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Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, left, mentored many younger players, including his niece, internationally renowned fiddler Natalie McMaster. (Murdock Smith)
Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster, left, mentored many younger players, including his niece, internationally renowned fiddler Natalie McMaster. (Murdock Smith)

obituary

Fiddler Buddy MacMaster brought Cape Breton style to world stage Add to ...

In the 1940s, his fellow CNR workers loved to hear Mr. MacMaster play reels and strathspeys over the wire connecting stations on the line. When the station agents were saying their good nights at the end of the late shift, Mr. MacMaster would play a tune and agents up and down the line would listen in on their headsets. Finding time between trains, he would often practise his fiddle at work. The train stations, with their traditional plaster and lath combined with Douglas fir panelling, made for good acoustics and were wonderful places to play.

“At least three generations [of fiddlers] have looked up to him as the gold standard,” said Joella Foulds, executive director of the Celtic Colours International Festival, where Mr. MacMaster performed about 40 times over the years.

Wanting to ensure that the traditions of his music were passed on, he taught not only close to home, but in the United States and was one of the first Cape Breton fiddlers to be asked to teach in Scotland. Down the road from his house, at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre, people came from around the world to learn to play like him.

“One of the things on their bucket list, they would say, was to meet Buddy,” said Frank MacInnis, vice-president of the centre’s board. “Among the fiddlers, he was looked up to by everyone.”

Generous with his time, Mr. MacMaster received countless calls to play at community events and fundraisers. He often played these events for free, sometimes attending up to three events a day in the summers. Soon-to-be-married couples also sought him out. “I’d get calls to make a booking for a wedding,” he recalled in Buddy MacMaster: The Judique Fiddler. “I always got a kick out of that. Because sometimes they would give a date and I’d say, well, I’m booked that day. There would be a little pause and I could hear some talking in the back[ground] and they would come back and ask if another date was open.”

Outside of music, he was an active community member, serving as a municipal councillor, chair of the local school board and community college board member.

For his work as an ambassador of Canadian music, a mentor and a leader of the Gaelic renaissance in Canada and abroad, Mr. MacMaster was admitted to the Order of Canada. He also received honorary degrees from Cape Breton and St. Francis Xavier universities.

Mr. MacMaster’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 25 at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, an old, stone structure, near his home in Judique, N.S. Inside the sacred place, which traces its roots to the Highland Scots, his fidelity to his ancestors and the music he loved will be honoured.

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