MacMaster and Leahy have combined their love of music with their love of family
What: Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy and Family
When: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16
Where: Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd.
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy aren’t planning to just fiddle around when they perform Saturday night at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The award-winning, married violinists will play a concert that will include Scottish, Irish and Canadian Celtic music and dancing, MacMaster promised.
“It’s very skilled and world-class,” she said. “There’s a lot of depth to it, of course coming from the ancient music of our Celtic forefathers, but it’s very relaxing and easy to understand.”
The performance is also high-spirited and uplifting, and will include the fiddlers’ personal touches, Leahy said.
“We play the same instrument and have similar backgrounds, but we have different influences,” Leahy said of he and MacMaster, who have been married since 2002. “Natalie has a lot of Cape Breton influences. I have more of Cape Breton, Irish, French and whatever-was-on-the-radio rock and country influences.”
Those different styles complement each other, he said.
“When I play with Natalie, it’s not two Cape Breton fiddlers playing,” Leahy said. “We are both challenged to ‘keep up,’ shall we say.”
Blending their styles took some time, according to Leahy.
“When we first started playing together, we didn’t sound very good,” he said. “Natalie would play a traditional Cape Breton piece and then I’d play the same piece in my own style and we would clash. The reason was we’d cover up and step on each other’s nuances.”
The couple found writing songs together helped with playing together.
“When we wrote a piece together, our styles would come together in a better mix,” he said.
MacMaster said part of the secret of blending the styles came through listening to each other.
“When you listen well, you focus on what the other person is doing, but also focus on what you’re doing yourself as well,” she said. “In the arc of years of experience, you get to the point that you allow what you hear to influence your rhythms and how to blend everything.”
In the past few years, MacMaster and Leahy have added a new dynamic — children — to some of their live performances.
It started with their first born, Mary Frances.
“When she was three, she started learning step dancing and wanted to go on stage with us,” MacMaster said. “We said no, because we were very confident that we didn’t want to have her on stage. We wanted to teach her that she had to earn that spot on stage.”
One night, the couple caved to their daughter’s wishes.
“We were playing at a place that had a casual environment,” MacMaster said. “We saw she wanted to come up so bad, so we let her do it. It was, we thought, a harmless minute or two, but the crowd loved it.”
After the performance, MacMaster and Leahy told Mary Frances that if she kept practicing she could do it again.
“That was a good motivator for her,” MacMaster said. “She began practicing more on the fiddle and on her dancing, and by then our second child, Michael, who was 2, saw what she was doing; things grew from there.”
Although Leahy and MacMaster don’t feature their children in all of their shows, they do know how important it is for the youngsters to perform.
“We see that the kids have a lot to offer, and people want to hear them,” MacMaster said. “So the audience feels they’re getting a bonus in the show, and this gives the kids a reason to improve their playing.”
Leahy said the live performances are learning experiences as well.
“They have to do sound check and they have get ready to play,” he said. “They also get a chance to fail, and when that happens, they learn to pick themselves up again.”
During the tour, the whole family gets the added bonus of hanging out with world-class band members.
“We’re surrounded by great musicians who come from other cultures,” Leahy said. “In playing with others, we always find ourselves coming back to our own musical culture and wanting to improve and grow as well.”
MacMaster hopes the Park City audience will catch the Celtic music bug on Saturday night.
“We are very looking forward to coming to your beautiful city, and we are excited for the opportunity to inject a bit of traditional energy, spirit and joy into the area,” she said.
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