Celebrate Celtic roots with Natalie MacMaster at the 6th Quebec Celtic Festival

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Natalie MacMaster will perform September 17 at 8 p.m. at the Palais Montcalm. Tickets are $65 at the Palais Montcalm website. (Photo MacMaster Press Kit)

The Quebec Celtic Festival, which runs from August 26 to Sept 17, was founded by the Morrin Centre in order to remind Quebecers of their Celtic roots and to celebrate the culture of the ancient Celts—that of Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia and the Isle of Man. The Morrin Centre, whose mission is to promote English language and culture and to highlight the diversity of our English-speaking community’s heritage, will host many of the activities, though there will be various other venues as well. “The presence and traditions of communities of Celtic origin are an integral part of Quebec’s culture,” reads the festival’s website, which invites the public to “celebrate this unique heritage during the 6th edition of the Quebec Celtic Festival that will come to life to the beat of music and dance.”

Well-known Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster is making her debut perfor-mance at this year’s Celtic Festival on September 17 at 8 p.m. at the Palais Montcalm. She is very excited to be coming to Quebec City. “We love the response of the people there; they are so musical. They remind me of Cape Bretoners,” says the fiddler. “It is also easy for us to get there.”

Born and raised in Cape Breton, MacMaster now lives in a new farm house in rural Douro, Ontario. MacMaster, 39, is a talented musician, wife and mother of four: Mary Francis is 5 and a half, Michael is 4, Clare is 2 and a half, and Julia is 7 months old. Her husband Donnell Leahy is also a fiddler. MacMaster, who has a teaching degree in early education and homeschools her children, describes herself as “a stay-at-home mom on the road.” Usually the children travel with their performer parents, but not this time. Leahy is keeping the children while his wife is fiddling up a storm at the Celtic Festival. Has motherhood changed her? “Oh, yeah. You haven’t really lived till you have children,” says MacMaster. “It motivates you to be a better person. I try to teach my kids through example.”

“Religion, as it pertains to my children, is on my mind all the time,” admits the deeply spiritual artist. Her husband shares her passion. Both love to read spiritual material whenever they get a chance. Their little family has even built a chapel in their new home, as well as practice rooms in the basement where Natalie and Donnell can steal a few minutes to practice their music.

“I love culture,” says MacMaster. “While faith is my anchor, culture is my focus.” Natalie admires Quebec for its drive and success in preserving and promoting its unique culture, especially its language. “How much I appreciate the traditions that Quebec holds as important! You make so many efforts to hang on to your culture. It’s great! I’ve noticed that Cape Breton culture is changing; square dancing, for example, does not have locals participating like before.” Many locals now have to move away just as Natalie and her family had to: “I am one of them. We now have our life set here in Ontario.” She believes that steps should be taken to stop Cape Breton’s cultural decline. “The government should be doing something to preserve a beautiful culture.”

MacMaster is a name of Scottish origin. Her ancestors arrived in Nova Scotia as a result of the Highland Clearances, or the Expulsion of the Gael, which were forced displacements of the population of the Scottish Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. Cape Breton has a specific culture, mostly musical, and still struggles to preserve its Gaelic. “I grew up with the culture and have the music part and an awareness and love for the other parts of the traditions,” comments MacMaster, who speaks some Gaelic too.

Fiddling runs in Natalie’s blood. Her uncle was well-known fiddler Buddy MacMaster. A natural virtuoso, she started fiddling at 9 years of age, the youngest child behind two brothers, and later trained under Stan Chapman for a few years. At ten, she earned her first $20 as a professional performer. Learning to fiddle is “a casual, hand-me-down tradition,” says MacMaster. She credits her ability to her genes and to having grown up in a very musical place. “Cape Breton fiddle music has a certain style,” according to the talented MacMaster.  “It is very rhythmic, not refined.” She adds that her family is “110% supportive“of her music. “They would go anywhere to watch me play. I feel very loved.” Anytime she plays near Cape Breton, they’re there.

An electrifying performer, Natalie MacMaster has produced 10 albums and won numerous Juno and East Coast Music Awards. She has received honorary degrees, including an honorary doctorate from St. Thomas University. She is a member of the Order of Canada and has a reputation as one of Canada’s most captivating performers.
For more information on the Quebec Celtic Festival, go to [email protected].