A fiddler first and foremost

The tone of the interview yesterday with Natalie MacMaster was casual to say the least.
Although she was doing a business call from London, Ont., it seemed as if she was calling a friend from the kitchen in her home on Cape Breton Island as her first words into the phone were, “Hi, it’s Natalie.”
Admittedly, I was stumped as to which “Natalie” it was–until she informed me of the pre-arranged interview time, then burst out laughing, saying, “I guess I had should have said my full name.”
(Then she politely told me she had another 15 phone interviews to do that day and could only talk for 15 minutes).
MacMaster, whose two concerts will officially open the Townshend Theatre for the Performing Arts here Monday night, is one of Canada’s fasting-rising Celtic music stars. She’s seeing quite a bit of success with her recent album, “In My Hands,” with the title track getting plenty of air time across the country.
“In My Hands” is the first and only song so far when MacMaster adds her vocal talents to her immense fiddling skills. Your first impression might be its a love song, which is partly right, but it’s not about any gentleman caller.
It’s about her fiddle.
“I wanted to start at the beginning when I first saw my instrument,” she explained. “I came up with this concept of writing about something which is most dearest to me and expressing it music
“I don’t have any urge to sing,” she added. “The reason I did the song ‘In My Hands’ was I did have an urge to express myself vocally on my album, and I didn’t want to say, ‘Hi, I hope you enjoy the tape.’”
That MacMaster fell in love with her instrument should come as no surprise. Her uncle, Buddy MacMaster, is one of Cape Breton’s most famed fiddlers. And though the Celtic beats have just received world-wide popularity in the last few years, it’s been a mainstay there for generations.
MacMaster’s popularity so far stems from her ability to take the traditional music and give it a modern spin–without being “shocking or anything” but rather “fun.”
“It’s a pretty cool thing when you think about it like that because it’s very old music, centuries old, and here we are touring around the world with this music that goes over as well as anything new,” she remarked.
MacMaster tries to keep that sort of fun during her concerts. The show is set up to move very fast–not just in speed but in the different types of numbers they play–ranging from quick jigs to slow ballads.
“It’s sort of like a roller coaster,” she explained, “because the fiddle is capable of such a range of feelings and emotions and grooves.”
A bit of dancing is thrown in the show for good measure (after all, it is dance music, she noted). And the overall effect is a performance which has gone over well with audiences.
“They’re really shows where you don’t have to like fiddle music, or you don’t have to be a fiddle fan, so we’ve been told, but [people] really like the shows,” she enthused.
Fort Frances marks the start of MacMaster’s four-week tour of western Canada, with her next stop being Winnipeg. But while “In My Hands” continues to do well on the charts, MacMaster said she’s not pressuring herself to do another vocal track.
“If I get another brilliant idea, I may go with it,” she remarked. “I’m a fiddler first and foremost.”