No fiddling with success

Tara Bradbury
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The 'Times and Tides' may be ever-changing, but the Celtic Fiddlers remain constant

The Celtic Fiddlers are presenting their 20th anniversary concert at the Masonic Temple in St. John's on Sunday night.

"Times and Tides" is the title of the Celtic Fiddlers' latest CD, and it's fitting. In the 20 years since the group was founded, they've seen their share of times - both exciting and frustrating - as well as multiple visits to the shores of Ireland.

The group was founded by Korona Brophy in 1993, when she was a teacher at Our Lady of Mercy school in St. John's. A string player, having started with the cello at age nine, Brophy organized a fiddle group for a St. Patrick's Day concert.

The students, all girls at that time, enjoyed it, and the group began playing at seniors homes.

"It was just to spur (the musicians') interest in our own music," Brophy explained. "There wasn't a lot of it on the go in the late 1990s, especially for young people, but lots of other groups in the city are encouraging fiddle music and Newfoundland and Irish music now."

Young Folk at the Hall, a program organized by musician Fergus O'Byrne and the Folk Arts Society, has been running since 1991, and the STEP Fiddlers, under the direction of Christina Smith, have been performing since the early 1980s.

The Shallaway youth choir has also been incorporating fiddle music, Brophy said.

The Celtic Fiddlers later expanded to include both girls and boys from different schools and communities around St. John's. Right now there are 14 members, ages 15 to 24, and they each play at least two instruments, including fiddle, guitar, bodhran, bouzouki, piano and a host others.

The members often learn from each other and get together for unofficial jams. Many former members have gone on to become music teachers, Brophy noted.

"They play 53 instruments between them," Brophy said of the current members, "and they switch during the shows. A lot of times I'll have to ask the audience to give us a few seconds while someone changes from a fiddle to a guitar or something."

The Celtic Fiddlers have appeared at festivals around the province, released four CDs, and made four trips to Ireland.

In the Emerald Isle, the fiddlers, with the help of parent chaperones, have played music festivals, dinner theatres, pub shows and masses, and on their first trip, in 1999, they performed with the Ceilidh Singers, together winning a performance competition at the Puck Fair in Killorglin.

The most recent trip to Ireland was for 2012's Festival of the Sea, which included multiple gigs, including a visit to a senior's home.

"We've always been well-received in Ireland," Brophy said, adding their shows are well publicized and generally get good turn-outs.

There was a time, about five years ago, when Brophy felt the group wasn't receiving the local reception it deserved. They had applied for the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival and the Logy Bay Festival multiple times, but weren't having much success.

When they did get accepted at the folk festival, it was on the children's stage; something Brophy wasn't having.

"We did do the folk festival once since then (on the main stage), in 2011," Brophy told The Telegram, "but we apply every year. I had hoped we would have gotten on this year because of our anniversary, but we weren't successful. But I understand and I know it's fair that they try and change up the acts from year to year."

The fiddlers are busy enough this summer, all the same. They'll perform at Holyrood's Canada Day celebrations on July 1, and at the Portugal Cove-St. Philip's Annual Regatta Festival on July 6. They'll hit the road later in the month, and will play at the Fish, Fun and Folk Festival in Twillingate on July 24-25.

In the meantime, they're having their own anniversary reunion concert at the Masonic Temple in St. John's Sunday night, where they'll also launch "Times and Tides," a collection of 20 songs previously unrecorded by the group; some traditional and some original, written by 18-year-old group member Rosemary Lawton.

The fiddlers will perform alongside some special guests.

"Some of our past members will perform, and then there are others like Allan Ricketts, Siochana, Matthew Byrne, Amelia Bartellas and Aaron Collis. They'll be there helping us out because they either played with us at some point or toured with us or played on the CDs," Brophy said.

"We're going to play for an hour and then we'll ask whoever wants to play with us to come up and play the last two songs."

Tickets for The Celtic Fiddlers' 20th anniversary show are $20 each and are available in advance at Fred's Records and O'Brien's music, or at the door, depending on availability. Show time is 8 p.m.

Brophy, 58, said she has no plans to slow down with the fiddlers after this milestone anniversary, even though her husband has asked her when she's going to give it up.

"I said, when the music stops, I guess," she said, laughing.

"It keeps you going and keeps your mind busy, and it's been wonderful." Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Mercy school, Folk Arts Society, Fred's

Geographic location: Ireland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador Emerald Isle Killorglin Logy Bay Holyrood Portugal Cove Twillingate

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Recent comments

  • Judy Brazil
    June 22, 2013 - 15:32

    For anyone who has not yet seen this's worth the $20.00....I witnessed them in Ireland last year and they were a welcomed "treat" indeed! Not only are they wonderful musicians, but they are also very pleasant and friendly individuals. I wish them and their instructor Korona all the best as they happily entertain the general public!