A style as dis­tinct as a per­son's sig­na­ture

The Victoria Standard - - Arts - KRISTIN NORD

Fes­ti­val of Cape Bre­ton Fid­dling Aug. 18&19 Co­laisde na Gàidhlig / The Gaelic Col­lege 902-849-8476. www.cape­bre­ton­fid­dlers.com

In­to­na­tion. Ar­tic­u­la­tion. Drive. Lift. And as the late great Cape Bre­ton fid­dler Buddy Mac­mas­ter once put it, a style as dis­tinct as a per­son's sig­na­ture. There is no mis­tak­ing the play­ing of a Duane Côte for a Kim­berly Fraser, a Brenda Stub­bert for a Kyle Macneil. Yet each cre­ates and per­forms bril­liantly within the tra­di­tion.

When vis­i­tors first take in a con­cert or a dance on the is­land, if they put down their ipads and their smart phones, they are soon im­mersed in a mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence that goes back hun­dreds of years. Fid­dlers flour­ish here, like wild­flow­ers, and the sum­mer and fall is the time to tap into venues through­out the is­land, each with its own Gaelic-in­fused flavour and many with their own dance sets. This is mu­sic, af­ter all, that is deeply rooted in dance -- and when the fid­dler and ac­com­pa­nist jump into sets of jigs, strath­speys, and reels, the au­di­ence is in for a spir­ited ride.

There are lit­er­ally thou­sands of tunes in the reper­toire, and be­cause this is a live art form, there are many more tunes in the mak­ing. While we are left breath­less by Natalie Mac­mas­ter's blis­ter­ing ver­sion of Tul­lochgo­rum, chances are fairly good that we aren't con­sciously con­sid­er­ing thou­sands of hours of play­ing that got her to this strato­spheric per­for­mance level. No ques­tion about it; this is an art form that re­quires in­tense lis­ten­ing and ob­ser­va­tion. Tra­di­tional mu­sic has with­stood out­side in­flu­ences of ra­dio, tele­vi­sion, video, and yes, in its time, even the Rolling Stones and the Bea­tles. But stan­dard bear­ers have long rec­og­nized that on­go­ing men­tor­ing pro­grams would be needed to keep this dis­tinct part of Cape Bre­ton's iden­tity alive and flour­ish­ing. One need only go back to the now leg­endary 1973 Glen­dale con­cert, which kicked off what has be­come a 45-year his­tory of the Cape Bre­ton Fid­dlers As­so­ci­a­tion. One-hun­dred and thirty fid­dlers of all ages took to the con­cert stage, as if in re­sponse to "The Van­ish­ing Cape Bre­ton Fid­dler", a doc­u­men­tary mak­ing the rounds at the time. While many still con­tend - much as Mark Twain once pro­claimed, that "re­ports of its death were "greatly ex­ag­ger­ated," the film in its way served as a wake-up call.

Since then, the as­so­ci­a­tion has played a sig­nif­i­cant nur­tur­ing role -- host­ing work­shops, an an­nual fid­dle fes­ti­val and pub­lish­ing tunes writ­ten by mem­bers. Many of Cape Bre­ton's lead­ing mu­si­cians be­gan as young mem­bers and have given back to suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions. For Come-from-away­ers, one of the most touch­ing as­pects of this side of Cape Bre­ton cul­ture is this gen­eros­ity of spirit. Once a mu­si­cian or dancer is seen as hav­ing both in­ter­est and abil­ity, there are com­mu­nity venues by which to hone and master one's art form. Dances, con­certs and life events, be they wed­dings or fu­ner­als, keep the young mu­si­cian prac­tic­ing, and Cape Bre­ton dance sets test the player's acu­ity and stamina.

Of par­tic­u­lar note at this year's 45th an­nual Fes­ti­val of Cape Bre­ton Fid­dling at The Gaelic Col­lege of Celtic Arts will be its fo­cus on the com­po­si­tions of Dan R. Macdon­ald (1911-1976) of Judique South and Dan Hughie Maceach­ern (1914-1996) of Queensville; two cel­e­brated mu­si­cians be­lieved to have com­posed about 3,000 tunes be­tween them. Other works not only from Gor­don Mac­quar­rie's “The Cape Bre­ton Col­lec­tion of Scot­tish Melodies” as well as by renowned com­posers Jerry Hol­land, Brenda Stub­bert, Carl Macken­zie, and Kin­non Beaton, can be an­tic­i­pated.

A spe­cial tune-shar­ing ses­sion will fol­low work­shops in fid­dle, pi­ano, and step­danc­ing on Satur­day, Aug. 18 as a pre­lude to a con­cert and dance on Satur­day night. On Sun­day, Aug. 19 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m, The Gaelic Col­lege's out­door stage will fea­ture a full ros­ter of lead­ing fid­dlers, step­dancers and pi­anists. Guest fid­dlers from kin­dred as­so­ci­a­tions in Glen­garry, On­tario, and from Prince Ed­ward Is­land, will also en­liven what should be a spe­cial gath­er­ing. When that many fid­dlers of all ages be­gin to play to­gether, it's hard not to re­visit the chills of that long-ago Glen­dale con­cert. This is life-af­firm­ing, toe-tap­ping stuff.

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, con­tact the as­so­ci­a­tion, at www.cape­bre­ton­fid­dlers.com, or cape­bre­ton­fid­dlers@gmail.com, or at 902-849-8476.

Fid­dlers per­form in the now fa­mous 1973 Glen­dale Fid­dle Fes­ti­val. Photo 97-650-28498 cour­tesy of Beaton In­sti­tute, Cape Bre­ton Univer­sity.

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