Piano Summit
at Our Lady of Fatima Church, Sydney River, Cape Breton
(11 October 2011)

I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Piano Summit concert last year. Once again it was in the beautiful Our Lady of Fatima Church. I was a little late getting there, but I walked in to a toe-tapping set by the lovely Kimberley Fraser accompanied by the fantastic guitarist Louis-Charles Vigneau. It was a fabulous set of strathspeys and reels -- the perfect way to start my evening. I loved the jazzy chord transitions between some of the tunes. Emcee Mac Morin was impressed and explained that Fraser's degree is actually in violin. She's very multitalented.

Following her was Troy MacGillivray, who played a set of clogs and reels with Vigneau and Cheryl Smith on percussion. MacGillivray had some really fun little variations on the tunes. I'm always impressed and in awe of his arrangements of tunes. They're fun to listen to and inspiring to me as a fiddle player.

Next up was a performer I had never heard of before: Barbara MacDonald Magone, who lives in the United State, but her roots are in Cape Breton. She began with a beautifully arranged air, then a march, strathspeys, and reels. I loved her use of the bass end of the piano. It gave it a nice, full sound. She made it sound as if a whole band was playing.

After that exciting performance, Morin graced the stage with a set of jigs. There were immediately toes tapping on the church's tile floor. He was accompanied by cellist Nathaniel Smith, who tours with Morin regularly. It was easy to hear this, because the chopping on the cello was spot on with the rhythmic jigs Morin was playing. Once again, I loved the arrangement and the transitions between tunes. The audience must have enjoyed it, because someone behind me shouted, "'At a boy, Mac!"

Scottish pianist Andy Thorburn, who is known for honing his talents with the band Blazin' Fiddles, tickled the ivories next. He was really happy to be back in Cape Breton, and he announced, "This is one of the best days of my life." His set included a hauntingly beautiful slow air, marches, strathspeys and jigs; he claimed following strathspeys with jigs instead of reels would get him kicked out of Scotland. It was interesting to hear how different his chording and rhythms and pedal use were compared to the Cape Breton and Nova Scotia artists. It added variety to the show and showed how while the roots of the music are the same, the distance between the countries has caused changes in the music.

Before intermission, there was one last incredible number by Morin, MacGillivray and Fraser, where they took turns switching between the piano and step dancing. Two of them were on one piano, one was dancing, and they kept switching and never missed a beat. Then, all three played a final tune on one piano. It was fantastic and the crowd went crazy over it!

After the draw for door prizes, it was time for a group number. First up was a duo with Magone and MacGillivray. They played a set of polkas that they learned from their families. The first polka was played slowly, like an air, and I liked this spin on it, because I never think of polkas as being that pretty. They're always fast and lively. It was nice to hear one a different way for a change.

Thorburn introduced his next solo as "some slow tunes and then a faster one." I absolutely loved the first air. He threw some jazz chords in and the piano had an amazingly full sound. For the "faster one," again, his left hand had an interesting rhythm to it ... almost a puzzle for the ear. I enjoyed it.

I missed Dougie MacPhee's first performance of the evening, so it was a treat to hear his solo. It was easy to see why so many piano players of Cape Breton look up to him and why so many fiddlers like playing tunes with him. If I closed my eyes, I would have sworn there was more than one piano player on stage, but it was just him making all of that sound on some marches, strathspeys and reels.

Morin, again joined by Nathaniel Smith, played a variety of tunes next. His set included an air called "The Shakings o' the Pocky," to which people behind me exclaimed "whoa!" for the unexpected chord changes. He then went into a clog and a Scott Joplin rag, which totally fit with the Cape Breton tunes. I was really impressed with this because it's not a style that Morin typically plays, and I had just spoken with him a couple of nights before about learning piano music, and he told me he doesn't read music! He learns it all by ear and he totally had this rag down. He finished with some equally as impressive reels. His set received a well-deserved standing ovation.

After this, Fraser took the stage again to change the mood with an awe-inspiring slow air, which can be heard on her latest album, Falling on New Ground. It was a beauty -- calming, but interesting to the ear, with complex chords that aren't the norm for this particular tune.

Then, MacGillivray took the stage, along with Vigneau and Cheryl Smith, again for a slow, but driving reel, followed by a jig and reels. Once again, I was in awe of the whole arrangement, which received applause in the middle of it.

The last act before the finale was a duet between Magone and MacPhee. They were totally in sync on their medley of Cape Breton tunes. I would have never known that they live hundreds of miles apart by listening to them.

For the finale, all of the musicians took the stage for a huge blast of marches, strathspeys and reels. While I've written all of these words about this concert, I can sum it up in one word: Wow!

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

10 December 2011

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