[Canadian flag]Canadian Music Page

Welcome to my Canadian music page!This page contains information about the music of Cape Breton Island and other parts of Canada - types of tunes, notable musicians and groups, and more.

General Information

Cape Breton Island and eastern Canada are sort of a "melting pot" of various styles of traditional music. The Cape Breton style of music is mainly descended from the old Scottish tradition, but there are some Irish and French influences as well. I'm not very well-versed (yet) on the other musical traditions of eastern Canada, but I'll try to learn more and put it on this page. In the meantime, I want to take the time to tell you about someone who made a huge impact on Cape Breton music...

Dan Rory MacDonald ("Dan R.") lived from 1912 to 1976, and in those 64 years he composed over 1,000 tunes - many of which are still very popular today. A couple of the tunes I used in my MIDI sets were his compositions - "Morrison's Ridge" (set 28) and "Lime Hill" (set 37). Dan R. was a member of the Five MacDonalds, a group based in Detroit that featured five fiddlers who shared the same last name and all came from Inverness County, Nova Scotia (and only two of them were related to each other!). Dan R. also has ties to many of today's best players - John Allan Cameron, a very talented and well-known musician - is Dan R.'s nephew. That's one of the things that makes Cape Breton music so interesting - there are some very strong ties between all those musically talented families there. (Thanks to "Woody" Beaton for sharing the last piece of info with me.)

You can find sheet music and MIDI files for a few of Dan R.'s tunes on my Dan R. MacDonald page.

Musicians & Groups

This group from Prince Edward Island plays traditional Acadian music. They've been together for a few years now and they're really fun to listen to.
  • Group members:
  • Albert Arsenault - vocals, dance, fiddle, bass, percussion
  • Hélène Arsenault-Bergeron - piano, vocals, dance, reed organ, guitar, foot percussion
  • Louise Arsenault - fiddle, vocals, dance, harmonica, foot percussion
  • Chuck Arsenault - vocals, guitar, harmonica, dance, sousaphone, trumpet
Barra MacNeils
This group of siblings from Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia is versatile and quite fun to listen to. I've been aware of them for a while, but I've only recently had the chance to hear more of their music and to learn about them.
  • Group members:
  • Sheumas - piano
  • Kyle - fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin
  • Lucy - fiddle, bodhran, harp, stepdancing, vocals
  • Stewart - whistle, flute, accordion, piano, stepdancing, harmonica, guitar, bass, percussion
Yet another wonderful and exciting group from the musically rich land that is eastern Canada. As you can probably tell from reading this, I've just run out of ways to describe all these great groups and musicians.
  • Group members:
  • Wendy MacIsaac - fiddle
  • Mairi Rankin - fiddle
  • Ryan J. MacNeil - pipes, whistle
  • Patrick Gillis - guitar
  • Mac Morin - piano
  • Matthew Foulds - drums
I've only recently discovered this wonderful Acadian group who hails from Baie Ste-Marie, Nova Scotia. They've been around since 1994, and they play with a wonderful energy that makes the music well worth listening to even if you're like me and you can't understand the words to some of the songs they sing!
  • Group members:
  • Patrice Boulianne - accordion, guitar, vocals
  • Len LeBlanc - percussion, guitar, harmonica, washboard, vocals
  • Jacques Livernoche - percussion
  • Jeff Dey - electric bass, harmonica, vocals
  • Harvey Marcotte - mandolin, guitar, fiddle, vocals
J.P. Cormier
I don't know why it took me so long to put him on this page! J.P. is a multitalented and multinstrumental musician who is well-versed in traditional Cape Breton music as well as bluegrass...among other traditions, I'm sure. He is also a very skilled composer who has added to the wealth of great Cape Breton music. (Thanks to Laurie Boudreau for suggesting that I put him on this page.)
Jerry Holland
In an area of the world known for great fiddling, Jerry Holland is definitely one of the best there is.A review in a Green Linnet catalog praises him as "one of the most gifted people ever to put bow to string." His reputation as a musician in the Irish, Scottish and Canadian traditions is nothing short of legendary, and his skill at composing traditional-style tunes is no less remarkable. I have to admit that I haven't heard much of his music personally, but I'm impressed by what I've heard so far.
A young "powerhouse" band from Lakefield, Ontario, Leahy is the largest group I know of. The nine Leahy siblings have an impressive array of talents, including singing, fiddling, and step-dancing. I saw part of one of their concerts on TV once - I'll never forget the sight and sound of five fiddles playing simultaneously, accompanied by nine pairs of dancing feet. Quite remarkable!
  • Group members:
  • Agnes - piano, fiddle and vocals
  • Angus - fiddle, piano
  • Donnell - fiddle
  • Doug - fiddle, saxophone
  • Erin - piano, keyboards, fiddle, vocals
  • Frank - drums, fiddle
  • Julie - piano, mandolin
  • Maria - acoustic guitar, mandolin, piano, fiddle, vocals
  • Siobheann - bass, piano, fiddle, vocals
Ashley MacIsaac
Along with Natalie MacMaster (who's his third cousin, incidentally), Ashley is a Cape Breton "superstar." I previously reported here that he'd ventured into other types of music, but I've been told that he's making a very nice comeback in the traditional style. (Thanks again to Laurie Boudreau, who gave me that information.)
Buddy MacMaster
Buddy MacMaster is a living legend in Cape Breton. He learned his first tune at age 11, and as he himself says, he's been "scratching away at it ever since." He's now in his early 80's and is still going strong. His playing is a link to some of the great Cape Breton fiddlers of earlier generations - Dan R. MacDonald, Donald Angus Beaton, Bill Lamey, Winston Fitzgerald, and others. In 2000, he was named to the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor, for his contributions to Cape Breton and Canadian music and culture.
Natalie MacMaster
In my opinion, she is one of the three best fiddlers in the world today.She has already had a successful - and busy - career (she was asked to play with "Lord of the Dance," but she turned it down because she's so busy), and there's certainly much more to come.
Slainte Mhath
How many talented groups and musicians can one area hold? I'm not sure, but when you ask that question about Cape Breton, you'd have to count Slainte Mhath in as part of the answer.
  • Group members:
  • Lisa Gallant - bodhran, fiddle, stepdancing
  • Boyd MacNeil - fiddle, guitar, mandolin, percussion
  • Ryan MacNeil - keyboards, percussion
  • Brian Talbot - percussion
  • John MacPhee - pipes, flute

Types of Tunes

Note: Sheet music and MIDI files are available for each tune. Just click the "Sheet music" link to view the sheet music, or click the "MIDI file" link to listen to the MIDI file. You can also save the sheet music or MIDI file by right-clicking the link and selecting "Save As", "Save Link As", or "Save Target As" (depending on which browser you're using) on the menu that appears.

Jig [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
Jigs are more typically associated with Irish music, but they also make up an important part of the Cape Breton musical tradition. Believe it or not, a good number of the jigs in the Cape Breton tradition are originally Irish! I've noticed that Cape Breton jigs (even the ones that actually came from Ireland) tend to have that "snap" that seems to be natural in Cape Breton (and Scottish) music. I guess you could say that for the most part, Cape Breton jigs are basically Irish tunes played in a Scottish-sounding style. The sample tune I've chosen ("Road to Skye") seems to illustrate that point rather well - it's familiar to me from the playing of Irish flute/whistle player Brian Finnegan, but it's also been played by Natalie and Buddy MacMaster.
Reel [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
Reels seem to be very popular (and numerous) in the traditions of many of the Celtic regions. Cape Breton is no exception. Cape Breton reels always seem to have plenty of lively ornamentation which tends to make them quite exciting to listen (and dance) to. The following example ("Archie Menzies") is a common session tune which I first heard on one of Natalie MacMaster's CDs.
Strathspey [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
The strathspey is a very unique tune in both Scottish and Cape Breton music. Strathspeys are normally in 4/4 or 2/4. They feature alternating dotted eighth notes and sixteenth notes (commonly referred to as a "Scotch snap"), and sometimes have long "runs" of triplets or sixteenth notes. Also, some of the older strathspeys (like the sample tune, "King George IV," which dates back to the mid-1700's) have a key change in the middle of the tune.
Hornpipe [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
The hornpipe, like the strathspey, is in either 4/4 or 2/4. Hornpipes tend to have a "bouncy" rhythm which doesn't have the sharp swing of the strathspey but also isn't as fast as the reel. The sample tune ("The Castle") was actually composed by New England musician King Colbath back in the 19th century, but is commonly played in Cape Breton, so I felt like it was appropriate to include it here.
March [ Sheet music | MIDI file ]
Cape Breton marches are a lot like Scottish marches - they pretty much come in all different meters, rhythms and tempos. It's really hard for me to come up with a "standard" since there really isn't one common form that I know of. The sample tune ("Fingal's Cave") is a tune from the playing of Natalie MacMaster.