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St. John’s web developer and musician creates online database for traditional Newfoundland music

His love for traditional Newfoundland music, and his dislike of unorganized folders, led Allan Farrell to create an online database of the province’s traditional music. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
His love for traditional Newfoundland music, and his dislike of unorganized folders, led Allan Farrell to create an online database of the province’s traditional music. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

‘My jaw dropped,' says Dardanelles fiddle player Emilia Bartellas

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It was simply a matter of convenience that motivated Allan Farrell to create NLTrad.ca.

“I had a folder full of bits of paper with tunes on it and I just didn’t want to try to keep track of things that way anymore,” Farrell said.

Farrell, who works as a web developer, can also be found most Sundays at a session of like-minded individuals plucking, strumming, bowing, beating, blowing or — as the accordion is his preferred instrument — squeezing the tunes of old Newfoundland and Ireland back to life.

But carrying around all those sheets of paper was a nuisance, so he decided to make a publicly available, online database of traditional music he could access from anywhere on his phone.

Occasionally the other players would ask him what he was playing, and he would show them the website.

“So it turns out it’s useful for other people,” Farrell said.


As a touring fiddle player with the Dardanelles, Emilia Bartellas says you sometimes feel like an ambassador for the province's culture. This can be difficult, when much of the music wasn’t written down, so having a resource like NLTrad is exciting, she says. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram
As a touring fiddle player with the Dardanelles, Emilia Bartellas says you sometimes feel like an ambassador for the province's culture. This can be difficult, when much of the music wasn’t written down, so having a resource like NLTrad is exciting, she says. Andrew Waterman/The Telegram

Emilia Bartellas, fiddle player with the band the Dardanelles, says she knows of no other resource like this for Newfoundland traditional music and was excited when she found it.

“I clicked on (the link) and my jaw dropped,” Bartellas said. “It makes Newfoundland music accessible.”

Through her travels with the Dardanelles, she has had the opportunity to share Newfoundland traditional music with people from all over the world. But much of that music was passed down from generation to generation by ear, and was not always written down.

“People hear it and then they come up to you and say, ‘How can I learn this?’ and there’s definitely a gap. … Having the notes written down is super helpful to share the tradition and so it doesn't get lost,” she said.

Bartellas grew up in Newfoundland but now lives in Ottawa. Whenever she comes home, she said, she would scour stores looking for tune books she could share with others.

“I’ve sent copies of the written tunes to the Shetland Islands and Vancouver Island because it was so hard to get a hold of,” she said. “And if it wasn’t written down, because a lot of the tunes haven’t been, I’d have to write them down myself by hand to send to people or I’d make my own little recordings.”

Bartellas said she feels like there was a time when traditional music wasn’t considered hip, or music that only people of a certain generation enjoyed.


A screen capture from the nltrad.ca page created by St. John's musician and web developer Allan Farrell.
A screen capture from the nltrad.ca page created by St. John's musician and web developer Allan Farrell.

“(But) whenever it’s brought to different parts of the world, people go mad for it,” she said. “It’s something to be very proud of (and) it makes me very proud to have a resource like this. I feel like I can finally share the tradition more broadly.”

One of the elements that drives Farrell to keep compiling this database is making sure this music doesn’t get lost.

“It can be hard to find some of these tunes, it can be hard to learn them … it can be hard to find out where they come from and how to play them,” Farrell said. “This is one small tool, among many, to have access to that musical tradition that is a part of Newfoundland.”

The website has transcriptions by Farrell, but he also takes submissions. So far, there are a couple of hundred jigs, reels, sets, slides and waltzes, as well as other rhythms, listed by alphabetical order, type of rhythm or composer.

[email protected]

Twitter: @andrewLwaterman

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