Booming Canadian jazz artist with Cape Breton roots arrives in a ‘second home’ to perform

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SYDNEY, NS – When she was about seven years old, Virginia MacDonald remembers her parents giving her a choice of musical instruments.

“I have this memory of being in my father’s studio and he said that we are at the point where we are going to choose an instrument so that you can continue the lessons and so he has arranged all these different instruments”, a MacDonald said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Toronto. “He had a saxophone, he had a flute, I think there was a keyboard and then there was a clarinet and from what my parents say my eyes just lit up when I saw the clarinet. .

“I thought it was the coolest instrument, for some reason. And I said, “that one, that one.”

Kirk MacDonald of New Waterford, left, performs with his daughter Virginia MacDonald at an Ontario venue. She travels to Nova Scotia in early November for appearances in Antigonish, Sydney and Halifax. – Contributed

MacDonald, 27, is the daughter of New Waterford-born saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, who is widely regarded as one of the best players in the country. While doubling on the saxophone, MacDonald knew from an early age that the clarinet would be her greatest asset.

“Part of me thinks I was a bit of a rebel – I didn’t want to play the same instrument as my father,” she said. “I just thought it was the instrument I wanted to express my voice on.”


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Although popular in the 1930s and 1940s, the clarinet is not an instrument often heard in jazz today, but MacDonald is determined to change that. Thanks to 20 years of practice and performance, its sweet sound is sure to seduce. She is a recipient of the 2019 Stingray Music Rising Star Award and winner of the first prize of the 2020 Corona International Clarinet Competition.

His first CD with original compositions is due out in 2022.

“I practiced a lot,” she says. “A lot of my musical background was listening to players on different instruments, so I would listen to a lot of trumpeters or bugle players and try to emulate the sound they got on the clarinet. And I listened to a lot of singers and I tried to bring some of what they were doing, to bring some of that sweetness, that quality of sound, to the clarinet as well. Trying to tap into as wide a network of resources as I can and making sure I listen to everything – for me, that’s what really shaped my playing on the instrument.

Clarinetist Virginia MacDonald is shown performing in a video.  - Contributed
Clarinetist Virginia MacDonald is shown performing in a video. – Contributed

MacDonald will be in Nova Scotia in November, first conducting master classes at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, then performing in Sydney on November 6 at the Sacred Heart Downtown with other members of his quartet – Lee -Jung Choi (piano), Paul Rushka (bass) and Tom Roach (drums). Sydney guitarist Joe Waye will also join them for a few numbers.

Tickets are $ 75 for the 6:30 pm dinner and 7:30 pm show. To purchase tickets, visit Sacredheartdowntown.com or call 902-578-2898.

She also has two appearances in Halifax, with the William Paynter Quartet at the Obladee Wine Bar on Wednesday November 3 and with her own trio at the Halifax Central Library on Tuesday November 9 as part of the Canadian Online Jazz Festival, a co-performance with the Halifax Jazz Festival, live on YouTube at 7:30 p.m.

In addition to performing at her concerts, she is also looking forward to returning to Cape Breton. MacDonald returns to Cape Breton usually during the summer just about every year of her life and it is a special time that she looks forward to.

“It’s one of my favorite places in this world. It will always feel like a second home to me. That’s where my dad’s family comes from, so just coming over to visit everyone is always like coming home.

Elizabeth Patterson is a cultural reporter for the Cape Breton Post.


Virginia MacDonald – High High Low Low


Kirk MacDonald / Virginia MacDonald Duo


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