Sometimes, it’s hard to keep our focus on the present.
This is especially true during the holidays, a time that has a tendency to spark memories of holidays past. And since life and its circumstances are always changing, it’s easy to be homesick for yesteryear.
Natalie MacMaster is no stranger to this feeling. The virtuosic fiddler from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, sometimes thinks back on years before she had children, when international touring was simpler.
“Sometimes you can take it negatively and think, ‘I wish,’ or you can take it positively and say ‘Wasn’t that awesome?,’ ” MacMaster says. “ ‘I had that. That was part of my life. And now look around me, look what I have now. Now I have this too?’ It doesn’t just stay the same. It doesn’t just be about that goodness. It’s about this new goodness.”
She carries that mindset in her approach to Christmas, too.
“Every year has its own unique flair, and instead of longing for what we had, it’s good to think, ‘Oh, we get this, too,’ ” MacMaster says.
One of the things we get this year: MacMaster and her husband of 17 years, fiddler Donnell Leahy, on tour with their seven children. Most of the kids will join them onstage. The show, “A Celtic Family Christmas,” visits Millersville University’s Winter Center on Thursday.
MacMaster started playing the fiddle at age 9, and was just 16 when she released her first album. She released her 15th studio album, “Sketches,” on Nov. 1.
While it’s tempting to be home during December, it’s just not how MacMaster celebrates.
“I’m used to not being around in December, and I actually have grown quite fond of it,” MacMaster says. “I enjoy that the anticipation is more like, you know when you get home it is actually upon you. Christmas is upon you. ... You get to start in the fun.”
This year, audiences get a closer look into the MacMaster-Leahy family’s Christmas celebrations at home. The concert will include video clips from the family’s television Christmas special, including shots of them decorating the tree, baking cookies and opening gifts.
Just as Christmas is ever-changing, so is the family’s live Christmas show. This year, there are a few new songs and dances. A highlight for MacMaster is also a special moment for her daughter Claire. Claire, who will turn 11 in February, will play the fiddle as a video of MacMaster performing at age 11 plays behind her.
“The two of us will basically be the same age playing music together,” MacMaster says.
While there is some singing in the program, many selections are instrumental, showcasing the family’s fiddle prowess. You’ll hear recognizable melodies of classic Christmas songs, but they’ll have a slightly different flavor than a standard rendition.
“It’s played with a Celtic finesse,” MacMaster says. “The grace notes, the cuts, the embellishments on the bowing and the fingering — it’s got that little Celtic flair.”
And, while MacMaster is very much focused on the present, she enjoys that the show has elements that hearken back to yesteryear, like a family of their size connecting through music.
“We’re embracing so many different ways of living and of family and relationships this day and age. It’s also good to remember the old-fashioned things, which are still great, and they have their value too,” MacMaster says.
Of course, getting on the road takes a fair amount of prep work. MacMaster tries to schedule the children’s homeschooling lessons and deadlines to accommodate the tour schedule and rehearsals. They’ll still be taking their math lessons on the road, though.
MacMaster has plenty of parental duties to take care of before they board the bus, too. Haircuts, costume fittings and rehairing those fiddle bows are all on the pre-show to-do list.
But once the tour finally commences, MacMaster relishes the quality time the travel gives her with her husband and children.
“It’s just us, and we’re playing music, and we’re in the same place and we’re working together and we’re a team, and there’s no other distractions, and we get to live with each other and love each other,” MacMaster says.
And that’s when a dash of reality hits.
“With the odd little spat here and there, I’m sure,” she adds.