Friday, December 16, 2011

Natalie MacMaster: Dynamic fiddle virtuoso

Live (Natalie MacMaster album)
Few performers exhibit the excitement that marks Natalie MacMaster's shows. Less than a year after the birth of her fourth child, the Canadian fiddler brings "Christmas in Cape Breton" to George Mason University Center for the Arts, full of traditional Celtic music.

"I'm motivated by love and music that moves," she said. "I can be tired and the minute I get on stage I'm filled with energy. Growing up in Cape Breton, I enjoyed a very traditional Christmas. I remember going with my dad to the woods to get a tree that we hung with homemade decorations about the 20th of December. Then we went to our rooms to wrap gifts secretly while our mother baked cookies. We spent Christmas Day at our grandmother's house, then entertained visitors and went visiting. The next day, Boxing Day, we'd square dance."

MacMaster learned her instrument from her uncle Buddy MacMaster, the famous Cape Breton fiddler. Although her parents did not play, her father encouraged her to practice. To this day, she relies on him for criticism.

"He urged me to play correctly and even now may not agree with those who think my performance was perfect," she said. "But if he praises me, that approval is bigger to me than playing in Carnegie Hall. Even before I studied the fiddle, my mom taught me step-dancing. Sometimes if I sense the audience members are participatory, I invite some to join me on stage."

MacMaster grew up listening to pop, rock and jazz, so it's no wonder that she embraces them in her repertoire. Her collaborations with many celebrated artists reveal her expertise across the board.

"Being invited by Yo-Yo Ma to play on his Christmas CD, 'Songs of Joy and Peace,' was a big thrill for me," she said. "I loved playing with Alison Krauss, who is so sweet, and of course The Chieftains. They've been a big part of my formation and introduced me to a lot of American crowds."

As a mom, MacMaster limits her touring. Wherever she or her husband, Donnell, perform, one or more of the children accompany them, a tradition followed by the Leahy ensemble. Because she toured all fall, she is looking forward to a long break at home until a tour of Canada in March. For now, she will bask in the November release of "Cape Breton Girl" and the publication of her first book, "Natalie MacMaster's Cape Breton Aire."

"It's the story of how I grew up with awesome photography by photographer Eric Roth," she said. "His pictures are honest and fresh, not touristy. I want readers to see that place as it really is and I remember it. Even though I spent my early years there, I want my children to have their own memories of growing up in our home, the place where Santa comes every Christmas."

Read more at the Washington Examiner:

Natalie MacMaster: Dynamic fiddle virtuoso | Washington Examiner

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