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Pauline Lerner

Natalie MacMaster, Great Cape Breton Fiddler and Dancer

March 22, 2008 at 5:28 AM

I recently went to an exciting concert given by the great Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster with her small backup band. Natalie plays fiddle and step dances, sometimes at the same time. She has the energy of a three year old.

Some background: Cape Breton music is considered Celtic music, a descendant of Scottish music. Many people living in Cape Breton today are descendants of the Scottish highlanders who were thrown out of their homes and shipped to North America during the Clearances. They hung on to their native culture, especially their music. Since they had little contact with Scotland, their music evolved in its own way, and now it is a genre of its own. The stomping of the fiddler’s feet is considered a rhythmic accompaniment. The players and dancers wear a special kind of shoes that go “clomp” like tap shoes. Sometimes the album cover of a recording has something like this: Person 1, fiddle; person 2, guitar; person 3, feet.

Natalie’s playing was technically perfect, including lots of runs of fast notes, and always exciting. The tune that I especially liked was Reel O’ Tulloch with seven variations. I bought a book of Scottish music by J. Scott Skinner largely because of this piece. My favorite variation is one which has lots of fast crossings from the G string to the E string and back. I can play the tune and all its variations, but not nearly as fast as Natalie does.

I hope you like this video from youtube. She was much better in person.

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