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East Coast Music Awards East Coast not uniform when it comes to the traditional instrument

The East Coast Music Awards are in full swing in Sydney, N.S., and they are showing off the best of the region's musical talents. For the Cape Breton area in particular, that talent is fuelled by fiddlers.

The fiddle music of Cape Breton, with names like Natalie MacMaster, Troy MacGillivray and Ashley MacIsaac, is making an impact.

Fiddles at OBriens Music in St. Johns. Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram

The East Coast Music Awards are in full swing in Sydney, N.S., and they are showing off the best of the region's musical talents. For the Cape Breton area in particular, that talent is fuelled by fiddlers.

The fiddle music of Cape Breton, with names like Natalie MacMaster, Troy MacGillivray and Ashley MacIsaac, is making an impact.

The buzz is building for fiddlers that are going to be central to the gala show on Sunday, especially with up-and-comers like Chrissy Crowley joining in on a tribute to late fiddler Jerry Holland.

While this province also has a strong tradition of fiddle music, it has been said time and again that our sound is very different from that of Cape Breton fiddlers.

In order to better explain the division between Newfoundland and Cape Breton fiddlers, The Telegram went to the experts.

At O'Brien's Music Store on Water Street, Gordon O'Brien stands beneath a wall partly covered in fiddles and beside a case full of traditional music. He names off notable Newfoundland fiddlers.

Pat Moran is a favourite. Kelly Russell is the master. Rufus Guinchard and Emile Benoit are the foundation players.

"There's Greg Walsh, Glen Hiscock, Billy Sutton, Arthur O'Brien plays the fiddle, Alison Corbett ...," the list goes.

Yet none of these players create the same music as a Cape Breton fiddler, O'Brien said.

"With Cape Breton fiddling, it's a big Scottish influence. It's a different style of playing and it's more jumpy, where Newfoundland is more flowing, almost," he said.

One major difference comes from the inclusion of accordion music in the Newfoundland tradition, sometimes accompanying the fiddle, sometimes leading in its place.

"(But) that was the big influence in Cape Breton was the fiddle," O'Brien said.

Bob Hallett of Great Big Sea has ripped the fiddle on stages around the world. He said the Cape Breton fiddlers stick out to anyone with ears.

"I can pick a Cape Breton fiddle player out of the room in a second," Hallett told The Telegram.

He also pointed to the Scottish influence, adding that Cape Breton fiddlers also have an "orthodox style."

"They have a very clear idea of the sort of Northern Scottish style," said Hallett. "To be a good Cape Breton fiddle player is to play that style well."

While fiddle music in Newfoundland, particularly from the Codroy Valley area, may hold similarities at times, it is ultimately a mix of Irish, English and even French traditions.

"There isn't that sort of coherence in Newfoundland fiddle playing," he said.

What ties the Newfoundland tradition together is the unique repertoire of tunes shared by the players, Hallett said.

"There is that big body of music. A lot of which doesn't exist in any recorded form," he said.

The music has been preserved by those who have taken the time to learn the traditional songs and hand them down. Hallett said Daniel Payne is one example of someone maintaining the traditions today.

Hallett, like O'Brien, also named Kelly Russell.

"I don't know that people give Kelly Russell the credit he deserves," said Hallett, who explained Russell has worked to preserve and pass on fiddle music like no one else.

As if Hallett saw it coming, on Friday, Russell was named by Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Terry French as the first tradition bearer under the Provincial Historic Commemorations Program for his contributions to provincial music.

Before heading to The Rooms to accept the recognition, Russell spoke about the world of Atlantic Canadian fiddle music.

"There's a huge difference. It's the difference between night and day as far as fiddle music goes," said Russell of Newfoundland versus Cape Breton fiddle.

Russell agrees with Hallett that the music itself is different. He also agrees there's more to the way both groups play - a voice.

"Even if they did have some tunes, some particular reels in common, they would sound differently," he said.

For a good traditional Newfoundland fiddle tune, Russell listed off names as easily as O'Brien had.

"'I Rode up in the Dory,' 'The Captain and his Whiskers,' 'Sally's Jig,' pretty much anything by Rufus Guinchard's repertoire," he said.

"All of the stuff that Minnie White played," said Russell, naming the Order of Canada-recognized musician from St. Alban's. White played accordion, but created accompaniment tunes for fiddlers, much like accordion player Harry Hibbs.

"You'd be hard put to find any of those tunes in Cape Breton," he said.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in taking in a Cape Breton fiddle sound, the East Coast Music Awards gala will be broadcast live online on Sunday night at: www.bellaliant.net/ecma.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, The East, Music Store Great Big Sea

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Sydney Water Street Codroy Valley Canada

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  • JR
    April 20, 2011 - 20:35

    could someone recommend a group that could do jewish style and newfoundland style music for a wedding in july