Piano Summit
at Our Lady of Fatima Church, Sydney River, Cape Breton
(12 October 2010)

I had the opportunity to attend the Piano Summit concert once, in years past, and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to take it in, once again. This time, it was held at Our Lady of Fatima, a big, beautiful church in Sydney River.

The entire lineup of performers kicked off the concert with a set of toe-tapping jigs. It was so neat to hear six piano players playing at once! It was especially neat in this venue; because of the tile floors and high ceiling, the acoustics were incredible.

Doing double duty as a performer and emcee for this show was none other than Mac Morin. He introduced Maybelle Chisolm McQueen, the "matriarch of piano playing in Cape Breton," as he put it, who adorably walked onto the stage with her gold handbag and sat down at the piano. She began with an air, accompanied by Jason Roach. When McQueen went into a march, she received excited applause from the audience, and they clapped in time with her for her strathspeys. Her foot was pounding on the stage as she played her reel.

Then, there was a Q&A session between McQueen and Morin. First he asked her why she chose piano over fiddle, when fiddle was the popular instrument at the time she began playing. She responded by saying, "I have news for you, Morin ... I was playing fiddle before I was playing the piano." She went on to say that she stuck with piano because a dear uncle of hers influenced her to do so.

Next up was powerhouse Erin Leahy. She played a fabulous ragtime set, including Scott Joplin's famous "Maple Leaf Rag," which received applause from the first few notes. Then she played a waltz written by a Quebecois accordion player, and she liked it so much, she adapted it for piano, and wow -- did she ever do a good job of it! The sound that filled the room was incredible and the applause went on for a long time.

Following her was Tracey Dares-MacNeil, who thanked Leahy because she was so moved by her performance. She went on to play a fantastic Cape Breton medley, beginning with a hauntingly beautiful air and including a tune she wrote for her daughter called "Piano Ride," since her daughter used to sit on her lap as she played. She was accompanied by Boyd MacNeil on guitar and Morin on piano. It was an interesting medley, since following the air, it went into a jig, then a slip jig, then reels -- very eclectic, but entertaining.

After that fantastic set, Morin, Troy MacGillivray, McQueen and Dares-MacNeil played a set of pipe tunes, which made my toes start tapping right away. The audience cheered with every glissando McQueen threw into the mix. She looked like she was having a lot of fun.

Continuing the fun was MacGillivray, who will be teaching at a university in Scotland for the next year. Cheryl Smith joined him on drum set, and he played a medley beginning with the jig, "The Roaring Barmaid," and ending with a really fun Nuala Kennedy tune called, "The New Yorker." His set received cheers with almost every change from tune to tune. As I said in another review, I am in awe of his talent. His choices of chords and bass runs are amazing, and this set was no different. I also loved the addition of the drums -- it made it so fun!

Morin, then, expressed how much he was enjoying the variety of styles from artist to artist, even though everyone is playing the same instrument. He said he could listen to a bunch of different players and know who they are, before their names are even announced. Cape Breton piano playing has come so far over the years.

With that, he welcomed Jason Roach to the stage, who "makes Cape Breton piano playing so cool." Apparently, last year Roach was dressed in a leather jacket, and he played a monster of a set, so Morin introduced him as the "Fonzerelli" of Cape Breton piano. Roach proved Morin right. His set was incredible. He, too, was accompanied on drum set, which made the set even more driving and "cool."

The group did one more set before the intermission. For this one, MacGillivray played fiddle, where he is equally talented. Roach and McQueen played piano, Morin and Leahy showed their fancy footwork and the audience went nuts! It was fantastic.

Following intermission, the remarkably talented Morin took the stage for a set. He played a spirited set of Cape Breton tunes, along with Boyd MacNeil and Tracey Dares-MacNeil. It really set the mood for the second half of the show. I always enjoy Morin's piano style.

After sharing memories of touring, and a few laughs, Dares-MacNeil brought her three oldest, very adorable daughters. The youngest, 6-year-old Orianna, told a little joke, and after a shriek of laughter, the three sang some Gaelic songs. I'm always impressed with how traditions get passed down from generation to generation in Cape Breton, and this showed it really well. With their sweet voices, and their mother accompanying them on piano, the girls wowed the crowd into a standing ovation. They were so cute.

Then, Roach took the stage again for another rockin' solo. It, again, included full drum set for accompaniment and the pounding of his own foot. But even without the accompaniment Roach can make the piano sound like an entire band. He is incredibly talented.

Afterward, MacQueen was welcomed back to the stage for a duet with Roach. They played a gorgeous air, followed by some more energetic tunes.

MacGillivray took the stage again, beginning with an Irish tune called "Natural Progression," then a jig by Cape Breton fiddler Shelly Campbell, and more jigs and reels. With Smith accompanying on drums, the first tune had a slow rock feel to it, but things picked up with the jigs and toes were tapping. I especially liked the little ear-catching interludes used to transition from tune to tune in this set. It kept the listener wondering where the set was going next, which made it really interesting.

Then, Leahy and Morin shared the stage for a beautiful duet, with an air, jigs and reels, and a little ragtime. They were really tight, probably since they tour together as part of the show, "Two Fiddles, Two Pianos," with Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster. While there were two pianos, it sounded like one. They, too, had really nice transitions between tunes. Although their styles are totally different, they blend really nicely. They received a standing ovation, and the loudest cheers of the concert.

And, as if that wasn't enough, all of the artists came on stage for a finale. It was interesting, with MacGillivray playing fiddle, accompanied by five pianos (with each taking a little spotlight at points), guitar, and drum set! It ended with all six pianists playing strathspeys and reels. It was neat it was to hear one piano accompanying another, so many times in this concert! The piano is always known as the accompanying instrument in Cape Breton, so it was a treat to hear it as the melody instrument as well. Once again, this was a fabulous concert.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

23 October 2010

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