What: A Celtic Christmas with Natalie MacMaster (and the Victoria Symphony)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Royal Theatre
Tickets: Sold out
For Celtic fiddler Natalie MacMaster, decorating the family Christmas tree happens through good deeds.
The Cape Bretoner, who lives with her husband Donnell Leahy in Ontario, said they teach their five children that the Christmas spirit is about more than opening presents through creative crafts.
“We try and spiritually prepare our hearts for the big day,” said MacMaster, who is Roman Catholic.
That means putting their own twist on the Advent calendar in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“We try and do a good deed every day and we write them down on a little strip of paper. And then we make a paper chain from that and use it to decorate the tree,” she said.
This week, it meant Michael let his sister Clare watch Shrek, when he wanted to watch Lassie. The moment is now immortalized, at least for this season, as part of the decorative chain.
MacMaster, 41, returns to Victoria for a holiday concert Saturday night with the Victoria Symphony. Although she is used to bringing her whole brood on stage, this will be one of about 50 concerts in the year’s 100 that she hits the road solo. There aren’t too many professional musicians who can handle having one child on tour, let alone five aged eight and under, but MacMaster makes it sound like a piece of cake.
“Usually, if we’re on tour with a tour bus, then absolutely, the kids are coming,” she said.
Both MacMaster and Leahy grew up in musical families so it seems natural that they would keep their children involved. MacMaster is a niece of famed Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster and cousin to both Ashley MacIsaac and Andrea Beaton. And Leahy cut his teeth alongside seven of his 10 siblings in the folk band that took their surname.
But for MacMaster, welcoming their children onstage is less about encouraging them in a certain direction, careerwise, than it is about keeping them connected to their roots.
“I desperately want them all to be musical and to love music and to play music, just for their own formation of person,” she said. “We grew up like that and I see the value in it. That’s our culture. So I want them to continue that, whether or not they become professional musicians.”
The logistics of touring with kids changes as they age and the family grows, but the routine is largely the same: Hop on the bus and get to the next town. Sometimes it’s a two-hour drive, sometimes it’s eight hours. But in almost every case, it ends with a family sleepover on the bus — even if it’s parked in front of a hotel.
“It’s just easier and you’ll get a better sleep if you just sleep on the bus,” she said.
The distance to Victoria, unfortunately, is too long to drive for just a weekend show. So on this trip, the kids will most likely all stay at home.
But even if she heads out solo, she won’t be alone: MacMaster is pregnant with baby No. 6 due in April. Everyone knows a few martyr parents — the ones who make sure everyone around them knows how difficult their lives have become since having children — but MacMaster certainly isn’t one of them.
“It doesn’t really affect [my performance] at all,” she said.
When she was pregnant with Julia, who is now two, she said she was still dancing onstage less than two weeks before the birth.
“I wouldn’t necessarily do that again,” she said, before pausing. “I mean, I don’t know, I probably would, I’m weird like that.”
But she said she would never do any physical activity that would put her children at risk.
“I just judge my body. If I feel like I can do it, I do it. It’s not like I’m jumping as much as I would be if I didn’t have a baby in me,” she said. “But it just depends on the pregnancy.”
MacMaster said she’s looking forward to the change of pace that comes with trading her band for an orchestra.
She likened it to the difference between a speedboat and a luxury cruise. And she said she also always enjoys the new audience that comes with symphony shows — it’s an opportunity introduce symphony loyalists to Celtic tunes.
There’s always a chance she’ll bring one of her children on a distant tour date like this, for some quality time. But if she and Leahy decide it’s better for the kids to stay home, she said she’ll look forward to some time alone.
“If I know the right decision is made, then I savour my moments.”