Fiddlers MacMaster, Leahy to Perform at Center for the Arts

Posted: February 25, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: February 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are not only two of the world’s most celebrated fiddlers – they are also husband and wife. Both have appeared at Mason’s Center for the Arts – MacMaster in solo performances and Leahy fronting his family group of the same name.

The audience will witness the fruits of their musical matrimony when this vivacious Canadian couple performs together on the Concert Hall stage on Saturday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m.

The program, titled “Masters of the Fiddle,” features Celtic foot-tapping rave-ups, heart-wrenching ballads and remarkable step dancing that leave audiences breathless.

MacMaster, a native of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, first picked up a fiddle at age 9. The niece of famed fiddler Buddy MacMaster, she quickly became a talent in her own right, known for her masterful blend of Celtic, bluegrass and contemporary acoustic sounds with jazz, rock and classical music.

After winning numerous awards for her traditional recordings, she began taking Celtic music to new heights with albums like “In My Hands,” which infused traditional fiddling with elements of jazz and Latin music. She has recorded nine albums and received a Grammy nomination and two Juno Awards for “My Roots Are Showing” and “In My Hands.”

She also recently recorded an album called “Yours Truly” with a song called “Farewell to Peter,” in which MacMaster paid respects to her friend, fan and fellow Canadian, ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings.

The eldest boy in a family of 11 children, Leahy was raised on the family’s beef farm homestead in Lakefield, Ontario, where parents Frank and Julie gave their large brood lessons in fiddle, piano, voice and step dancing.

At age 4, a year after he first picked up a fiddle, Leahy was practicing incessantly and began playing competitively. After each child grew into his or her instrument, Leahy and his brothers and sisters formed the band and began playing at local dances, parties and weddings.

The ensemble first gained attention as the subject of a documentary, “The Leahys: Music Most of All,” which won an Academy Award for Best Student Foreign Film in 1985. In 1998, the group gained international attention when fellow Canadian Shania Twain invited the Leahy family to open her debut world tour.

Since then, the band has toured actively, introducing audiences across the globe to their high-energy, thrilling and spellbinding performances. In addition, the band has released four acclaimed CDs, “Leahy,” “Lakefield,” “In All Things” and “Live,” which have sold more than half a million copies worldwide.

Leahy first became aware of MacMaster when he heard a cassette of the young Cape Breton fiddler while his family was on a six-month residency in Europe.

“I met her music first,” Leahy recalls. “We were playing in Germany and one of my sisters had a cassette she would play. I asked her about it, found out she was an 18-year-old girl from Cape Breton. When I heard that style being played by a young girl, she tweaked my interest, and I decided I had to meet her.”

The day Leahy got back to Canada, he got in his car and drove to Cape Breton to meet MacMaster and ask her to dinner.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what you look like. Maybe if you brought your fiddle, I’d know who you were.’ We went out for dinner, played some tunes, and the rest is history. As Natalie put it – we dated for two years, broke up for 10, and then got married.”

Today, MacMaster and Leahy live on their farm in Canada with their three children. They frequently go on the road to perform.

“Touring has always been a challenge, and with children there are always a lot of logistics to work out,” Leahy explains. “But we want to be together as a family, and we want to play together. Although Natalie’s style is very different from mine, we love the combination. Everything makes sense for us to tour together.”

A discussion, free to ticket holders, begins 45 minutes prior to the performance on the Center’s Grand Tier III. Pre-performance discussions are sponsored by the Friends of the Center for the Arts.

Tickets are $44, $36 and $22; tickets are half price for youth through grade 12. Charge by phone at 888-945-2468 or visit cfa.gmu.edu.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu