Monday, October 19, 2009
Discussing the past, present and future of Celtic culture
ST. ANNS — Not surprisingly, the focus was on youth during a panel discussion about the preservation of community musical traditions, Thursday.
Held at the Gaelic College as part of the Celtic Colours International Festival, the discussion was facilitated by festival artistic director Joella Foulds and featured representatives of organizations from both Ireland and Cape Breton who have worked in various capacities to keep their cultural traditions alive.
Rab Cherry, a fiddle maker from Ireland, is one of the founding members of Cairdeas na bhFidiléirí, an organization which has been working since 1983 to foster the development and preservation of Donegal fiddle music.
Cherry said the Donegal fiddling tradition had gone very quiet years ago but through weekend festivals, the collection and recording of the music, summer schools, and other initiatives, a significant number of younger people have since picked up the fiddle.
As an example, he said where they once struggled to find just a few teachers to instruct the summer school, that’s no longer an issue.
“If we needed 50 teachers we could get them. It wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
Gay McKeon, a uilleann piper from Ireland, talked about the reemergence of that art form over the last few decades. While the pipes were almost extinct in Ireland in the 1960s, a group formed focusing on supporting pipers and teaching new players. Their piping organization has since grown to 7,000 members from both inside and outside Ireland.
Representing Cape Breton on the panel were musicians Derrick and Melody Cameron from Feis Mhabu, which aims to provide learning and social opportunities for those interested in Gaelic culture, as well as Betty Matheson and Bob MacEachern from the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association.
Motivated by a 1972 documentary entitled The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler, the fiddlers’ association formed soon after and held their first festival in Glendale in 1973.
In addition to regular monthly practices and ceilidhs, the association is always looking for new ways to promote the culture through instruction and by providing opportunities for young players to perform, according to MacEachern.
He said the neat thing about the all-ages fiddlers’ association is that a fiddler with 60 years experience is often playing alongside someone who may have just taken up the fiddle a couple of years ago.
“There’s a great synergy between the two generations and they feed off each other,” said MacEachern, explaining that the older fiddlers teach by example, while the younger fiddlers inspire and re-energize the whole group.
Derrick Cameron said Feis Mhabu formed about 15 years ago and is focused on providing learning opportunities for budding Gaelic speakers through after-school programs, milling frolics, and programs based in homes in the community.