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On Center: Canadian Christmas

by on October 25, 2012 1:12 PM

The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State marked the yuletide two years ago with fiddler Natalie MacMaster’s festive Christmas in Cape Breton. On November 29 the center once again celebrates the holiday in a Celtic Canadian way, but this time the music flows from an exuberant folk-rock-pop band featuring extraordinary bow wrangler Donnell “Mr. Natalie MacMaster” Leahy and seven of his ten siblings.

In its Eisenhower Auditorium debut, Leahy (pronounced LAY-he) performs a triple threat of fiddle-driven music, dance, and vocals — augmented by keyboards, guitar, and percussion — influenced by the family’s Irish and Scottish ancestry.

Leahy musicians — Donnell plus Erin, Angus, Maria, Siobheann, Doug, Denise, and Frank — are renowned for their intensity on stage.

“Their live performance makes Riverdance look like Lawrence Welk reruns,” quips a Time Out New York reviewer. The band’s “ferocious and extremely energetic works gain momentum through plenty of acoustic instruments,” writes a Chicago Sun-Times critic.

The band’s Christmas concert highlights holiday favorites, original seasonal pieces, and the inclusive Leahy fare that has made the band one of Canada’s most appealing exports.

Leahy’s “approach seems so gloriously free of the commercial pollution of so much American pop that it felt like a tonic for the spirit,” writes a Los Angeles Times reviewer. “ … This is an act whose music is invigorating.”

The raven-haired Leahys grew up, without a television, on a farm in Ontario. Their father educated each in the ways of the fiddle, while their mother, a champion step dancer from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, taught them to sing, dance, and play the piano.

Their compelling life story became the subject of The Leahys: Music Most of All, an Oscar-winning documentary. The band also has been featured on three PBS specials.

A yearning to explore new sounds drew the musicians to a variety of genres and instruments. Leahy members continue to forge new paths with the group’s category-defying music, yet their Celtic-Canadian roots forever anchor them.

The band has released five albums and earned three Juno Awards — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards — for Best New Group, Best Instrumental Artist, and Best Country Group or Duo.

After seeing a Leahy performance, a Buffalo News reviewer shared a common reaction to the music and dance of the Canadian clan. “They were fresh, vibrant, and engaging.”

Foxdale Village, A Quaker-Directed Continuing Care Retirement Community, sponsors the performance. FOX 8, ABC 23, and 3WZ 95.3 FM are the media sponsors.

For more information or tickets, visit www.cpa.psu.edu or phone (814) 863-0255.



John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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