Fiddlers and Their Fans
SCOTTISH fiddlers, French Acadian fiddlers, Irish fiddlers, Gaelic singers, reinforced by an occasional guitarist, bagpiper, or pianist are filling Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island with music seldom heard anymore. Rekindled interest in Celtic and Acadian traditions is attracting scholars, clanspeople, and travelers for the frequent festivals and ceilidhs (pronounced kay-leel) along a coast which may be the most beautiful in all North America - and a mirror image of Scottish Highlands and wilder French an d Irish shores.Skip to next paragraph
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And here am I, amid the seascape and landscape, spiritual and literal, that my mother loved. She came of Scottish and Irish ancestry, studied in Paris, and spent time on French and Scottish as well as American coasts. She made sure I did likewise.
Both born inland, in Kansas City, Mo., we suffered from what my mother labeled "the Midwesterner's inordinate lust for the sea." Thanks largely to her mother, part of each childhood summer was spent somewhere beside the Atlantic. We grew up dabbling in tidal pools, dreaming of whales.
My mother and grandmother were classical pianists, so though I was considered tin-eared and unable to carry a tune except inside my own head, I grew up with classical music.
But fiddles? The only time I heard them was when, age 11 or 12, I hid out in my room, ears glued to hillbilly stations my foremothers scorned. Soon I was dancing to the usual full measure of pop tunes. Fiddles, if any survived in those big bands, were gunned down by trumpets and saxophones.
Alik, a Russian emigre pianist, reeducated me into Schubert, Scriabin, and Stravinsky in Paris, where I followed my mother's footsteps to the Sorbonne. When I steered my own course to Cornell, my pianist roommate, Inger, inculcated Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Infusions of the three B's, three S's, and up and down the alphabet have continued ever since. Particularly now that I've married Henry, a classical violinist, live music resounds in the early and late hours of the day. Classical radio stations fill the hours in between.
Music floods over me most happily beside a warm bay, sea, or ocean....
Currently, we live far inland. Toronto. Although Lake Ontario looks and sometimes acts like a sea, it's cold, smells odd, and crabbing and lobstering here are lousy. In any direction, oceans remain distant.
So, although Henry stayed behind, I'm on Cape Breton, washed by the Atlantic, by fragrances of salt and iodine, heather and pine.
The breathtaking Cabot Trail winds through woods, moors, and bogs of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, providing occasional sightings of moose, fox, even a rare lynx. Since Nova Scotia has one of North America's highest concentrations of bald eagles, raptors with eight-foot wingspans soar overhead.
WHERE the road - bordered with lavender lupines, yellow toadflax, purple asters, brown cattails - eases between fields dotted with scattered white clapboard houses and gray barns, it offers pastoral vistas of ivory sheep and black-and-white Holstein cattle. Where the road edges bluffs along the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean, one can swim from pristine beaches into waters which Canadians claim are "the warmest north of Virginia" - at least in July and August. By September, I mainly dabble in