Natalie MacMaster:
fiddler, producer, wife & chef

Natalie MacMaster has a lot of great new things going on in her life. She has a new album out with her famous uncle, Buddy MacMaster, and she is a producer of a new online radio show called Cape Breton Live, which is already a huge success.

The new CD, Natalie & Buddy MacMaster, Traditional Music from Cape Breton Island, was recorded last February and March. "I practice with recordings of Buddy, a lot. He's very easy to play with, so I really wanted to record with him," she said. The recording was originally just going to be for her family, but she and Buddy liked it so much that they decided to make it commercial. "It's very much Buddy because they're all his tunes," she said, when asked to describe the album. The CD was recorded with everyone in one room and includes her aunt, Betty Lou Beaton (Buddy's sister), on piano and Dave MacIsaac on guitar.

Another solo album is in its beginning stages as well. "I'm making plans for it, but it will be a couple years, probably, because it will be another traditional album, and that's what the CD with Buddy is," she said.

When asked how Cape Breton Live came about, she explained that she and her husband, Donnell Leahy, came up with the idea when she was taping a show for Mountain Stage and he was listening, and they both thought, "There's nothing like that in Cape Breton." They decided there should be a show to spread the music. "Right now, each show is an hour long. A lot of the performances are actually longer than that, so we'll have material for later shows," she said, "Eventually, we want to make it more formatted." She went on happily to say that there were over 4,000 listeners for the first show! All of the shows are recorded at natural functions on the island, including ceilidhs, house parties and square dances. They give listeners a good dose of the traditions of Cape Breton.

Natalie's family life is changing, as well. Married in 2002, she and Donnell are now expecting their first child. "I'm going to continue to perform, but I'll tailor it as I need to," she said, "I need to figure out what kind of mother I'll be and what kind of personality the baby will have." She's very excited and says she wants more children eventually, as well, but hopes to continue her growing career.

"I like the familiarity of the tunes I play with the band," she said when asked how they maintain their energy after playing the same music night after night. She likes to recognize tunes and she says the audience does, as well. Perhaps this is why she has been so successful. "I've had a lot of great things happen in my career. One major highlight was playing for the Peter Jennings memorial. It was an honor to be a part of it and to play with such great musicians, like Yo-Yo Ma and Allison Kraus," she said. She went on to say that she has had many successes, including an honorary doctorate, several Juno awards, a Grammy nomination and also having her records hit gold, but the most meaningful point in her career was the acknowledgement from a man who almost took his life, but didn't because he enjoyed her music so much -- that it changed him. "His story can be found in Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul," she said with a smile.

Even with all her successes, Natalie has managed to stay very grounded. "I don't really think about it," she said, "I just had a very traditional Catholic upbringing and got good morals from my parents." When she's on the road, she misses her husband, her home and her family the most, and when asked what she likes to do, besides music, she responded, "Cook. I love to cook for other people."

by Kaitlin Hahn
26 November 2005