Passing Gaelic Culture Down Through Music

Cape Breton’s Celtic Music Interpretive Centre and the Celtic Colours International Festival are sponsoring a mentoring program that will ensure the passing of Cape Breton’s Gaelic tongue and rich Celtic musical traditions from one generation to the next. Each student will receive instructions in subjects that include Gaelic Language, Fiddle, Pipes and Scottish Step Dancing.  The Mission Statement of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre is to “Collect, Preserve and Promote the traditions of the Celtic Music of Cape Breton Island through Education, Research and Performance”.   

An article in “CBCNews-Nova Scotia” quotes program coordinator Kimberly Fraser describing how each student in the program will receive instruction in his or her chosen instrument; fiddle pipes, piano or guitar along with required classes in Gaelic language and step-dancing.  Fraser described as a key component in the program what happens outside the classroom at dances and at ceilidhs, traditional Gaelic social gatherings.  Fraser stated: “We see a lot of performance-based music but when you experience it, say at a party or at a dance, especially playing for a dance, when you hear a dancer's feet; it really makes you play in a certain way."

In a 2013 interview with Transceltic the importance of passing along musical traditions in social settings was cited by Allan Dewar, Music Director of the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre.  Dewar described the role of social setting in passing along the language and fiddle, the two key components in the Mentor program: “Fiddling is a solo tradition, the Cape Breton style is centred on individual interpretation of the music…In the old Gaelic speaking days this was through informal gatherings at the pub, at the Ceilidh (traditional social gathering where Gaelic music and dance was performed) or in the home.   In today’s faster paced living there is little time for the old ways. We at the Centre provide that place where locals can come. When people play here at the Centre it is meant to be a comfortable environment, reminiscent of the old style gatherings where the individual styles of fiddling were nurtured. There is quite a resurgence going on with recent changes having led to a stronger commitment to the culture, language and the music of Gaelic culture. A growing recognition that the music is very closely tied to the language, that music comes from the language.”

James MacKillop, in his 2005 “Myths and Legends of the Celts”, describes the depth and complexity of the of Gaelic speaking culture of Cape Breton; “The furthest flung, newest and least studied canton of the Celtic world lies in the Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia. Large numbers of impoverished, landless Gaelic-speaking Highlanders were settled there from the late eighteenth century through to the middle of the nineteenth. Some were victims of the Clearances. Whereas Irish, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic were once spoken, written and published elsewhere in North America, only in Nova Scotia did a widespread oral tradition flourish, one that has persisted until the twenty first century. The 1900 census recorded 100,000 speakers, most of them born in the province. This Gaidhealtachd [Gaelic Speaking Region] encompassed most of Cape Breton Island.”


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