Virginia MacDonald is daughter of New Waterford-born saxophonist Kirk MacDonald
SYDNEY, N.S. — When she was around seven years old, Virginia MacDonald remembers her parents presenting her with a choice of musical instruments.
“I have this memory of being in my dad’s studio and he said we’re at the time where we’re going to pick an instrument for you to continue lessons on and so he had all these different instruments laid out,” MacDonald said in a recent phone interview from her 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 looking instrument, for whatever reason. And I said, ’that one, that one.’”
MacDonald, 27, is the daughter of New Waterford-born saxophonist Kirk MacDonald, who is generally regarded as one of the best players in the country. While she doubles on sax, MacDonald knew from an early age that the clarinet would be her main squeeze.
“Part of me thinks that I was a little rebel — I didn’t want to play the same instrument as my dad,“ she said. “I just kind of thought that this was the instrument that I wanted to express my voice on.”
Although popular in the 1930s and ’40s, the clarinet is not an often-heard instrument in jazz these days but MacDonald is determined to change that. Thanks to 20 years of practise and performance, her smooth sound is bound to appeal. She is the 2019 Stingray Music Rising Star Award recipient and 2020 International Clarinetist Corona Competition first prize winner.
Her first CD with original compositions is expected to be released in 2022.
“I have done a lot of practising,” she said. “A huge part of my musical journey was listening to players on different instruments so I was listening to a lot of trumpet players or fleugalhorn players and trying to imitate the sound that they were getting on the clarinet. And I was listening to a lot of vocalists and try to bring some of what they were doing, bring some of that smoothness, that tone quality, over to the clarinet as well. By trying to take from the widest net of resources that I can and making sure that I am listening to everything — for me that’s what has really formed my playing on the instrument.”
MacDonald will be in Nova Scotia in November, first conducting masterclasses at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish and then performing in Sydney on Nov. 6 at Sacred Heart Downtown with fellow members of her 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 dinner at 6:30 and the performance at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit Sacredheartdowntown.com or call 902-578-2898.
In addition to performing at the concert, she’s also looking forward to coming back to Cape Breton. MacDonald has been returning to Cape Breton usually in the summer pretty much every year of her life and it’s a special time that she looks forward to.
“It’s one of my favourite places in this world. It will always seem like a second home to me. It’s where my dad’s family is from so just getting to come down and visit everyone, it always feels like a homecoming.”
Elizabeth Patterson is a culture reporter at the Cape Breton Post.