The fiddler’s smile

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I can’t seem to shake loose this stupid grin
As I watch my son lean into the mic to project the opening notes
he cocks his head to the side and lets his fiddle sing
a series of double strings, then his fingers run up and down the fiddle’s neck
and then a clear high siren, before he brings the reel home with a cascade of sounds

A young girl is up and dances in front of him
shuffling back and forth and keeping rhythm by
running her hands through her locks
Others stand, smiling, tapping their toes, clapping
And the bow dips and dives, the music seems to
carry all of us off to another, livelier place

There’s a faint smile and glint in the fiddler’s eye
Though he’s never travelled the road to Errogie
he’s brought the Scotland highlands to this hall, this night
We are there, transported with him, delighted with each draw of his bow

The right foot stamps as he gazes off somewhere between his notes
and then his eyes catch mine and he raises his eyebrows,
nods his head towards me, then flashes that fiddler’s smile,
small gestures that lift and carry me away with him and his tune

 

– Chris George

 

(ed. – This is a newly released poem found in a compilation of verse just released under the title of MIDSTEP – A dozen poems towards where I want to be. To get your copy of Midstep, contact chrisg.george@gmail.com.) 

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MIDSTEP – A dozen poems towards where I want to be

Fiddles and sap buckets

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Here is a shameless plug for our favourite Ottawa Valley fiddler – Alexander George.

This weekend – April 4 & 5 – the sap will be flowing and the many Lanark County maple farms are hosting a special festival to showcase their syrup as well as some local Valley talents.

One Almonte maple stand, owned by Ray Fortune and his family will have the wildly entertaining Kettle Boys, who will delight visitors with their antics. And beside their open fire will be a stage where you will hear sweat sounds of the fiddle…

Here is the link to Alexander’s post on his weekend performances at the Fortune Family Farm.

So, do you think he’ll play Maple Sugar – Ottawa Valley’s classic tune by the legendary Ward Allen??

maple-tapWatch Alexander’s site next week for pictures and a story or two from the fun in the maple bush.  Better yet, if you want to experience the quintessential Canadian spring event, then come out to one of the Lanark County maple bushes and see the sap running for yourself!

 

Update – Monday April 6

Alexander did indeed play “Maple Sugar” – at least a dozen times. In the photos below you will see Lisa accompanying the fiddler and a nice picture of owners Ray and Ruth Fortune with Alexander and Lisa. There are more photos of the performance to be found on AlexanderGeorge.ca

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Towards a National Fiddling Day

IMG_7522 (2)Yesterday at the Canadian Heritage Committee, Members of Parliament were discussing the establishment of a day in Canada to recognize fiddle music. Appearing before the committee was Senator Elizabeth Hubley who is the author of Bill S-218, An Act respecting National Fiddling Day. There was also Graham Sheppard, Vice-President of the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Association, fiddler extraordinaire Kelli Trottier – and a young Ottawa Valley fiddler by the name of Alexander George.

Witnesses provided their testimony and Kelli and Alexander had the chance to play for the MPs. Senator Hubley provided an eloquent argument for a National Fiddling Day; a special day that would provide an opportunity for the music community and for Canadians across our country to come together to celebrate Canada’s diversities as found in the rich history of fiddle music. The Senator likened the spirit of fiddle music to the very character of Canada.

     I am convinced that fiddling is the perfect metaphor for Canada.

     Like Canada, it has deep classical roots but is strong and confident enough to allow for many regional differences and nuances that give rise to a beautiful, harmonic unity.

     Like Canada, it is a study in contrast. It is modest, yet it is extremely complex, accessible in terms of availability and affordability yet difficult to master, as any player will attest.

     Like Canada, it embraces and accommodates many different styles and traditions, allowing each to thrive and flourish even while we create an entirely new sound.

As for 14-year old Alexander, he shared with MPs his experience and passion for fiddle music. As he said: Fiddlers are part of a sharing community that has a proud tradition of coming together to play and entertain. I really can’t explain it, but fiddling is a great feeling – playing with fellow musicians and seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces. I am very happy to be part of Canada’s fiddle community.

To read Alexander’s full statement to MPs, click here.

The Canadian Heritage Committee proceeded to clause-by-clause of Bill S-218 and the MPs passed the legislation. It will be reported back into the House of Commons and proceed to a third reading in the weeks to come.

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(ed. – Photos: Senator Elizabeth Hubley with Alexander George. Alexander playing for MPs, Alexander with Rick Dykstra, MP for St. Catharines and Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage)

The sound of fiddles on the Hill

IMG_7521 (2)On February 4, Members of Parliament of the Canadian Heritage Committee were considering S-218: An Act respecting a National Fiddling Day. Appearing before the Committee were two fiddlers to speak of their love of fiddle music. Kelli Trottier spoke and played for MPs, as did Alexander George.

Here is Alexander’s statement to MPs.

“Mr. Chairman, I just turned 14 and have been playing fiddle for 6 years. I am honoured to be here representing young fiddlers and speaking on something that is my passion. I love playing the fiddle and sharing music with others.

Fiddling is an important part of our society. It is found throughout our country’s past. It is special because it recounts our history and our peoples. And fiddle music is still very much alive today.

I want to relate a little bit about my own experiences playing the fiddle as an example of how this music can impact people and their communities.

My Mother grew up in Nova Scotia – so I have musical roots in the Maritimes. I have been inspired by my cousin Megan Isenor and kitchen parties at my grandparents’ home, and the socials and stage performances I saw as a young boy in Nova Scotia and in Ontario.

There are many, many people who have inspired me through music. I don’t have the time to start naming them all! But, I am fortunate to have had great teachers and mentors – and I wish to thank all of them. They have taught me about the importance of fiddle music. They are wonderful musicians that represent our Canadian fiddling tradition. They have opened doors for me and given me great opportunities.

I hope I can carry on the tradition that is being passed down to me by my instructors through the years:

  • Beth Bartley, a wonderful performer from St. Catharines
  • Karen Reid, Canadian fiddle champion who now lives in Kitchener
  • Cindy Thompson, another Canadian fiddle champion who is a great mentor and friend
  • Denis Lanctot, who was inducted last year in the Canadian Fiddle Hall of Fame

I began performing fiddle music in Niagara Region, in St. Catharines. I started playing in the Niagara Old Tyme Fiddlers Association. At the start, I acquired many mentors – fiddlers in their 60’s, 70’s and some in their 80’s. (I was 8 years old and brought the average age down to 60.)

I joined a band with two of my mentors, Cassandra Swan, Mike Mattie and we played in seniors’ residences. The band was later named Alexander’s Old Time Band. Seniors really enjoyed our show and our music, which was their day’s pop music.

Now I live in the Ottawa Valley. It has a rich history of Celtic, country and Valley fiddle music. The Ottawa Valley has the Heritage Radio station and Renfrew’s Valley Stage that keeps our history alive.

In the Valley, there are weekly jams and gatherings in pubs and homes. In fact, I go to a jam session at a local pub every Wednesday night, where I drink ginger ale and play to my bed time of 9:30.

I would like to mention Charlie Kitts and Jim Hunter, who have done a good job with promoting Ottawa Valley fiddle music and helping fiddlers perform throughout Ottawa and the Valley.

So, let me tell you a little bit about where I perform. Fiddle music is welcomed in many places. It is an important part of our community. I have volunteered at many senior residences. The music provides great enjoyment. I feel by doing this gives back to the community.

Fiddle music is welcomed at heritage and community fairs. For instance, I have played at the St. Catharines Fiddle Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake strawberry social, Almonte’s Puppets Up! and Celtfest festivals, and many more…

There are many fiddle concerts across Canada. I have played at larger venues like the regular Shindigs in Niagara, featuring Canadian talent, like Patti Lamoureux and the Fitzgerald Family. I remember the 500+ people that came out to the Marshville Fair just to listen to the fiddle music and the many that attended the historic Renfrew Fair to listen to acts on its Valley Stage.

I also volunteer at not the flashiest, but certainly the most important community events like fundraisers for the Niagara soup kitchen and also for “In Out of the Cold” support program for disadvantaged people. This past weekend I played at the Country Music Heart Jamboree in Carleton Place – which was a fundraiser for the Ottawa Heart Institute.

The fiddle community across Canada is close. Fiddlers show a lot of respect for each other and their unique styles of fiddling. We enjoy many styles in Canada: from Celtic, French Canadian, Old Tyme, Ottawa Valley, and Prairie or some call it Metis.

Fiddlers are part of a sharing community that has a proud tradition of coming together to play and entertain. I really can’t explain it, but fiddling is a great feeling – playing with fellow musicians and seeing the smiles on peoples’ faces. I am very happy to be part of Canada’s fiddle community.

Mr. Chairman, let me tell you that there is support and excitement for National Fiddling Day. People all over Canada will appreciate and celebrate the day. Since fiddling is a social thing, people will come together to play music, dance and enjoy themselves on Canada’s Fiddling Day.

I hope my personal story helps to demonstrate how fiddle music has impacted me, the people around me, and my community.

I would like to conclude my presentation by playing the Lieutenant Governor’s Waltz – a waltz composed by Calvin Vollrath, a favourite fiddler of mine who comes from Saskatchewan.”

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(ed. – This was a proud moment for us watching our son perform.) 

 

 

Of fiddles and kitchen parties

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Allow a proud Father to boast a moment… above is a picture of my son, Alexander, performing on the Renfrew Fair’s Valley Stage last weekend. It has been a heck of a summer for our favourite fiddler! He (and our Family) has enjoyed Almonte’s Celtfest and Puppets Up! festivals and a number of other musical scenes.

For those interested in following his activities, you can read of Alexander’s performances on his website: alexandergeorge.ca