Keeping the music alive

Karla Hayward
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Music According album will get your toes tapping

For some Newfoundlanders, music is simply "in the blood." There's no getting away from it. It comes part and parcel with who they are and how they're made.

Tony O'Leary is one of those people. He's had no formal musical training, just a life-long apprenticeship with family and friends.

For some Newfoundlanders, music is simply "in the blood." There's no getting away from it. It comes part and parcel with who they are and how they're made.

Tony O'Leary is one of those people. He's had no formal musical training, just a life-long apprenticeship with family and friends.

He plays accordion, concertina, guitar, mandola, mandolin and bodhran.

"It gets to the point where you've just got to be playing. You just love to play and, come hell or high water, you find a place to play," he says.

O'Leary's just released a CD, "Pump the Box." A traditional accordion album, it's filled with well-known instrumentals, a few tracks penned by O'Leary himself, and some that were passed down from his Uncle Frank.

"Uncle Frank had some tunes that were never played after he passed away, and were never recorded. I wanted to put them on CD, so I went and got an old tape (of his music) and did all my research and found that no one else recorded them, or really played them - they were played on the Labrador for square dances. So essentially, when Frank passed away, those tunes almost went with him. But I've managed to keep them alive. Hopefully future generations will be able to play them now."

O'Leary dedicated his CD to transient workers, those who have to leave home, and all they love, to make a living. That dedication stems from his own experience.

"My Dad is a construction worker. Like a lot of Newfoundlanders, he had to move away to find work. So, I've had the opportunity to live right across Canada since I was a kid."

Keeping the music alive is of huge importance for O'Leary.

"With so much out there, I think this is one of the things that will bring people together naturally - a few tunes and a bit of old-fashioned music. It's a busy world. Traditional music can get lost so easy. So, I think it's very important to keep it alive. The kitchen party - a way to spend time together - is important for everybody.

"Newfoundlanders take their music with them," he added. "They get together with other people in places like Fort McMurray and they keep the music alive."

O'Leary is also trying to raise awareness of another sort of preservation: the environment.

"I'm an outdoorsy guy. I like the woods," he said.

"I'd hate to see anything happen to it. And I have a daughter who's a huge part of my life. I'd like for her to grow up in a place where people have respect for old Mother Earth."

"Pump The Box" is close to full-on traditional Celtic, but with a contemporary touch. On some numbers, particularly those O'Leary wrote, a touch of country twang sneaks in. Generally though, this is a dancing CD. While there are a few ballads, it's mostly of the upbeat, dance-till-you're-red-in-the-face sort.

The album features some well-known guests, including Ian Chipman, Jerry Strong, Mike Doyle, Glen Hiscock and Rob Brown. And, according to the liner notes, it also boasts a provincial claim to fame: it's the first time locally made Irish pipes have appeared on a Newfoundland CD. The pipes were played by Rob Brown and made by Neil O'Grady of Carbonear.

For more on Tony O'Leary and "Pump the Box," visit www.tonyolearymusic.ca.

Organizations: The Box

Geographic location: Canada, Fort McMurray

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