddle" concert or to buy tickets, (Regular $40; Seniors $38; Students $35; Student Rush day-of-the-show with valid ID $10), call the theatre's box office at 828-257-4530 www.dwtheatre.com.

January 22
, 2010

Natalie will be performing the National Anthems at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sunday, February 14th, before a game between the Oilers and the Ducks.
5:00 pm MST or 8:00 pm AST.

January 22, 2010
Natalie MacMaster, husband bring first co-tour to town
By Sarah Ingley, The Gainsville Sun (Florida)

Natalie MacMaster returns to the Phillips Center on Saturday in a performance also spotlighting her husband, Donnell Leahy.

After wowwing a Phillips Center audience three years ago, the acclaimed fiddler/dancer Natalie MacMaster returns Saturday in a performance that also spotlights her most-special collaborator: husband Donnell Leahy.

And it will be among the first such performances in the U.S. by the virtuoso performers who, along with being the parents of three young children, also are considered celebrity recording artists and entertainers in their own right.

"This is our very first tour together," MacMaster says in a phone interview Friday. "We've done maybe a dozen shows together, so not a lot in seven years (of marriage). But we've never done a tour together before."

Donnell Leahy is best known as the lead fiddler of Leahy, the Canadian group formed by Donnell Leahy and his seven siblings.

The band Leahy is the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary ("The Leahys: Music Most of All") as well as three PBS specials. Raised on an Ontario farm by their fiddling father and champion Irish step-dancer mother, they quickly became favorites on the Canadian festival circuit for their original songs, whirlwind step dancing and proficiency in a broad range of instruments and folk genres.

Not to be outdone, MacMaster has recorded 10 albums while acquiring numerous Juno (the Grammy of Canada) awards, multiple gold albums, three honorary degrees and the Order of Canada.

In the U.S., she has performed for millions on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "Good Morning America" and other programs. She also is featured prominently on classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma's "Songs of Joy and Peace" album and is a frequent guest instructor at master violinist Mark O'Connor's camp. Her impassioned jigs, reels, waltzes and strathspeys also have led her to collaborate with artists from Faith Hill to Luciano Pavarotti, and from Paul Simon to Carlos Santana.

MacMaster is today's best-known interpreter of Cape Breton fiddling, the infectious Scottish derivative within her native Nova Scotia.

"It's a hand-me-down tradition that's been passed down through generations and generations, and it's just very pure," MacMaster says. (Ethnomusicologists often consider Scottish musical traditions to be more authentically preserved on the relatively isolated Cape Breton, an island in northern Nova Scotia, than within Scotland itself.)

"The Cape Breton style that I play, the fiddle music from there is very strong - its strongest quality I think is the rhythm," she says. "It's a deep groove that is really addictive and almost puts you in a trance. It grabs you and it doesn't let go.

"Its rhythms come from the dancing; it's dance music," she continues. "The traditional Cape Breton style of dance has been partnered with the fiddle music for forever. A sign of a good fiddler is one who can accompany the dance and keep the beat. That's why the very deep groove of the music stays."

Anyone who has ever seen MacMaster perform knows her trademark: to fiddle and step-dance simultaneously.

"I was in a group with six other fiddlers, and we were giving shows together in our teenage years," MacMaster explains. "And we decided, wouldn't it be cool - because we all fiddled and we all danced - let's do it at the same time. And we practiced, and we did.

"That was back when I was 16, and here I am 37 years old and I'm still doing it cause it works. People love it.

"We both step dance in the show," she says. Comparable to American tap dancing, MacMaster's Cape Breton-style step dancing is looser, more relaxed and closer to the floor than the perhaps more familiar Irish step dance.

"Donnell's dancing and fiddling is much more refined and technical," she says. "Donnell is the fiery, intense, worldly performer. He has this sound that is incredibly practiced. He has honed this so much, and he's just so good."

MacMaster shares the spouses' challenge in joining their differing techniques and stylistic approaches onstage.

"It's kind of tricky; it's something that doesn't come naturally," she says. "We found that there needs to be a lot of work in the arrangements to complement our two styles and not just sort of walk all over them. So we do a lot of harmonizing and counterpoint and moments of playing alone, so we're supporting and showcasing one another while we're performing together.

"I deliver a more comfortable sound; he delivers a more impressive sound. So, yeah, it's a good combination. We're all about presenting to the public a great live performance, really. It's only as good as the people think it is, so we definitely do deliver a lot of punch and pow and pizzazz to what we perform."

January 21, 2010
Review: Fiddlers set toes tapping in lively show
By Amy Clarke, The Greenville News

A violin sings, but a fiddle dances — or so the saying goes. Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy brought that sentiment to life, inspiring a rapt Peace Center audience to clap their hands, tap their toes and wish perhaps that a dance floor had been carved out among the rows of seats.

The two Canadian fiddle masters — a husband and wife who met through a mutual love of each other's music — kicked off their first tour together in Greenville on Tuesday night. If they had any “honeymoon” jitters upon sharing a stage and spotlight for the first time, it didn't show.

MacMaster and Leahy both grew up in music-soaked families, though in different areas that were steeped in slightly different musical traditions. Their music was part Scottish, part Irish, part French and part their very own.

Both demonstrated their personal musical styles (both have successful careers independent of each other) and also came together for a variety of pieces, which also showcased the tremendous talents of the accompanying pianists.

At one point, Leahy tore through a piece that left loose hairs hanging from the end of his bow and mouths agape throughout the audience.

And the toe-tapping wasn't limited to the folks in the seats. Both fiddlers were in constant motion while playing, compelled, it seemed, by the force of their own music. MacMaster, in tap shoes, provided a little accompaniment of her own with her feet.

Then, much to the audience's delight, she and both pianists broke into traditional Riverdance-style Irish step dancing. MacMaster even threw in a little Moonwalk for fun.

January 20
, 2010

Tune in Thursday, January 21, to 'Down Jersey Radio Program', heard on WVLT 92.1 FM Vineland, N.J. from 9:00-10:00 pm EST USA to hear a selection of Natalie's music. The station is heard throughout the Delaware Valley including all of Southern N.J. Philadelphia, parts of Eastern Pa., Wilmington, Northern Delaware, Eastern Maryland and streamed live on the internet at www.wvlt.com


January 17, 2010
Couple brings high-energy to Celtic music
Sparks fly when MacMaster, Leahy put bow to fiddle
By Ann Hicks, Greenville Online

It’s a wife and husband act all the way, says acclaimed Canadian Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster, whose fiddler hubby, Donnell Leahy, will join her on the Peace Concert Hall stage Tuesday night.

“It’s a show we call two fiddles and two pianos,” says MacMaster, much admired for her bow prowess and Cape Breton-style artistry. Keeping it somewhat in the family, the keyboardists are Leahy’s sister, Erin, and Mac Morin from MacMaster’s band.

By the way, the couple’s three girls, who range in age from 4 years to 3 months will be with them in Greenville. “We want to give them experiences while we’re on the road,” MacMaster says, including a trip to Disneyworld while she and her husband perform near Orlando.

MacMaster describes their tour’s program as a showcase of the upbeat, energetic music she grew up with and calls it “the oldest form of Scottish music that exists today.”

Expect that “energetic music” to inspire the vivacious MacMaster to execute some fancy steps while she puts bow to string. Asked just how she can do both at the same time, she says there’s nothing to it for someone who’s been dancing since she was 5 and fiddling since she was 8.

“It is just what I do,” she says with a laugh.

The 38-year-old entertainer has resonated with audiences across the globe through 10 albums, multiple gold releases and guest appearances with renowned artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck and Carlos Santana.

Add to that MacMaster’s musical lineage – her uncle, iconic Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster; her cousin, fiddler Andrea Beaton; and late Canadian folk icon singer/guitarist/songwriter John Allen Cameron – and you’ll understand why she has earned more than two decades of admiration for her artistry.

January 11, 2010
MASTERS OF THE FIDDLE Brings a Whirlwind of Fiddle-Driven Music, Dance & Song
BWW News Desk

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, celebrated as the power couple of the Canadian fiddling world, will play an unforgettable evening of Celtic music Saturday, January 23 at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Known for her flamboyant skill and trademark step dancing, MacMaster is the sweetheart superstar of the Cape Breton Fiddle, often performing as many as 250 shows a year. MacMaster has collaborated and performed with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Simon, Béla Fleck, Allison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Carlos Santana. Her albums top Billboard's World Music charts and have won her multitudes of awards.

But to MacMaster, her beloved family now shapes and informs her musicianship as much as the jigs, reels, air, waltzes, strathspeys, marches and traditional folk that feed her spiritual soul. "Not so much the sound as the delivery," states MacMaster, who married handsome fiddle phenomenon Donnell Leahy of Leahy in 2002. "I am a Mom now. I am a wife. Those things are my priorities in life, and I think people get a sense of that - of that part of who I am - through my show. But my music itself hasn't changed."

MacMaster's other half is equally impressive. The son of a fiddle-playing father and a champion step-dancing mother, Donnell Leahy is widely acclaimed for his agility on the fiddle. Growing up on a Canadian farm with eight sibling members of his band called Leahy, they became fast favorites on the festival circuit. By the late 1990s, Leahy had won Juno Awards (Canada's version of the Grammy Awards) for Best Instrumental Group, Best New Group and Best Country Group.

Together Natalie and Donnell are a whirlwind matrimony of fiddle-driven music, dance and song. The foot-tapping rave-ups, heart-wrenching ballads, and world-class step dancing of this collaboration will leave onlookers breathless from the moment they hit the stage January 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Phillips Center.