A sister duo that have learned to raise their voices over the years are seeing their stars shine brighter as well, with four nominations in the upcoming Canadian Folk Music Awards.
The MacDonald sisters, known together simply as Cassie and Maggie, will be performing at the Beaton household in Qualicum Beach on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, they were steeped in a multi-generational musical tradition, said Cassie.
“We grew up in a very, very musical family in Nova Scotia, and you find that a lot with the families, if there is music at all in one generation, it generally gets passed down to the next generation of kids.”
In their case, their grandfather was a well-known fiddle player who passed down his knowledge. Now, Cassie and Maggie, as well as many of their cousins, are professional musicians.
“Sometimes we’ll meet up along the way on the road. It’s kind of like a little bit of a family reunion at every festival when we’re all together. It’s a lot of fun.”
With Cassie on fiddle and Maggie playing guitar, piano and providing the lead vocals, their music is influenced by the Scottish settlers who arrived in Nova Scotia in the 1700s — their ancestors.
While the two have been playing music together for much of their lives, they’ve been touring seriously for the past five years, and have released three albums, the newest of which — The Willow Collection — was released last November.
The biggest change in their music over those years has been introducing more and more singing, in both English and Gaelic.
“We started off as just an instrumental band, so Maggie would play piano and I’d play fiddle,” Cassie said.
As they were growing up, that’s what people wanted to hear, she said.
“You can go to concerts where we grew up and no one will even say a word. They won’t even introduce what they are going to play, so it will just be fiddle tunes and fiddle tunes and fiddle tunes for about two-and-a-half hours, and people, that’s what they love.”
But after touring the United States, they found there wasn’t the same connection to instrumental music, so they began singing a few songs here and there, and have grown to enjoy it.
Their singing in Gaelic is actually a mark of their generation’s renewed interest in their ancestry, said Cassie.
“Our ancestors, when they came to Nova Scotia, were fluent Gaelic speakers,” she said. “It sort of was lost in our grandfather’s generation, but it’s started making a resurgence now in our generation in looking to connect with the culture of the past. So it’s being taught in high schools now… and a lot of young people are really embracing the singing traditions as well.”
Gaelic singing appeals to the shared ancestry of much of their audience, Cassie said, and she feels it liberates other audience members as well — allowing them to enjoy the singing as its own instrument.
While Cassie and Maggie explain what the lyrics mean beforehand, there is much to enjoy regardless of comprehension.
“The Gaelic language itself is… a really beautiful language that has a natural musicality to it,” she said.
“A lot of the songs, the words function two ways — the lyrics are telling the story of the song, but they are also providing a bit of percussion. So you will find the lyrics, even if you don’t understand what is being said, you can really appreciate the cadence and the percussive nature of the words.
“Even when you’re not singing, when you’re carrying on a conversation, you can really tell that this language is so closely associated with the music that it inspires.”
Singing seems to be where it’s at for Cassie and Maggie, as they’ve just been nominated for four Canadian Folk Music Awards: traditional album of the year, vocal group of the year, ensemble of the year, and Maggie for traditional singer of the year.
With about two months to go before the awards event, Cassie and Maggie will be performing in Qualicum Beach at the Beaton residence on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by emailing Joyce Beaton at firstname.lastname@example.org.