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Visit to Cape Breton and eastern Canada.

Posted by coelhoe on Saturday, September 14, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to visit Cape Breton as part of larger trip through eastern Canada: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, the Gaspe, and Quebec.  We spent a few days near St. Ann's in a very nice B&B.  One day we attended what was advertised as a ceilidh, last of the season, though it was actually a sort of lecture-dem on the local fiddle style. Ticket: $10.   The room held 75 people and it was sold out hours beforehand. The fiddler was young woman in her teens, the daughter and grand-daughter of Cape Breton fiddlers. Her back-up was a piano player in his thirties, nominally a school teacher.  The fiddling was exqusite. Each set was typical of the area with three or more time signatures. They were sitting on hollow stage raised a foot or so. The fiddler  dynamically beat time with her left foot, while tapping a rhythm with her her right. I say "dynamic" because you could hear it a block away. But it kept the piano player on the beat as the time signatures changed and he matched her foot for foot since his back was to the audience and their left feet nearly touching.

During the break I could not get close to the fiddler as she was surrounded by the audience but I had good talk about the style with the back-up player.

The fiddle was amplified, and unfortunately there was a small amount of delay added to the signal which made the melodies indistinct, and I wondered if this was a constant problem at dances.  At the Cape Breton visitors centers there were ads for several different evening "kitchen" performances being offered throughout the Cape, $10 per person per kitchen.. Sadly we just missed the last of these as the tourist season seems to close at the end of the third week of August.

The woman who produces these "ceilidhs" every night during the tourist season told me that has a list of several fiddlers and back up players and usually changes every night.

I did get a couple of hours playing my fiddle with one of the leaders of the Cape Breton fiddle association.  Two surprises. First, I found out that "St. Ann's Reel," while in their tune book is not very common and must relate to some other village of the same name (there are several in Canada). The other surprise was that they were not familiar with The Little Snowy Owl waltz, (aka "Oot Pik Waltz), and I had to play it several times for them to get the chords.  They didn't know "Whiskey Before Breakfast" either and were not really familiar with fiddle style or repertoire in the rest of Canada, e.g. Manitoba.

Missed the chance to hear a Quebecois CW band in Cheticamp at the Legion on the French side of the Cape, a trade-off for the evening described above.  Later though, we did get to the Quebecois Accordeon Museum in Montagny, which is very well done and quite informative about the music and the instruments, which seemed to me to be the same as those used in Louisiana, though the makers are less well known. 

(BTW, for those interested in Cajun or Quebec accordion, Hohner now has a set of Apps at the App Store that allow to play the actual instrument on your iPad, single, double or triple row. The single row Cajun style costs 99 cents. Sounds just like the real thing, and you can amplify it!!)

In Quebec, I met an older fiddler playing in the old city. He was using an amplified set-up with Band-in-the-Box guitar and bass back-up. He was very good and obvious classical technique.  He played a waltz and we danced on the cobblestones.

In some cases in Quebec in restaurants, we would speak French and they would answer us in English. But out in the small Gaspe' villages it was only French, with Quebec accent which was sometimes hard to follow. I guess it was something like an English student from Quebec visitng southern Alabama, or Brooklyn.

Through most of NB we followed a French CW radio station that played wonderful country music and occasional bluegrass, all in French of course. The CW stuff always had fiddle and often button accordeon as well. 

I wish we could have made this trip a week or two earlier. We could have heard more live music and probably participated in some. But I had a commitment to play in asummer show and I had to wait until that was finished to make the trip. Next time we'll go earlier.   It was a long haul for us from Wyoming, but for those who live on the east coast, it is a day's drive. Don't miss it.



2 comments on “Visit to Cape Breton and eastern Canada.”

Mandogryl Says:
Thursday, October 31, 2013 @6:47:47 PM

Very nice, thanks for posting.

pete_fiddle Says:
Thursday, September 3, 2015 @12:34:51 AM

enjoyed reading that thanks

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