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Fiddle legends bring Christmas tour to Vancouver Island

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy — with seven kids in tow — have arranged five dates on Vancouver Island for their Celtic Family Christmas
Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. REBEKAH LITTLEJOHN


Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Nov. 22, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $46-$177.25 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or

Note: MacMaster and Leahy also perform at the Port Theatre (Nanaimo) on Nov. 19, the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre (Duncan) on Nov. 20, and the Sid Williams Theatre (Courtenay) on Nov. 21

Touring across Canada in November and December with seven young children along for the ride? That’s sure to sap the Christmas spirit from even the most ardent Santa supporter.

Not so for fiddler Natalie MacMaster, who has trekked from coast to coast each winter with her husband, fiddler Donnell Leahy, and seven children for the better part of 10 years. She views the family’s annual A Celtic Family Christmas tour with a glass-half-full approach.

Road life is easy compared to her normal day-to-day regimen. “A couple of months ago when we were juggling everything, we put our muscle into designing the show and figuring out what we were doing and how we were going to do it,” MacMaster said. “But now that it is all rehearsed and practised and put together, it’s like pushing play.”

A Celtic Family Christmas spans 23 dates in Canada through Dec. 22. MacMaster and Leahy have arranged five dates on Vancouver Island, including Tuesday at the Royal Theatre, which will re-introduce audiences to their two oldest children, Mary Frances, 16, who plays piano and fiddle on the tour, and their son, Michael, 15, who plays accordion and guitar. More family members will join MacMaster and Leahy for future dates, but due to a variety of factors, some children have stayed behind for the Western Canada run. Not all of the children perform, but every member of the immediate family (including Clare, 13; Julia, 11; Alec, 10; and Sadie, eight) is involved in the production in some way, MacMaster said.

MacMaster is enjoying the relative silence while she has to opportunity to do so. Life on the couple’s farm in Douro, Ont., is incredibly busy, MacMaster said. “I’ve got nothing to do out here on the road. No cooking, no cleaning, not even any parenting. There’s no driving kids to hockey or gymnastics. I feel like I’m on a vacation.”

While some fans will miss seeing the little ones on stage, MacMaster said the show has strengths all its own. When the young kids perform, they usually just do a brief segment. The two oldest children have more time on stage at the moment, which is a nice opportunity for them, the two-time Juno Award winner said. When the youngsters get older, they will occupy the same roles. Everyone will have their turn, MacMaster added.

“It’s another version of us at the moment, and pulls out different things. There is no one way to do anything. There are multiple ways that provide new options and joys that you couldn’t have imagined.”

MacMaster and Leahy have been described as the first couple of contemporary Celtic music, with Leahy coming from a ­celebrated family band of 11 brothers and sisters, and ­MacMaster hailing from a family tree that includes Buddy MacMaster and Ashley MacIsaac. The music they created apart from each other, prior to being married in 2002, was hugely successful from a commercial standpoint, but there are other rewards from playing together as a family, according to MacMaster. The family is creating new traditions with A Celtic Family Christmas. “There were no Christmas tunes at Christmas parties in my town,” MacMaster, who is from tiny Troy, Nova Scotia, said. “It was just fiddlers. The Christmas spirit was alive and well, but you didn’t hear one Christmas song.”

Her children were raised with contemporary songs as their seasonal soundtrack, many of which (Jingle Bell Rock, Good King Wenceslas, Angels We Have Heard On High, Joy to the World, and others) appear in the show. “We adjust the music to accommodate the season,” MacMaster said. “The night definitely has the Christmas element in an obvious way, but there is a deeper meaning of Christmas music for us, which runs throughout the night.”

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