Nathalie MacMaster plays with her uncle Buddy MacMaster at the East Coast Music Award in Charlottetown Feb. 27, in this 2006 Guardian file photo. Buddy MacMaster has died at age 89
©Guardian photo by Brian McInnis
Members of the music community in P.E.I. are mourning the passing of legendary Cape Breton fiddler Buddy MacMaster.
MacMaster, who received a lifetime achievement award from Folk Alliance International earlier this year, died Wednesday night at his home in rural western Cape Breton.
Fiddler Rannie MacLellan, a Cape Bretoner who now lives in Donagh, P.E.I., said when he was a young man growing up MacMaster was someone all the other fiddle players looked up to.
“He seemed to have a large repertoire of music because he played at so many ceilidhs, dances and concerts and he was always learning new stuff. “MacLellan said. “He was always the first fiddler with a new tune.”
MacLellan said MacMaster was easily the best all-time square dance player he ever heard.
Despite the accolades that were heaped upon MacMaster he remained a humble, down-to-earth guy.
“He was a very humble man. I met him one day in a hockey arena where my son was playing hockey and his son was playing hockey. I said I don’t know how you do it. You just seem to get better and better. I hear you one night and you’re playing great and I see you a little while later and you’re playing even better. He just smiled and said ‘one day I might make a fiddler.’ That’s the kind of humble guy he was.
MacLellan booked dances in Southwest Margaree in the 1990s and MacMaster played at many of them.
“He packed the place every night and he always gave 100 per cent. He was just a phenomenal player and a phenomenal man. He’ll be missed.”
Musician and record producer Jon Matthews, a Cape Breton native who’s called P.E.I. home for many years, said a cornerstone of Cape Breton culture has been lost.
“I don’t think I know of anyone who was more universally revered and admired, both as a musician and as a person,” Matthews said. “His mastery and knowledge of, and respect for the music was simply unmatched, and was exceeded only by his humility and grace.”
Kevin Chaisson, of Souris, said first and foremost MacMaster was a gentleman and just a great guy all around.
“He was a very generous person, he certainly didn’t mind sharing his talents with other people,” Chaisson said. “There are a lot of people in this world who look up to Buddy as one of the greatest fiddlers who ever lived.”
Chaisson, whose father was a good friend of MacMaster’s, recounted how some 30 years ago MacMaster was booked to play a concert in Charlottetown when he asked if the Chaisson boys were going to be there.
“He felt a little awkward, didn’t want to venture into somebody else’s territory. He wasn’t, but that’s the kind of gentleman he was. Always thinking of others. We played with him that night. It was a great night. He threw some twisty tunes at me. I struggled for a bit but we got through it. He set the standard a lot of players who followed. We’ll miss him.”
Chaisson said MacMaster had a connection to P.E.I. he only learned about a couple of years ago.
“I learned that at one point he was the stationmaster in Souris. I don’t know for how long but he was there.”
Rev. Charles Cheverie, who got to know MacMaster through the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival, described him as one of the most humble, loving people he ever met.
“He had compassion galore and was a very generous man, happy to share what he had with people. He was an outstanding fiddler and his death is a big, big loss to the fiddling community.”
Cheverie said MacMaster, in spite of the great talent he possessed, was a down-to-earth guy who was very appreciative of the people he met who were learning to play and trying their best and he was happy to help.