January-February 2016

Celtic Colours Festival

PLUS a Visit from Andrea Beaton, Dick Hensold and Dean MAGraw

By Roland Sturm

Andrea-Beaton-and-Dick-Hensold-smCape Breton, an island in the province of Nova Scotia at the Eastern end of Canada with under 150,000 people, is the home of a musical style that is popular far beyond its borders. Cape Breton music was strongly influenced by Scottish immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th century and its fiddle style may be the closest current representation of Scottish fiddle music of the 1800s.

For nine days in October, Cape Breton Island stages the Celtic Colours International Festival with dozens of concerts all over the island and numerous other community events. The festival is held during Cape Breton’s spectacular fall when the leaves are turning colors – and it has the added economic benefit of extending Cape Breton Island’s tourism season by another month. With Celtic Colours’ ambitious schedule, it is impossible to see and hear everything. But whether it’s Gaelic singing, Cape Breton fiddling, local dance traditions, or bagpiping, Celtic Colours festival-goers can tailor their musical experience to suit their tastes. There are also cultural experience workshops, community events, and a series of outdoor events with guided walks, hikes, and bicycle tours.

Several members of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles took a trip to the last Celtic Colours Festival. Chris Peoples, SFLA’s associate musical director, reports:

Five of us went to Celtic Colours and our main activity was to attend the the Buddy MacMaster Fiddle School in Judique for the week. We had classes with Ashley MacIsaac, Wendy MacIsaac, Andrea Beaton, Glen Graham, Kendra and Troy Macgillivray Kimberley Fraser, Shelley Campbell, and Gabrielle MacLellan. We also participated in daily sessions with these artists, which helped in getting the common tunes well planted under our fingers.

A highlight of the trip was a houseparty at Kinnon and Betty Beaton's place, which involved a group of young fiddlers from the Danish island of Fanø (The Fanø Fiddlers). Betty is Buddy MacMaster’s youngest sister.

Besides all of the official Celtic Colours concerts and pub/restaurant entertainment, we took in the fall colors along the Ceilidh and Cabot Trails, had lunch in the Acadian town of Cheticamp, and gorged ourselves on the local seafood. We made friends with so many local folks, who were charmed by the fact that we are so passionate about their musical and dance traditions.

The trip culminated at The West Mabou Dance Hall, where we all danced the local square sets. Andrea and Betty Beaton were playing that evening, as were others from the Beaton/MacMaster clan. The hall is located in the middle of nowhere on a long country road, and people don't show up until 10:00! During the season, one can find dances throughout the island on most days of the week.

Andrea Beaton and her band will be in Southern California in mid-January. Aside from concerts in San Diego, Pasadena, and Santa Monica, the group will give hands-on workshops for fiddlers (Andrea) and guitarists (Dean Magraw) on January 16 in San Gabriel. Contact Chris Peoples if you are interested and the workshops aren’t full yet.

Andrea is one of most accomplished and well-known fiddlers from the newest generation of Cape Breton musicians. She learned her tradition from her family. Her father, Kinnon Beaton, is a well-known Cape Breton fiddler and composer himself; her mother, Betty Beaton, a piano accompanist. Her late uncle, Buddy MacMaster, was the most revered traditional Cape Breton-style fiddler, and her cousin, Natalie MacMaster, has reached much wider audiences. Andrea has released 5 solo CDs, one of which won the 2010 East Coast Music Association “instrumental recording of the year”.

Andrea Beaton, Dick Hensold, and Dirk Freymuth, playing a set of Cape Breton jigs.

Appearing with Andrea will be Dick Hensold, playing various bagpipes and whistles. His solo Northumbrian smallpipes CD, Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes was released in 2007 (available from dickhensold.com). Northumbrian smallpipes are a quiet bagpipe that plays much fiddle music. It has a characteristic staccato playing style that makes it work well with the aggressive bowing of Cape Breton fiddle music. Dick also plays Highland reel pipes, which is a more common type of bagpipe in Cape Breton music. Joining Andrea and Dick will be guitarist Dean Magraw, who has repeatedly performed on “A Prairie Home Companion” and also played on Dick Hensold's recording, Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes.

Andrea’s concerts will feature mostly the traditional dance music of Cape Breton Island. Most dances today are played by a duo of a fiddler and a pianist, but a second melody player often joins the first on the bandstand during the course of a dance. This is usually two fiddlers, and there is a tradition of this in Andrea’s family: Andrea released a double-fiddle album with her father Kinnon (Kinnon and Andrea Beaton) in 2007, and Kinnon released one with his father Donald Angus Beaton in 1978 (The Beatons of Mabou). But Dick Hensold points out that it isn’t all about fiddlers and that even among the Beatons there were pipers: “ Her great-great-grandfather was a piper, and her great-grandfather was both a piper and fiddler. So the pipes/fiddle combo has a precedent in the Beaton family!”

The dominant role of fiddle may be newer than people think and Dick argues: “While fiddle has been the main dance instrument for most of the twentieth century, it didn’t attain this position of prominence until the 1930s. The pipes were the premier instrument before then, and Cape Breton fiddle music is based on Scottish pipe music to a much greater extent than fiddle styles elsewhere.”

Andrea Beaton, Dick Hensold, and Dean Magraw will play at the Pasadena Folk Music Society on January 16th, at a house concert in San Diego on the 15th, and at a house concert in Santa Monica on the 17th, and will do workshops that are set up through the SFLA.

For the San Diego house concert (7:00pm January 15), RSVP by phone text/call 310-447-4839 or email mairtinmusic@gmail.com.

For the Santa Monica house concert, (3:00pm, January 17) contact irishfleury@earthlink.net to reserve a spot.

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.


All Columns by Roland Sturm