The reel world 

Natalie MacMaster studied at a teacherís college in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"The reason I got a teaching degree was for something to fall back on," the renowned Celtic fiddling virtuoso says. "I went on with further education, hoping Iíd never have to use it."

Indeed, it seems the only thing her diploma will do is continue to gather dust. After several recordings, numerous awards and world-wide tours, her future in music seems assured.

MacMaster, 32, is the headliner for the 14th Annual Tara Feis, which features Irish music, dance, childrenís entertainment, food and more. It will be held Saturday, March 12 in Robert Emmet Park on Bay Street. All events and stage performances are free.

Always held the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day, Tara Feis is sponsored by the Savannah Department of Cultural Affairs. It is co-chaired by Bernadette Winters and Mike Beytagh.

The festival will open at 11 a.m. in a ceremony presided over by city and county representatives. MacMaster will perform at the Main Stage twice during the day, at noon and again at 3:45 p.m.

Harry OíDonoghue will be the master of ceremonies, and will present his own unique style of Irish music and humor at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Other scheduled performers include the Pride of Ireland Dancers, who will perform at 1:15 p.m. and the Savannah Irish Dancers, who will perform at 2:45 p.m.

There also will be performances at the Children's Stage, including the Irish Marionette Circus of Conrad Hartz. There will be traditional Irish crafts and amusement rides, and food from Barnes Restaurant will be available for purchase.

MacMaster is looking forward to her visit to Savannah. "It's a lot warmer there," she says.

Now a resident of Ontario, MacMaster is a native of Cape Breton Island, which lies in the Atlantic Ocean at the eastern extreme of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is legendary for its many noted Celtic musicians, singers and dancers, and its devotion to traditional music.

Residents of Cape Breton still gather to play the traditional music that was brought there from Ireland and Scotland by the islandís earliest settlers. "It's got a lot to do with the fact that music is deeply rooted in people," MacMaster says. "Cape Breton has a long history and tradition in music.

"Cape Bretoners are community minded, community spirited," she says. "They have a great sense of humor. They are also nuts about fiddle music.

"Now that I've seen the world, I appreciate where and what I came from," MacMaster says. "My parents are absolutely beautiful people. They are the epitome of a Cape Breton couple -- loving and accepting, encouraging and strong."

MacMaster grew up listening to Celtic music. "My mom taught me to step-dance when I was 5," she says. "I was playing some of the tunes on the piano at the same age."

Although MacMaster loved fiddle music, the fiddles that were in her home were too large for her to play. Her life changed forever when a relative in Boston sent a child-sized fiddle.

The niece of famed fiddler Buddy MacMaster, she quickly became a major talent in her own right. By the time she finished high school, MacMaster was playing at clubs, parties and festivals on weekends.

MacMaster has performed with several symphony orchestras, which she says is a thrilling experience "It's a whole other dimension -- a speedboat versus a luxury cruise liner," she says.

Throughout her career, MacMaster has performed with some of worldís top entertainers. "The Chieftains were a lot of fun," she says. "They are very spirited. When I opened for Carlos Santana, I broke a string."

Santana told MacMaster she always needed to carry a spare. "Ever since that day, I travel with two fiddles," she says.

In Savannah, MacMaster will be performing songs from her newest CD, which is expected to be released in the fall. Her previous CD is Blueprint, which was released in 2003.

Celtic music is beloved around the world, so MacMaster is likely to be working for a long, long time. "It's an old music," she says. "It came from a real place and it has carried people through good times to bad."


The 14th Annual Tara Feis features Irish music, dance, childrenís entertainment, food and more, and will be held Saturday, March 12 in Robert Emmet Park on Bay Street. All events and stage performances are free.



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Linda Sickler

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