I have long been a fan of Celtic music, specifically jigs and reels played on the fiddle. In my opinion, if you don’t spontaneously want to dance when listening to this music, you must be unconscious. So, I hit every pub I could find and even the after-hours party at the Gaelic College in St. Ann’s where musicians rocked it out Maritime style. The concert in Whycocomagh featuring the Irish band, Rura was one of the highlights of my trip. How I came to get that concert is a story in itself. Amazing! I have never really held a fiddle before and yearned to at least once sit with a fiddler and learn the basics of this beautiful instrument. Another spontaneous decision paved the way for that aspiration to become a reality.
The Celtic Colours Festival runs for nine days during which Cape Breton Island comes alive as venues all over the island host concerts featuring local and international musicians, pub floors are pounded by revelers stomping to the energetic vibe of fiddles and bagpipes and community centres host extravagant meals featuring local cuisine. Time-honoured dance and wool spinning demonstrations as well as traditional ceilidh story telling events offer visitors a glimpse into the distinctive history of this amazing place. The Celtic Colours Festival is truly one of the great Canadian events.
As with all journey’s, my time on the island was coming to an end. I needed to make my way home to Red Deer but a family visit in St. Thomas was still required. So, at 8:30 a.m. on October 9, I packed my bags and hit the highway. I have to admit, I was feeling somewhat depressed as I approached the Canso Causeway, that short link between Cape Breton Island and the Nova Scotia mainland. The Rura cd that I purchased at the Whycocomagh concert blasted from my speakers and memories of my visit to this beautiful place filled my head. I was both elated and sad at the same time.
As I approached the causeway, I remembered an event listed in the festival guide—Fiddle From Scratch – the basics. I had to stop and check the guide. Sure enough, that event was being held that day at a place called Prime Brook. I had no idea where Prime Brook was but of course, I needed to find it on my map—near Sydney, about two hours back. I wasn’t about to leave Cape Breton Island without sitting with a fiddle player and at least learning the basics. I turned around and headed for Prime Brook. It was also an excuse to spend another night on the island. I got a room in Sydney.
This is where Dwayne Cote enters my life. As a late arrival and not yet registered for the lesson, I wasn’t sure if I would even get to sit in on the one hour seminar. Luckily, Dwayne welcomed me in. Eight of us sat in a semi-circle and he promised us that we would learn one tune on the fiddle—Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I was finally holding a fiddle and learning from a pro. Even though I didn’t have my guitar with me, Dwayne loaned me his and allowed me to sit with the three others who had signed up for his advanced guitar lesson following the fiddle session.
Dwayne presented as a genuine and sensitive man. Following the fiddle lesson, I told him about my Cape Breton adventure and how I had turned around specifically to participate in his fiddle lesson. He was genuinely touched. I told him that I had often looked at violins at the music store but never purchased one. What he did next blew me away. He offered to sell me one of his favorite fiddles at a great price, an offer I couldn’t refuse. In exchange, I promised Dwayne that I would learn how to play it. So Dwayne, I start my first violin lesson on January 8.
As it turns out, Dwayne is one of the premier fiddler’s on Cape Breton Island and regularly performs at the Celtic Colours Festivals. He is also internationally renowned as a violin virtuoso. The following is an excerpt from an on-line article in Kitchenfest:
“John Allan Cameron called Dwayne Côté, "The best kept secret in Celtic Music". Dwayne was raised in Grande Greve, Cape Breton in a family deeply rooted in all aspects of Cape Breton, Irish and Scottish music traditions--his mother being a renowned dancer, instructor, and performer and his father is the late Gordon Côté, a celebrated Celtic fiddler/teacher who in recent years performed with Bobby Brown and The Cape Breton Symphony. Dwayne has been performing since the age of four, entertaining audiences far and wide. He has performed with such celebrated artists as John Allan Cameron, Graham Townsend, Sean McGuire, Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, Dave MacIsaac, to name a few. Dwayne Côté is an accomplished instructor and has taught at many fiddle camps and universities. His international musical performances include guest appearances at The University of Cork, Ireland, The Juhmarah Resort in Dubai the United City of Emirates, and many cities in the United States. Dwayne is also a composer and has more than 200 tunes registered with SOCAN. Dwayne has many musical influences including Buddy MacMaster, Jerry Holland, the late Angus Chisholm, Sean McGuire, and Winston Scotty Fitzgerald. Dwayne Côté is deemed to be one of the most unique violinists and fiddlers in Atlantic Canada. In short, his musical tones are inimitable and seldom forgotten”.
A Google search of Dwayne Cote will bring you to sites where you can hear for yourself the talent of this incredible musician. I promised Dwayne that I would learn how to play this complicated instrument but I can’t guarantee to what level I will achieve. Based on my uninstructed attempts so far, I would keep your distance if you see me with my fiddle on my shoulder. I make dogs howl. And I know it’s not the violin’s fault. I listened as my soon-to-be violin instructor played a few notes. She made it sound amazing.