Natalie MacMaster and Shaylynn Hayes from the Maritime Anchor discuss her music’s Celtic roots, and Natalie’s amazing insights on fiddle music.
S: What sets fiddle music aside from the violin?
N: Fiddle music is a hand me down tradition not coming from the same strict disciplines as violin music (classical). It is more casual and learned mainly by ear especially in the early stages. It is used as dance music in many traditions and as a result has great rhythm.
S: How did you first become interested/introduced in the fiddle?
N: My fiddle introduction came from my parents when they had fiddle music playing all day on record player (I was born in 1972)! By the time I was 9 I had many melodies swirling in my head. I received a 3/4 size fiddle from a relative and the rest is history!
S: How does the Celtic heritage impact your music?
N: My Scottish Celtic lineage greatly affects my music. That is what I play- the music of my ancestors. Our Cape Breton culture has kept a strong hold on its ancient sound. In fact, we play the oldest form of Scottish music that exists today!
S: How did growing up in Cape Breton influence your work?
N: Growing up in Cape Breton has made me a Cape Breton fiddler (remember that’s the old style Scottish music). That style is embedded deep within my heart, never to be removed. It had even formed the person I am today. (That’s another interview!)
S: How could an aspiring fiddler get into the business?
N: For aspiring fiddlers wanting to get into the business, 1000 people might tell you 1000 different ways. For me, I would say you’ve got nothing if you don’t even have good ability. Start there first. Allow the music to direct you. Be a great player, then learn how to present it in your own unique way. If you want to make a career of it, it’s got to be interesting to people as well. Also, have a backup plan. Many of my band mates had other things they did on the side.
S: What was your favourite project to work on?
N: My favourite project? I love music so much that every project brings its own freshness and musicality. I will point out how exciting it was to go to New York city and record with Yo Yo Ma. Hosting the ECMA’s was very exciting and acting on children’s tv shows (including Sesame Street) was very cool as well.
S: What styles of music have influenced your work?
N: My story is a little different in that I am very engrained in one style- the Cape Breton style. Most players have a variety they’ve studied. That being said, I’ve been thrust into situations where I’ve had to play something to keep from sinking so I learned to improvise and support different genres around me without really knowing them. Fortunately, I suppose, I’m not in that situation very often but those moments have definitely helped me “listen” better and therefore be a better player. I’ve also learned that music has a voice and it is learning to take what you know and allow that music to speak through you.
S: For you, what is special about fiddling compared to other instruments?
N: I just love the sound of a fiddle / violin. Lots of other instruments share similar qualities so I can’t describe why it is so appealing to me as compared to the others, but I’m sure it has a lot to do with listening to it from the womb!
S: How important has working with family been for your craft?
N: Working with my family now in the last few years (we have 7 children of which the oldest 5 are heavily into it) has been a natural evolution. My husband has definitely encouraged the philosophy of not forcing life too much but allowing things to be what they should. So this has come about (the kids playing music with us) very organically. I feel it is an awesome opportunity for us all on every level- spending time with each other, teamwork, learning musical art forms, discovering who you are through music, providing the children with adventure and travel, creating memories together….and on and on and on
S: What are your upcoming projects that you’d like to mention?
N: My upcoming projects include lots of recording!!! I just released my 12th solo project in November, now Donnell my husband is preparing his for release sometime this summer, then our Christmas CD gets rereleased with a few extra tracks for the fall, and next spring our duo project will be underway! So lots of writing and planning and creativity!!
You can find more information on Natalie and her husband Donnell at their website, www.natalieanddonnell.com.