15 years in, Celtic Fiddlers looking for respect

Karla Hayward karlahayward@gmail.com
Published on August 29, 2008
The Celtic Fiddlers of St. John's pose in this file photo. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

It's likely Korona Brophy didn't exactly know what she was getting herself into when she founded The Celtic Fiddlers 15 years ago. She surely couldn't have foreseen the evolution of a small gathering of musically predisposed elementary school children into the large, mature, dedicated band she leads today. "We'll be into 16 seasons in September. I don't know how many bands can say that. We're consistent; we're here all the time," she says.

Back in '93, Brophy was a teacher at Our Lady of Mercy School in St. John's. The impetus to create the Celtic Fiddlers came during her work on a St. Patrick's Day concert, and the Irish overtones and fiddle music of that show. With so much familiar traditional music at our fingertips here in Newfoundland, she thought why not learn some of it?

It's likely Korona Brophy didn't exactly know what she was getting herself into when she founded The Celtic Fiddlers 15 years ago. She surely couldn't have foreseen the evolution of a small gathering of musically predisposed elementary school children into the large, mature, dedicated band she leads today. "We'll be into 16 seasons in September. I don't know how many bands can say that. We're consistent; we're here all the time," she says.

Back in '93, Brophy was a teacher at Our Lady of Mercy School in St. John's. The impetus to create the Celtic Fiddlers came during her work on a St. Patrick's Day concert, and the Irish overtones and fiddle music of that show. With so much familiar traditional music at our fingertips here in Newfoundland, she thought why not learn some of it?

From there, she says, it caught on, and her group began playing in seniors homes, at folk festivals and more.

The group grew alongside its members, and Brophy moved from Our Lady of Mercy to St. Bon's, Brother Rice and finally Gonzaga. Now she's retired, and the group has become more community based, meeting every Sunday to play.

In its current incarnation, the Celtic Fiddlers is split just about half-and-half, male and female, and range in age from 12 to 29. Some of the original members still play with the group, including Jillian Skinner, Amy Richard and Cathy Fowler.

They joined in Grade 5 or 6, says Brophy, and are now teachers themselves. "They've carried on the tradition of bringing fiddle music to younger kids," she adds.

In the band, "Everybody plays at least two instruments and there's some who play seven," Brophy explains. Bouzouki, guitar, bodhran, mandolin, piano as well as the obvious fiddle can be heard streaming from their rehearsals.

The Celtic Fiddlers learn a lot from one another, their founder notes, and get together for an informal jam-session whenever the opportunity arises.

"They're like sponges; all they want to do is play and learn more."

Taking the show on the road

Brophy took The Celtic Fiddlers on a tour that began July 14 in Galway, Ireland. Music festivals, dinner theatres, pub shows and even busking and a Catholic mass followed as they moved through Dublin, the Isle of Man, Cork and beyond.

Back at home, the Celtic Fiddlers stay in tune with more performances. "We're doing some shows for the City of St. John's right now, on a grant program," Brophy explains. "It's to promote the music and to encourage tourists to come, and we've had some good feedback on that."

But, she says, the group still feels like it's not getting the recognition or acceptance at home that it deserves.

"We've applied for the (Newfoundland and Labrador) Folk Festival, we've applied for the Logy Bay Festival, and we can't get in anywhere." Asked why, she replies, "I don't know. I don't know what the problem is."

Elaborating, Brophy explains that the Celtic Fiddlers did play the Folk Festival about four years ago, but were "put on the children's stage" when they applied to play again the past two years.

"I said, 'No, we're not doing that,'" Brophy states.

With the exception of a 12- and a 13-year-old, most of the Celtic Fiddlers are 17 to 18 and older.

"When I applied, I had written on the application 'Main stage only.' When I phoned on it, they said they must have missed it. I said, 'How could you miss it? It's in red pen.'"

Brophy elaborates that her disgruntlement isn't just with a particular organization, but with the musical opportunities in the capital city at large.

"You see the same names all the time, and you get fed up with it. What are you supposed to do in this city to get a performance opportunity? What we're down to now is finding our own venue, paying if we have to, to play there, or do stuff for free and hope someone might buy a CD off of you," she says.