Press Release for Cassie & Maggie MacDonald Concert 5/19/17


On Friday, May 19, Cassie and Maggie MacDonald, award-winning musicians and vocalists from Nova Scotia, come to the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM) in a performance for Flying Cat Music. The ESRM is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and music begins at 7:30. Admission is $17 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations, email or call 845-688-9453.

The Irish know a bit or two about Celtic music so high praise from those parts for Cassie and Maggie, the sister duo from Nova Scotia, is as good as Guinness. In 2015 Live Ireland Music named Cassie and Maggie their “New Group of the Year.” This year they gave Cassie and Maggie MacDonald the distinction of “Female Singer of the Year,” explaining; “The reason we are recognizing both is that with their vocals, they offer the perfect sibling blend… There is so much that goes on in each of their tunes and great live performances, it is easy to miss their beautifully offered harmonies. Perfection.” They conclude, “It’s hard to think of a more entertaining act in music right now.”

Born in Halifax, but raised in the little seaside village of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, within sight of both Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, sisters Cassie and Maggie MacDonald are heirs to the traditions of Maritime Canada. Celtic Life International calls Cassie and Maggie “one of the finest Celtic acts this side of the Atlantic.” Irish Music Magazine lists them “among the top musical acts in demand on the Irish/American/Canadian scene.” They also explain why: “Be it their foot percussion accompanying driving Nova Scotian sets, their perfect blend of sibling harmonies, added to a stunning interplay on various instruments, a musical evening spent with Cassie and Maggie is a great night, altogether.”

The MacDonald’s music spans the fiery reels of Cape Breton to the lilting polkas of their home region, from old Irish and Scottish songs that nestled into the seaboard towns, and the traditions of Scottish Gaelic that still have a home there. In an interview Cassie reflected, “we were so lucky to have been brought up in a very musical household surrounded by the traditional fiddle culture that is still very much alive on the East Coast. We started playing at a very young age, with myself on fiddle and Maggie playing piano and more recently guitar, we sing in both English and Scottish Gaelic, the language spoken by our ancestors.” The result, according to Music News Nashville, “is a beautiful blend of all these Celtic sounds, anchored by the powerful, lively fiddling of elder sister Cassie MacDonald and the beautiful guitar and piano work and clear-as-a-mountain-spring vocals of her younger sister Maggie MacDonald. This is the kind of family music that has always fueled the Maritimes.”

Traditional music need not be static, and with Cassie and Maggie it isn’t. They are equally at home playing tunes passed down through generations of musicians, as seamlessly weaving themes from the Moonlight Sonata into sets of sure-fire reels. While still staying true to their Celtic roots, they explore and test the boundaries of traditional music, bringing a breath of fresh air to the genre with their original compositions and arrangements. As New Classics UK notes, “This is traditional music played with a modern edge.”

True as that undoubtedly is, those roots remain strong. For their most recent release, The Willow Collection, Maggie spent time researching and finding songs from the different folk traditions that have been inspired by the Scottish settlers who came to North America in the eighteenth century. Says Cassie, “We decided to give ourselves a theme that would help focus our research and also help us trace the evolution of certain songs as they traveled across the Atlantic and formed the backbone of many folk genres as we know them today. The willow was a natural choice… many of the most beautiful and poignant songs in traditional music are inspired by the image of the willow and what it represents.”

The Celtic meaning of willow has a long history of symbolism. Back in the day, people would lay willow wands beneath their pillow when they struggled to cope with strong feelings. “They would dream through it in the night and be better in the morning,” explains Maggie MacDonald. “That’s why it’s associated with grief. At first all the songs were quite grim, but the more research we did, the more we learned it can also be a symbol of hope.”

Finding songs on theme for The Willow Collection was merely the first challenge. The source recordings found in Appalachian folk archives were often so scratchy that it was difficult to unearth a song’s true melody. For this, Cassie gives Maggie much of the credit. “She has an incredible talent for hearing a song, and immediately hearing potential for an arrangement, even if the melody is hard to decipher as was the case with some of the old field recordings. Our approach was to take these songs, and blend them with a fiddle tune, or an alternate melody, basically to use our Celtic instrumental background as the foundation to make the songs really come alive.”

The results, says No Depression, are “songs ranging from heartbreakingly beautiful and soft to loud and boisterous…Some brushing the edge of traditional music, some dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world.” The East, an online magazine described as “a love letter to the Maritimes” gives a rave review of The Willow Collection concluding, “The MacDonald sisters have taken on the arduous task of modernizing a centuries-old musical style; not easy, to say the least. But they’ve somehow managed it.”

That’s a lot for two young women to accomplish with a future still unfolding. Live Ireland Radio says it well, “Cassie and Maggie are an unbelievably gifted duo… the train is just gathering steam and leaving the station on these new stars. It is going to be a glorious journey, and it is already well-begun.”

Cassie and Maggie Website Link

Flying Cat Music 2017 Concert Schedule