Natalie MacMaster, mom, wife and fiddler
March 29, 2011
Twelve weeks ago, fiddler Natalie MacMaster gave birth to her fourth child. A few months earlier, she published her biography, "A Cape Breton Aire: the Story of a Musical Life and Place," and later this year, she’s going to release a new CD.
On top of all this, she’s on tour with her husband, and fellow fiddler, Donnell Leahy, of the Celtic group Leahy.
How does she balance it all?
"I’m looking for that answer myself," MacMaster said during a phone call from a bank on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Can. "We go day by day and learn from our mistakes and keep plugging away. It’s life. It isn’t suppose to be smooth, but it’s full and rich and hectic and crazy."
Regardless of the demands, MacMaster said she’s "living her dream."
"Seriously, the stuff I have here is stuff that I’ve honestly dreamed of," she said while trying to quiet her newborn. "We just moved into a new house and have four children. We also just got a horse, and this baby is not going back to sleep."
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MacMaster’s devotion to family and music stem from her upbringing in Cape Breton.
"My ancestry is Scottish," she said. "I’m Canadian, of course, and there’s long history of musicians in my family. My cousins and relatives and uncles and grandparents and great grandparents, and so on, all played the traditional music of Cape Breton, which is Scottish in origin.
MacMaster’s upbringing is the subject of "Cape Breton Aire," but said the photos, taken by Eric Roth, were the real highlight of the book.
"They are truly incredible," she said. "You can see how Cape Breton is so beautiful, but it’s also very rugged. There’s a tough natural beauty that is unrefined, and the story is about my upbringing in a musical place.
"The music is alive a well in Cape Breton, and I was in the thick of it," she said.
Still, MacMaster never though about making music a career.
"No one else in my family played for a living," she said. "I didn’t even know that was something you could do, because even the most popular fiddlers in the town at the time had other jobs.
"I thought I’d be a teacher," she said. "I got a teaching degree and thought I would play fiddle on the side, but I haven’t taught one class, yet."
When she was 16, MacMaster released her debut recording, "Four on the Floor."
Her second album "Road to the Isle" was released in 1991.
MacMaster signed to Rounder Records in 1992 and released "Fit as a Fiddle," which sold more than 500,000 copies, making it a certified gold record.
Since then, she has performed with the Chieftains, Carlos Santana, Yo-Yo Ma, Alison Krauss and Faith Hill, to name a few.
In 2006, MacMaster was made a member of the Order of Canada, a personal gift from Canada’s Governor General-in-Council.
Accolades aside, MacMaster said she is content playing live shows to anyone who will listen, and having her husband as a fiddling partner only makes the sets more memorable.
"Donnell is just an incredible fiddler," she said. "He’s brilliant and his technique is amazing.
"Every time I hear him play, I’m in awe," she said. "It’s an honor to play with him. It elevates what I do."
MacMaster said Leahy’s approach to music is more technical than hers.
"I think, I elevate him, too, because what I bring to the stage is different," she said. "With him, it’s his technique. With me it’s how I feel the music. We complement each other."
Hopefully, the couple’s children, which also includes a five-, three- and two-year old, will see the harmony in the home as well as on stage, MacMaster said.
"I would hope they learn about practicing and dedicating oneself to something worthwhile," she said. "That’s what we hope our children get from us as we continue to do what we do.
"Now, if only someone would help me figure out how balance everything," MacMaster said with a laugh. "Maybe that will be my next book ‘Parenting and Fiddling: You Can Have It All.’"
"Masters of the Fiddle," with Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, will come to the Eccles Performing Arts Center, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, April 2. Curtain is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18-$65 and available by calling (435) 655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.