Leahy & MacMaster: Marriage of fiddles and love

Provided photo

Provided photo

Janelle Faignant
THE ARTS

Even though they’ve been playing music all their lives and have been married for over a decade, fiddle stars Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy never recorded an album together until last year.

“When we first got married we thought, this is cool. We’re going to play music together and write together and record,” Leahy said. “But we were each booked up, we had record projects planned with our respective bands, and when we thought of getting together to record, a baby came along. And babies kept coming.”

But music runs in the family. They both come from musical families, and the music has been passed down through generations. They learned from their parents and now their kids are learning from them.

Leahy comes from a family of 11 siblings, with whom he formed the band Leahy. He grew up with a father who played fiddle and a mother who played piano and “fell right into it.”

“I never decided to become professional,” he said. “It sort of just happened.”

MacMaster’s 25-year career includes tours with singer-songwriter Faith Hill and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Separately and together, McMaster and Leahy have become two of the world’s most renowned fiddlers. Last year they saw a window of opportunity and finally recorded their debut album “One.”

In a recent interview from their home in Ontario, Canada, Leahy talked about the album, and their upcoming show at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday, “Visions of Cape Breton and Beyond.”

MacMaster was raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Leahy grew up in Ontario, each with two different fiddle traditions. Together they produce an infectious, high-energy music that blends traditional Celtic heritage with a contemporary sound. Their individual styles complement the other’s playing in a way only a couple with their personal chemistry and passion for music can.

“We really like collaborating,” Leahy said. “We come from different backgrounds, with enough in common but enough differences that it really blends well.”

The album includes songs from Finland, France, Scotland, Ireland, the United States and Cape Breton, with a clog medley, jigs, reels, and waltz and polka styles, produced by the renowned Bob Ezrin. MacMaster and Leahy wrote a number of the songs on the album together, and arranged all of them.

As for their kids continuing the family music tradition, Leahy and MacMaster have six children between the ages of 3 and 11, some or all of whom may appear on stage with them on any given night.

“We want them to be great musicians, to reach their full potential; and wherever that takes them, if it’s playing for fun or playing professionally, it’s not really important to us,” Leahy said. “We just want them to love music.”

Because music has been such a huge part of their lives.

“It’s so much a part of who we are,” Leahy said. “The root of what we do is steeped in tradition, and 300 year-old pieces that keep getting passed on to each generation. You end up with quite a repertoire.”

Paramount Theatre

“Visions of Cape Breton and Beyond,” featuring fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, comes to the Paramount Theatre, 30 Center St. in Rutland, at 8 p.m. Friday, March 3. Tickets are $35, $45 and $55; call 802-775-0903, or go online to www.paramountvt.org.

 

Janelle Faignant

Janelle Faignant is a freelance writer living in Rutland.

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