Anita MacDonald:
a fiddle from Santa

Anita MacDonald's life has been full of surprises.

One came at age 8. "Santa gave me a fiddle, let's put it that way," she says -- although she admits her grandfather and granduncle, both fiddlers, might have had something to do with it.

Another came in 2010, when she received the Frank "Big Sampie" Sampson Award from the Festival Volunteer Drive'ers Association, which provided funds for Anita to record her first album.

Now 21 years old, the Little Narrows native has released Stepping Stone and is performing at the 2012 Celtic Colours International Festival.

The familiar sounds of "Stan Chapman's Jig" and "The Stool of Repentance," two perennial favorites of mine, first drew my attention to the Festival Club stage, where Anita was holding court on Thanksgiving night, with guitarist Jason MacDonald (a distant relation, she says) and pianist Tyson Chen providing support.

It was as polished a Caper set as you're likely to hear: no frills -- beyond the normal sort of ornamentation that sends so many fiddlers' jaws to the floor but are as natural on Cape Breton as breathing and rosining a bow -- but flawless.

"It takes me to a whole other place," she says later. "It's a meditation."

A few months from finishing her fourth year at university, Anita is majoring in history -- because, she quickly explains, majors in music and Gaelic, in which she's taking a minor course of study, weren't available to her.

And she's not really sure, frankly, what she'll do with a history degree once she has it.

"I'm hoping to do this," she says, gesturing to her fiddle. "Maybe tour."

Although her performance at the Festival Club was purely fiddle, Anita is a double threat, also singing in Gaelic. Both talents appear on her album, she says, for which she is doubly grateful to the volunteer driving group and Lakewind Studios, each of which donated three days of free recording time for the project.

It took eight days, she notes -- but the extra time was necessary, and worth it.

Representatives of the Drive'ers Association came out to see her play before awarding the prize, Anita says. "They judge whether or not you're ready as a performer," she explains. She found out she was the winner at the beginning of Celtic Colours in 2010, but had to keep the secret all week until an official announcement was made.

Now, she's eager to see where her playing, and a new album under her belt, will take her.

Rather than look for a job in a history field, she says, Anita plans to go back to school -- "eventually, maybe next year, maybe after a while" -- and learn the skills needed to manage events on her own.

"I'd like to keep going with this sort of thing," she says. Performing and managing -- maybe she could hire herself to play?

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

27 October 2012

what's new