As the 45-year-old mother of seven home-schooled children living on a working farm, and juggling her touring and recording, MacMaster has learned to plan for prayer and plan for music. Photo courtesy of Natalie MacMaster

'It's the Lord, working through the music,' Catholic fiddler Natalie MacMaster says

  • February 16, 2018
Natalie MacMaster, husband Donnell Leahy and their children perform at the 2016 Eastlink East Coast Music Awards. EastlinkTV/Youtube
Whether or not St. Thomas Aquinas really said “he who sings prays twice,” it’s true.

At the 50th annual Ontario Prayer Breakfast, musician and fiddle legend Natalie MacMaster will be on hand to demonstrate how music and prayer occupy common territory in the human mind.

She backs off any suggestion her Feb. 21 appearance before provincial and city politicians at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre Hotel will be in the role of spiritual master.

“I’m not a person to be purposefully inspiring. I don’t intend to inspire,” she told The Catholic Register from Wisconsin as she went through sound checks for a Valentine’s Day concert.

“All I can offer is a sharing that this is my way of living; this is what works for me, based on how I was moulded. I’m passing my experiences on to you through music and a little bit of chat. I always say, it’s never me who inspires. It’s the Lord, working through the music.”

But to hear music you first have to be quiet, attentive and ready to receive whatever comes. The state of mind necessary for contemplation, for prayer and for music is increasingly rare in our world, MacMaster said.

“We’re living in a world where there’s a hundred million things you could be doing with your time,” she said. “It’s all around you. It’s at your fingertips.”

It isn’t just the options and apps on our cellphones or the endless choices on Netflix. It is preferring distraction over quiet, diversion over keen attention and contemplation.

“There’s a problem with finding the necessary headspace for any activity that requires thought,” MacMaster said.

“Whether it’s for something simple or trying to write music, create music, even talk about music — or whether it be prayer life — it’s all very, very, very difficult. You just have to persevere and try to find creative ways.”

As the 45-year-old mother of seven home-schooled children living on a working farm, and juggling her touring and recording, MacMaster has learned to plan for prayer and plan for music.

“Music and music related topics were constantly in my every day for decades,” she said. “And then I got married and had the first of seven children. So it slowly takes on a new evolution. I would say my day is divided between my mind as a musician and my heart as a mother.”

Growing up in Cape Breton, MacMaster simply claimed the time and space for music and prayer as her birthright. As a mother, she now works to ensure her children cultivate those habits of mind.

“We don’t have daily rosary, but we try to get at least a couple in every week. They (the children) are good at praying on their own. I try to encourage the kids,” she said. “We have a little chapel (on their farm near Lakefield, Ont.), so I try to encourage them to just go in there. Every day it’s on their list of things to do, just go in there whether it’s 30 seconds or two minutes and just say a prayer.”

Natalie and Donnell’s Celtic Family Christmas Tour 2017 //? photos by Thom Adorney

A post shared by Macmaster & Leahy (@nataliemacmaster_donnellleahy) on

MacMaster looks forward to the prayer breakfast for Ontario’s political elite as something quite different than an exercise in political marketing.

“Whatever happens during the prayer breakfast meeting, it’s just people being open,” she said. “If God inspires their hearts — it could be through me, it could be through one of the children, it could be just an enlightenment that God gives them while someone else is speaking, it might be just the moment — you want people in life generally to be inspired. So, we’ll hope for good things like that.”

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