Nova Scotia artists Cassie and Maggie will play an evening of Celtic-inspired folk music at Knox United Church in Parksville on Jan. 28.
The Juno-nominated MacDonald siblings have been making music together for most of their lives and grew up in musical family.
“Between arguing when we were little, I feel like that’s a form of music in some way,” Cassie MacDonald said with a laugh. She added the concept of getting along contributes a great deal to the way they make music together now.
Cassie and Maggie, who play fiddle and guitar, are working on a new album, inspired by letters written during the Gold Rush era and at the height of coal mining in places like Nova Scotia.
“We’ve been taking love letters from people who have been on either side of both of those traditions and putting them to music,” MacDonald said.
The letters, found in online databases, feature people writing to their sweethearts back home, after heading west to seek their fortune. They found the letters revealed how much human nature stays the same, over the centuries.
“For me what the most interesting aspect of that is nothing’s really changed,” MacDonald said. “We think of ‘ghosting’ as a new concept, but actually it’s very prevalent.”
She said reading between the lines indicated the writers were having a great time, with no intention of coming home anytime soon, despite the physical challenges of work such as gold mining.
Cassie and Maggie will give Parksville a sneak peak of some of the new songs, put to music with an upbeat tempo and groove.
The duo were influenced by their grandfather, celebrated fiddler Hugh MacDonald, who became on one of the first Nova Scotian recording artists when he visited a Montreal studio in 1935.
Hugh was a farmer by trade, but despite his long work days, was always happy to play his music for friends, coworkers and neighbours, accompanied by his wife, a talented pianist.
“She always described those nights like he would be exhausted after coming in late and taking in the hay and eight children to look after,” MacDonald said. “He would never begrudge the music to anybody. It seems like it was quite a party house.”
She and Maggie are thankful to have not only Hugh’s professional recordings, but also recordings from the parties.
“He was so giving of his talent and our grandmother would often say, ‘oh we wanted to have a date night’,” MacDonald said. “But there would be somebody who would be like ‘oh could you play here at our wedding?’”
Hugh passed away before Cassie and Maggie were born, but they understand their grandfather’s attitude was he should share his talent with others.
Their concerts include singing Gaelic, a language spoken regularly by the grandparents, but less so by their parents.
“Within a generation it became a secondary priority, so our parents didnt speak it growing up,” she said. “It’s a beautiful language and very rhythmic.”
The melodies will still resonate, even if the audience does not understand the language, MacDonald added.
After two years of livestreaming virtual performances, she said they don’t take a live audience for granted. Keeping music festivals going through the pandemic brought a sense of community between artists as they made the best of a less than ideal situation.
“Every person who chooses to come out and buy a ticket — you want to honour that decision and make it as much as a transcendental experience as you can.”
Cassie and Maggie will tour the west coast, starting in Washington State, then making stops across B.C. and into Alberta. Their upcoming album, yet to be named, will be released in the fall, with a soft launch over the summer.
Tickets are $25 for the Jan. 28 show at Knox United Church (345 Pym St) and can be purchased at Parksville retailers Close to You Ladies Fashions and Fireside Books, as well as online at Eventbrite.
The show starts at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
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