Donnell Leahy begins playing the fiddle as his wife Natalie MacMaster sways, eyes closed, to the sound of the music with her own fiddle resting on her shoulder. Soon she joins in and the sounds of their instruments merge in a duet, perfectly complementing one another.
The couple is performing "The Anniversary Waltz," commonly known as "Waves of the Danube," a haunting Romanian song. The tune is melancholic, yet romantic -- each note played at the song's slow tempo sounds like an anguished sob. While the piece might feel sad at first, it is the deep connectedness of the husband-and-wife performers on stage that brings on the romance.
This moment comes from a 2007 Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, performance posted on YouTube. On Sunday, audiences will have the chance to see the pair perform together in the Berkshires, when MacMaster and Leahy present "Masters of the Fiddle," alongside pianists Mac Morin and Leahy's sister, Erin, at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
For MacMaster and Leahy, fiddle-playing is rooted deeply in their family trees. Leahy is part of the Leahy family band, made up of eight brothers and sisters from Lakefield, Ontar io. The siblings have been playing together since they were children. From humble beginnings growing up on a farm, the Leahy kids would work hard during the year and play shows during the summer. The group's reputation grew, and the siblings have since released three albums, which have
"I don't think I ever imagined myself doing anything else besides music," Leahy said in a phone interview from the home in Canada that he shares with MacMaster and their five children.
"For us it was always ‘get up and brush your teeth in the morning, and then play the fiddle.' "
Like her husband, MacMas ter, who has a degree in early childhood education, can't envision herself doing anything else. She is a true Cape Breton girl, which happens to be the title of her latest CD. The album is full of traditional Cape Breton fiddle music, a genre unto itself that originates from the island's Scottish immigrant history.
"This music is very strongly Scottish in its origins, and it is a very real part of the way of life of Cape Breton," Mac Master said. "It's all in the environment. It's in the air with square dancing and fiddlers at house parties -- playing this music is just a calling."
It's a calling that MacMaster answered at a young age. Her first performance was at the age of 9 at a square dance, and by the time she was 16, she released her first album.
Music was in the air at the MacMaster household. Her uncle, Buddy MacMaster is considered one of the foremost Cape Breton fiddle players, and MacMaster said he is one of her biggest influences.
While she has performed at Carnegie Hall, won a Grammy as part of Yo-Yo Ma's "Songs of Joy & Peace," and worked with such internationally ac claimed musicians as Alison Krauss, MacMaster said that she learned her most lasting lessons from individuals with less starry names.
"I was so influenced by the Cape Breton fiddling community, and none of those individuals have names that are recognizable," MacMaster said. "Some of them have passed on, some continue to play, but they were around me all the time. I grew up listening to them."
Leahy and MacMaster's deep passion for music has translated to their five children. Leahy said that one of the best aspects of performing with his wife is the fact that their children, who are home-schooled, can travel on the road with them. When either one is performing separately, Leahy said it is hard to leave family behind.
"When one or both of us are away from the kids, it is just on our minds constantly, but this way, there is no panic," Leahy said. "I'm at complete peace."
For musicians who are mostly recognized for their individual or family achievements, Leahy and MacMaster both said it has been an enriching experience to perform and be known as a husband-and-wife team on stage.
Married for 10 years, the couple started playing together on a professional basis for about five years, MacMaster said.
"It's so different performing with my wife than it is with my siblings," Leahy said. "We are both accustomed to playing the lead, and at first, we both backed off and give the each other the stage. Now, we've learned how to share the stage and just have fun."
For the audience members on Sunday who might not be that familiar with fiddle music or the Cape Breton tradition, MacMaster said they should just expect to have fun.
"The show is just so lively and upbeat and fun," Mac Master said. "The music is universal. A woman came up to me after a show once and said, ‘I hate fiddle music, but I loved your show.' That was the best compliment I ever received."
In concert ...
What: "Masters of the Fiddle"
Who: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington
How: (413) 528-0100; www.mahaiwe.org; in person at the box office