Cassie and Maggie MacDonald perform in Harrisburg, November 13th

With a level of talent surpassed only by the joy they show in sharing music from Nova Scotia, siblings Cassie and Maggie MacDonald appear in a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, at Appalachian Brewing Company’s Abbey Bar, 50 N. Cameron Street, Harrisburg. Celtic fiddle, piano, vocals and step dance will be featured. This is a sit-down concert in a listening-room cassie-maggie-promo-2014environment.

Born to a Nova Scotia family with a rich musical heritage, the MacDonald sisters have used their upbringing as a springboard for their own brand of Celtic roots music. Among their honors are 2015 Live Ireland Radio New Group of the Year, 2015 Chicago Irish-American News Emerging Artist Album of the Year, Independent Music Awards nominee for World Song of the Year, Canadian Folk Music Award nominees for Young Performers of the Year, two-time East Coast Music Award nominees for traditional album and trad/roots group album, and double Music Nova Scotia Award nominees for new artist and roots album of the year.

Their newest CD is called “The Willow Collection”.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $18 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

I got a chance to speak to Cassie MacDonald about their music, which in a large part has been passed down through family traditions, and their efforts to preserve and keep vital the Celtic music from their region.

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FOLKMAMA: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what audiences should expect when they come to a Cassie and Maggie MacDonald concert.

CASSIE: Maggie and I are sisters and we come from a small town in Nova Scotia that was populated by Scottish people who came over in the 1700s. Northern Nova Scotia, where we come from, is still very much entrenched in that heritage although the music has really taken on a life of its own after it was brought over from Scotland.

There are a lot of young people, ourselves included, who are really taking those traditions and bringing something fresh to it. I play the fiddle and Maggie plays piano and guitar and we both sing as well. We are also both [step] dancers, which we think of as another element of percussion—an instrument almost.

So there will be the instrumentals that we are really known for across the globe and also vocals in both English and the Gaelic language that we have in Nova Scotia. It’s sort of an interesting dialect; kind of between the Scottish Gaelic and the Irish Gaelic. It’s really grown and evolved in its own way. Especially in the music, there are a lot of beautiful songs that use this special dialect.

Visually it’s just the two of us but we bring a lot to the table with Maggie’s instrumentalist background on piano and guitar and the fiddle playing and of course the dancing. There is never a dull moment! We have a lot of fun.

FOLKMAMA: Tell us about the repertoire. How much of it is traditional and how much contemporary?

CASSIE: Everything that we do is based in tradition –that provides the bedrock of what we do. But we have really taken it to a new place. We try to balance the traditional tunes with contemporary arrangements. Of course we are doing a lot from our newest album which is more contemporary. So we try to maintain a balance with old music, but present it in a fresh way.

FOLKMAMA: I’m really impressed with how BIG your sound is! It’s a bit unexpected for a duo.

CASSIE: We actually get that comment quite a bit. It just comes of out the kind of music that we play. It’s naturally very energetic. Maggie’s style of accompaniment is very, very full. She almost takes the place of a percussionist and a bass player. So she’s really covering a lot of bases with her accompaniment. And my style of playing is quite bold, not aggressive but very full I would say.

Our style of music, what we grew up with, was always playing for dances. And most of the time there wasn’t a really reliable sound system. But the dancers were still there wanting to give it their all, so you had to find a way to really fill up that sound so they could hear the beat and the rhythm in the tune and it wouldn’t get lost in the big dance hall.

FOLKMAMA: How does the music that you play differ from the Acadian and Quebecois music also found in Canada?

CASSIE: These traditions all have a lot of Scottish influences, and even in the Cape Breton music that we pay there is also a lot of French influence. The boundaries are kind of blurred and we’re always trading ideas back and forth.

I think if you wanted to understand the differences, it really would come down to the style of dancing. That’s what really drives traditional music from Nova Scotia—the dancing. Also, the foot percussion that is a defining feature of Acadian and Quebecois music isn’t really found so much in the Cape Breton style.

FOLKMAMA: I’ve visited Nova Scotia and it seems like in many families there are family members playing music together. How important has family connection been to you?

CASSIE: In our case what has really driven our whole career is that history of family music. When we play we always play a least a couple of set that our grandfather had recorded and would have played himself. And we always try to keep his personal sound alive because it was very unique and very special and we’re so lucky to have that legacy.

Both Maggie and I feel this intense responsibility to keep our family music alive, although we do play a lot of contemporary music and we’ve been honing our own individual sound.

FOLKMAMA: Do you feel that you sing together better because you are siblings?

CASSIE: Actually, singing is relativity new to us. We grew up in such a rich instrumental tradition with so many fiddle players in our family; singing wasn’t really part of the equation. So we’ve been on a journey ourselves to really discover, with our vocals, what we want to bring to the tradition ourselves.

FOLKMAMA: Why is the style of music so distinctive in Nova Scotia?

CASSIE: A lot of people have looked into that. Not just in Nova Scotia but in all the Maritime Provinces.  It was a very isolated but we also had a lot of people traveling on the sea; a lot of fishermen. So we did have influences from different cultures who may have planted little seeds here and there. For the most part the isolation has been a big part of keeping the traditions very pure.

A lot of the first settlers that came from Scotland weren’t concert musicians, they were farmers or fishermen. If they were musicians they weren’t necessarily classically trained, but they were there to provide entertainment and they were there for dancing. Because it’s dance music it has that intrinsic rhythm. You can’t keep your feet still!

 

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