Natalie MacMaster sighs the long, protracted breath of any mother with young children who wonders how to balance her family with her career and the crazy life that both bring.
“I have no answer,” MacMaster said in a phone interview. “I simply don’t know.”
As examples of her so-called crazy life, MacMaster doesn’t even bring up her husband, Donnell Leahy, or either one of their careers as famous fiddlers, or the 100 gigs a year she plays, including Wednesday’s show at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center. She brings up the talking points that most parents, including those in Greeley, would give. MacMaster and Leahy have five children from 5 months to 7 years old.
“Christmas was crazy,” she said. “We went to all these events and parties and my first thought was, ‘We never went to all these things when I was a kid.’ And yet, every now and again, we’re home, and then we say we want to go do something.”
Rather than bemoan the craziness that kids can bring, MacMaster seems to embrace it. She homeschools her kids, for instance, and she laughs about the music choices she made when she was 9. She listened to Ozzy Osbourne. She’s not sure she would let her own kids do the same, though she said in the same breath that if the home life is right, Ozzy may not matter all that much.
She also believes her children have made her a better musician. She certainly appreciates performing more now.
“I’ve always appreciated (performing),” MacMaster said. “I’ve always been grateful for that gift and for having music in my life. But it’s in a new way.”
She doesn’t tour, for instance, to get away from her kids, even as she said being on stage is a nice break from them. She takes her kids with her. She at least takes the infant, and if she does leave her kids, she’s excited about that, too, because that’s a chance to bond with Leahy, whom she calls “the funnest” dad.
Family is obviously important to her. She owes her parents, Alex and Minnie, for inspiring her to perform. Her father taught her how to fiddle for six months when she was 9 before it was clear she had a special talent (she named a track off her latest album after him). Her mother taught her to step dance, which she will do occasionally while playing, which wows audiences but MacMaster said “really isn’t that hard.”
She also owes as much to her roots. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, is known for its fiddling, to the point where MacMaster wasn’t really viewed as a prodigy or all that unusual since everyone does it there.
“It’s a way of life there, you know,” she said. “It’s around all the time, in homes and square dance halls.”
She describes the Cape Breton sound as “natural, raw, unrefined and really gritty.” MacMaster wants to play that way, though the kids, she said, have softened her up a bit. She plays a cleaner style, but she’s always seen herself as a Cape Breton fiddler (she titled her latest album, a straightforward disc of instrumentals, “Cape Breton Girl”), and where she lived influenced her more than her favorite music, even Ozzy or Def Leppard.
She is working on an album with her husband, which excites her. She respects him as much as anyone and he is probably the better player, she said.
“He can do things on the fiddle I haven’t heard,” she said. “You can hear the practice in his music.”
She paused. She thought she heard a baby crying upstairs. Her husband wasn’t home. It was up to her. The interview had to end. When she returned for a brief minute, as she didn’t want to be rude, she said she looked forward to Wednesday’s concert in Fort Collins. And then she went back to being a mother.
I’ve always appreciated (performing). I’ve always been grateful for that gift and for having music in my life. But it’s in a new way. \n
Natalie MacMaster, musician