Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy
FAMILY FUN Series
Hearing Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy speak reverentially about the fiddle, which has propelled their dazzling careers since childhood while cementing their status as Canada’s reigning couple of Celtic music, is almost as electrifying as hearing them play it.
Indeed, when MacMaster and Leahy married in 2002 — both were already stars in their own right — they could not have predicted their merger would recast what contemporary musical success looks like. Or that they would produce a large family and ensure their mantelpiece was jammed with JUNO and East Coast Music Awards while creating an inventory of achievements spanning the globe.
Though MacMaster and Leahy followed different trajectories to this point — she a Cape Breton native who could step-dance before she could walk, he the oldest brother of acclaimed family group Leahy — both have confidently crested the traditional music peak.
“The fiddle was definitely common ground for us when we first got together,” MacMaster, a Member of Order of Canada since 2006, recalls with a chuckle. “But I was so in awe of Donnell’s family, of 11 siblings who could play and had a family band. And here I am now doing almost exactly the same thing. Well, kind of.” MacMaster is referring to her and Leahy’s seven gifted children, five of whom are often the showpiece of the MacMaster/Leahy live set though not because the couple necessarily envision showbiz careers for the kids, who recently performed (actually knocked ‘em dead) on German TV variety show, Willkommen bei Carmen Nebel.
Rather, the pair realized early on that being on the road without their kids was infinitely harder than touring with them. That the children were already being home-schooled (MacMaster has a teaching degree) made enacting that decision easier. “Initially we were reluctant to let the kids perform. We worried the expectations might be too much,” Leahy says. “But then one night we put Mary Frances on stage. Soon after that Michael wanted to play. And you must reward practice.”
When vintage comedian W.C. Fields famously quipped, “Never work with animals or children,” he clearly hadn’t seen the MacMaster/Leahy clan fiddling, step-dancing, and positively delighting audiences.