Derrick Cameron:
spreading tradition

Derrick Cameron feels fortunate to be a guitar player in Cape Breton. "I feel lucky to have what we have here and I want to see it continue," he said. "It's the homes and the small community volunteer groups that are the foundation of the music." He explained that people follow music from community to community in Cape Breton, and that keeps it alive and well.

Unlike many of the musicians who grow up in Cape Breton, Derrick got his start a little later in life. "I always had music around me in my community, but I didn't really have it in my home like a lot of other musicians here," he said. He said he listened to a lot of records and took some guitar lessons, but didn't keep at them. "I really started playing when my wife, Melody, came along," he happily stated. He went on to say that she was very into the music and dance and that she brought him into all of it by asking him to accompany her when she played the fiddle. "I'm still learning," he said with a chuckle.

This learning process paid off, though -- not only for Derrick, but for some very lucky youth living in Cape Breton. This year, the couple started a program through Bernadette Campbell and Feis Mhabu called the Mabou Musical Mentorship Program. It is a series of house sessions that up-and-coming youth are invited to attend once a week over a couple months.

"When Melody and I got married, we started having regular house sessions at our place. People like Willie Kennedy, Father Angus and Joey Beaton came and shared their tunes and stories," Derrick remembered. "There were some younger musicians, too, like Mac Morin, Mairi Rankin and Natalie MacMaster." He said that this was where he learned the most, especially from the older musicians. Because of this, he and Melody came up with the idea to give a group of 14-19 year olds the same experience. "There's no real structure to these sessions, but there are plans for them. They're very informal," he explained. The goal is to have a very relaxed atmosphere where the young musicians can absorb the music and stories of the mentors and freely ask questions. This was definitely accomplished. "About 10 or 12 came to every session and they were from all over the island," Derrick said.

I can understand why, too. Who wouldn't want to learn from people such as Buddy MacMaster, Kinnon and Betty Lou Beaton, Carl MacKenzie, Willie Kennedy, J.P. Cormier and so many other greats? Because some of these musicians have never had formal music training, they have a hard time explaining what exactly they do in their playing in a formal classroom setting and they are reluctant to teach because of it, so this was a great experience for everyone. "The young players had the opportunity to meet and play with these people, but not be critiqued, and the mentors had the opportunity to share their music in an informal environment" Derrick said, "It was really a pleasure to watch the process and to work with all of them." He hopes that this experience showed the talented young musicians that there is a responsibility to be true to the area and to the music.

Because of this project's success, Derrick and Melody hope to continue it in the future. For right now, the couple can be heard at performances in their area or on their latest album, When There's Music....

For more information about Derrick and Melody, or the Mabou Musical Mentorship Program, visit them online.

by Kaitlin Hahn
28 January 2006