Natalie MacMaster (I know, you’re sick of me saying “Pinch me, I’m dreaming”, but I really must be now) has paused her work-load and agreed to talk to me for The Glass. I couldn’t be prouder to go in a different direction.
I am usually very picky about music, and I am very much so about certain genres when they are targeting a more general audience. Natalie MacMaster’s audiences are quite family-oriented, but her music has so much to offer that I’m not feeling like I’m watching her during a PBS pledge drive.
You will probably see every walk of life at her shows, and on top of this, you will see every walk of life dance as well. Possibly you will also dance.
I believe that the nuance of her joyfulness onstage is such a key element. Add to this her “crunchy” fiddling style, and you definitely have the makings of…a combination that works for me!
CM: The first time I saw you in concert was in Mar. 2008 at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA. Do you remember that gig by any chance?
NM: No, I don’t specifically remember that one, but usually those shows in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont–I’d pick them as the creme de la creme!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Yay! She loves New England!]
CM: Can you talk about the new CD Cape Breton Girl? It sounds like the more paired-down stuff that you do, like the Cape Breton dance party recordings.
NM: Yeah, that’s right. Of my eleven recordings, half of them are like that, and half of them are a little more progressive. It’s definitely a more traditional CD, that’s what I wanted it to be, and my number one goal, and only goal I suppose, is just to satisfy the pure Cape Breton fiddle enthusiasts, and I feel I’ve done that, so that’s great. It was a joy to make, it was a long time coming in that it took 3 years from start to finish, just because I didn’t work on it for 2 years. I’m expecting my fifth child!
CM: Wow, I can’t believe it’s going to be 5! I remember when it was 2! [both laugh]
NM: I know! So do I!
CM: I remember at your concert in MA in ’08 there was like a baby crying when you were talking to the audience, and you stopped for a second and you said, “Oh my God, I hope that’s not mine!”! [laughing]
NM: Yeah! That sounds like something I would say because it’d be true!
The Silver Spear (Live in Cape Breton, 2007)
CM: What is the difference between playing the paired-down traditional music vs. the more progressive sound with the full band?
NM: It depends on the mood. I always like a bit of both, although my number one love is my roots and the Cape Breton tradition, but I grew up with all different types of music. I’m attracted to playing with musicians in different genres. I play slightly different, even though I’m a Cape Breton fiddler and I don’t profess to play any other style. I do know that I’m musical enough that I will lean a certain way if need be for the sake of music. I don’t know what way that is–you can’t put a description on it, but it’s just a musical way of playing, so that the fiddling blends in better with the accompaniment, whether the arrangements are a bit more rock or a bit more Latin, or whatever.
CM: Can I ask you about your collaboration with Thomas Dolby? There’s a clip of you playing a song with him at a TED conference.
NM: I know the clip! That was done a number of years ago, and that was purely a pairing that maybe Thomas had something to do with, but I had nothing to do with. I think TED put that pairing together. I just met him there the first time, and we were in the same conference, so we decided I would accompany him–That’s how it happened, and from there, I recorded on one of the songs on his CD A Map of The Floating City. One of the reasons I love what I do is the opportunity to work with people I never thought I’d dream of. It creates music that your mind couldn’t come up with on its own.
Blue is a River (w/Thomas Dolby; TED Conference, circa 2003)
NM: I have a couple. I remember the first time I met Bela Fleck, I was so excited and nervous. It was at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival–He says, “Oh, yeah, Natalie MacMaster, you’re that girl with the crunchy fiddling!”. So he called my style “crunchy”! First of all, I was impressed he knew my stuff at all, and secondly, I’m wondering “Hmmm…is ‘crunchy’ a good thing or not?”. [laughs] Anyway, I sensed that he meant “crunchy” was a good thing, he just meant my style wasn’t too [refined].
CM: Yes, it has some raspiness to it!
NM: Yes! And Mark O’Connor–I just think the world of him and his music. I spent a lot of time with him at fiddle camp, and we did some gigs and recorded together. I haven’t actually touched base with Mark probably in four years. I used to teach at his camp every year, and once the children have come along, I haven’t been to the camp. I have such great fond memories of him, and anytime I think of Mark, I get really excited, because I remember being so fascinated with his band on recordings, and then I had the opportunity to go to his fiddle camp in Nashville for the first time, and it was like meeting a movie star for me. I couldn’t believe that was Mark O’Connor at fiddle camp!
CM: I love when you dance during the concerts, and especially when you do this while playing. Is this something that is hard for you, or is it something you can’t control?
NM: I wouldn’t go as far as to say I can’t control it, it’s definitely intentional, it’s thought out. Generally speaking, no, it’s not hard at all for me to do, but if I had to put a new step in, I couldn’t just do it off-the-cuff, I mean, I could, but I’d botch it up. It’s effortless for me to do, and I’ve been doing it for so long. If I go to change it, it’s not so easy to do that I can just change it on the fly, I’d have to work out something new.
CM: I love it when you spin the leg around at the end!
NM: That’s pure showmanship!
I think this is the Pretty Mary medley–different version of it. Boston, MA; date unknown
Natalie’s official website