A Celtic Family Virtual Christmas 2020
I was thoroughly entertained right from the moment 2-year-old Maria and 9-year old Alec greeted us at the front door of the Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy’s Douro home on December 11th. As we proceeded inside, the home was lit with warm, friendly, and familiar Celtic sounds as we saw Alec jump right into his spot never missing a beat as he joined the other 5 children already in progress.
Donnell and Natalie welcomed us saying, “hello Capitol Centre North Bay, thanks for joining us in our home, and thanks so much for buying a ticket. Welcome to our home, we are thrilled to have you here. For years Natalie, we’ve been taking our home to the stage and now we’re bringing our stage to our home.”
Natalie shared, “I am really amazed that we are able to do this, to play music in these times and to continue to do what we do. It’s been awesome and thank you very much for joining us. We are going to have a great night.” Merry Christmas to you, as Natalie asks Donnell, “will we play some tunes?” Donnell eagerly replies, “some fiddle tunes, well let’s get at it!” as they join their excited and raring to go kids with fiddles in hand. Natalie asks, “does anyone know the names of these tunes?” The children in unison started to rhyme off, “The King George Medley, Put Me In A Box (in a Big Chest), and Living in Liverpool!” Natalie asked the kids, “do you like Ontario fiddle tunes or Cape Breton tunes?” and full of humor their eldest daughter Mary Frances Rose responded, “depends on who is asking?” (much laughter occured). That set the fun tone for the evening. Their first Christmas ditty was Joy to The World and man did they make it their own, featuring the world-renowned fiddling sensations, Natalie and Donnell and their eldest son Michael kicked the tune off on guitar, sharing an upbeat version of this classic. Natalie did a Cape Breton blast with a thrilling medley as she commented that, “these songs are about 100 years old and I have been playing for 40 years as well, I’ve been playing these tunes for 35 of those 40 years and these tunes never lose their flare.”
Clare and Julia did some baking, making their family favorites including their Grama’s famous coconut balls, along with some sugar cookies, and chocolate treats as baby Maria sang Jingle Bells.
Their fleshes of melodies seeped deep into your brain straight down to your feet, as toes were tapping.
This, for me, was one of the most intriguing and rousing showcases I have witnessed of them live. They perfected treasures drenched so rich in complexity yet, so tranquil mixed with nonstop fun, a superb introspective delight. Each piece was a work of instrumental genius that blended in the right measure of ancient with a futuristic feel, totally the most compellingly up close and personal I have seen of their shows to date. They wore their hearts upon their sleeves and you could clearly see it upon their cheerful and sunny dispositioned faces that each tune was embroidered with tons of love, teamwork, passion, and faith. To see these amazing children thoroughly enjoying music and adoring their parents, was a brilliant pictorial of their symphonic and poetic human spirit. This 9 piece family unit, totally oozed dedication to their crafts, so extremely inspiring. Their defining characters shared some insightful narratives and talent beyond their years. Their family histories were musically displayed by way of Gaelic singing, Celtic step dance, each with their own artistic storytelling ways. They gathered sharing thoughts, feelings, and memories as they viewed their old home movies captured when the kids were small, giving us glimpses into their huge hearts. This experience was a breath of fresh air, showing even in the scariest or darkest of COVID-19 times, there can be beauty found in every day. Their stupendous talents were woven with elements that elevated as they captured with ease some in-depth moments infused with pure emotion.
Natalie MacMaster shared, “we are home and we have our family, and that’s awesome but, we do miss the power of the team, our touring band. So we are going to do a few tunes with our band which features Mark Kelso on drums from Toronto, Elmer Ferrer on guitar from Toronto, Remi Arsenault on bass from PEI, and on the piano from Cape Breton, Mac Moren. We have the technology folks, we can do it, we can bring them here!” Donnell said, “so we are gonna wind ’em up and let er go, here is Angels We Have Heard On High!” Another mind-blowing Celtic version of a Christmas classic, wow, now that was stellar!!! It put a smile upon my face and flooded my heart with happiness. Thanks for this enchantment you brought into our lives and for filling our minds so full of mirth and merriment, you are truly a definitive bright light this season.
Donnell then played a classical Fritz Crysler tune that he loves but doesn’t play enough. He was joined on piano by his eldest daughter Mary Frances and eventually accompanied by Tim Edey on guitar, all the way from Scotland, as the song turned into a reel. They also spoiled us with Donnell’s hit The Chase, from their 2015’s ONE album.
Each child got to express their talents whether performing on fiddle, guitar, piano, accordion, shaker, cajone, step dancing, or singing. Mary Frances projected a combined piece which featured a jig her mom taught her, and a reel her dad taught her, all the while dad was on the cajone with mom on piano.
The parts of the show that stuck out most in my mind was the one-of-a-kind moments where Mary Frances perfected on the baby grand piano, as dad injected on the fiddle, while mom, Michael, Clare, Julia, and Alec, engaged us with a traditional Gaelic Milling Frolic, as they sang and kept time while imitating the softening of a blanket as they surrounded the piano.
Natalie eagerly jumped back and forth between fiddle and piano as Donnell did the same between fiddle or cajon. Didn’t take long to see that their compelling and explicit musical genes were handed down to their accomplished 6 children. 15-year-old eldest daughter Mary Frances was back and forth between keys, piano, fiddle, dancing, and singing, eldest 14-year-old son Michael was on fiddle, accordion, guitar, cajone, singing or step dancing, as 12-year-old Clare and 10-year-old Julia both performed on fiddle, or step danced and sang. Then youngest son, 9-year-old Alec, switched up between fiddle, shaker, cajone, dancing, and singing while
This led into an emotionally charged up rendition of the world’s most famous Christmas song, What Child Is This, performed by the Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy’s full band once again, to which I captured a sample on video, that sadly will not allow me to upload.
As the whole family cuddled up on their couch, Donnell shared, “we are close to the end of our little night here and we thank you very much for dropping in on us. We really appreciate the gift of music and we really, now during these times, appreciate being able to play music. So we’ve had a great reason to play tonight as this has given us a chance to play as a family, work together, and we thank you so much for coming out!”
Natalie stated, “yes, it gives you a reason to remember what you love to do and to do it. To feel alive and invigorated and excited about something, really has been fantastic. Thank you all very much for coming and joining us here tonight, for coming to our home and the show tonight. We are never this behaved and never this dressed up, but I’m loving it, let’s do it again tomorrow night! In the spirit of Christmas, we wish you all happiness and the joy that the season brings. We hope you are all happy and safe as best as we can be. We have to stay positive as we are all connected by love, and we are all human beings in the same boat together, and the boat gets rocky at times but it will not overturn, and we’ll make it to the other shore real soon. So God bless you all and Merry Christmas to you.” Donnell concured by saying, “Good night and thank you,” as son Michael strummed the guitar leading into Go Tell It On The Mountain, while Mary Frances jumped in on piano, as the younger 3 siblings, Clare, Julia, and Alec took turns singing verses atop the coffee table. The song creatively turned into yet another Christmas staple, Up On The Housetop, with just the right measure of singing and dancing, it left me wishing that all families could be like this!
The entire family popped back on as Natalie stated, “we did it, we did our show. Oh my goodness, thank you all very very much for joining in, we really had a wonderful time creating this for you and we hope you enjoyed it. There are so many great people involved in making this and we are going to get into the big thank you list, but before we do, we want to announce that we are giving away a trip to Cape Breton Island.
Anyone who bought a ticket to this show has a chance to enter to win. It includes a trip for 2, 7 nights accommodations, 7-day car rental, plus $500 in tickets to the Celtic Color Fest in October 2021.” “Should you decide not to go then, you will receive tickets to shows that are on when you go,” says Donnell. Natalie added, “there’s also the bundle as well, so if you want to find out about that, just go over to our website and learn more.”
Donnell reminded us as he stated, “yes, also we put together a merch bundle consisting of a CD, a DVD of our live Christmas show, tea towels, and fiddle cloths, and we want to thank our band, wonderful people and phenomenal musicians who travel with us all over.” Alec said, “we like to thank Remi Arsenault on bass,” as Julia shared, “thank you to Elmer Ferrer on guitar,” while Clare shared, “thank you to Mark Kelso on drums,” and Michael said, “thank you to Mac Moren on piano,” while Mary Frances said, “there are so many people, we want to thank all the people that are so great behind the scenes and that helped us with this show like Kate Elliott, Leoni Corcrett and Robin Jenkins.”
Donnell said, “We wish to thank the crew that works hard, Matthew Berk, Matthew Merrick, Steven Ziddlemen, Ken Freezing, Bent Netherley, and Ross Curry, and all the teams at Isilive, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Natalie shared, “most importantly we want to thank all of you, as it’s Christmas time, it upon us, and it’s incredible. It’s a time to be grateful for all the great things because there is lots around if you choose to see it. We honestly wish you the joy, peace, and love that is part of Christmas as we are so grateful. From our family to yours,” (in unison) the family said, “Merry Christmas and Good-night.”
This production illuminated my soul. Thanks for fueling our hearts with exceptionally expressive beauty, filled with color, and warmth of this season. Your zest refreshed, striking a nice balance inside a bouquet of inner flavor. This was one magical, merry, and bright musical that truly lit my stamina, and gave me hope for a brighter 2021. Hurry, don’t delay folks, you can still get a ticket and view this spectacular show up until Dec 31st, you won’t be disappointed as this festive finishing touch and beautiful gift of cascading songs will illuminate your life. https://www.natalieanddonnell.com/shows
Also, you get to enjoy December 2020’s interview with Natalie and Deb https://www.seeingshowswithdebdraper.com/live-music-reviews/december-interview-with-consummate-grammy-juno-ccma-east-coast-music-gemini-celtic-fiddle-awarded-and-douro-townships-gemstone-natalie-macmaster