The Fiddletree Two
at St. Andrew's United Church, Sydney, Cape Breton
(10 October 2012)

After an unexpected drive through Sydney in the dark, and through the kindness of a stranger who gave me directions, I finally found St. Andrews United Church. (I miss the time when the Celtic Colours brochure had at least some minimal directions to the venues!) I made it just as the artists were walking onto the stage of the beautiful church.

I had really been looking forward to this unique show. I missed it last time it was at this festival and was so disappointed, so I was really happy to have another chance. The show was put together by local luthier, tune writer and fiddler Otis Tomas. It features instruments that were made by him, all from the same maple tree. There were seven artists and instruments: Laoise Kelly on harp, Abby Newton on cello, Joel Sanderson on viola, Sarah McFadyen on violin, Claudine Langille on mandolin, Paul MacDonald on guitar and Tomas himself on violin. They appropriately began a tune written by Tomas for the tree and the instruments called "The Fiddletree." Many of the tunes in this show were written by Tomas, actually. He is very multitalented and a major asset to Cape Breton.

Next, they played a tune that was dreamt by Tomas when he was ill with a high fever (wish that would happen to me when I get sick), and then one he wrote for Sanderson and McFadyen's little boy, who was born last year. Both were lilting and lively. He followed with another medley that started off with a slow tune and then an interesting, almost bluesy-sounding tune that he wrote for his dog, Emma. I really liked it and now want to learn it! It was my favorite tune of the show.

After this, Newton took a solo. She played a tune by the famous blind harper Turlough O'Carolan, called "Loftus Jones." It began with Newton and Kelly, and then everyone joined for a full sound. There was a bit of out-of-tuneness between the instruments, but it was still a lovely piece. It was neat to hear it on cello, and the audience enjoyed it and showed it with polite applause after. This was followed by more of Tomas's toe-tapping tunes by the whole group.

Then, it was Langille's turn to take a solo. She sang a song about Suzanne Martin, a woman hanged during the Salem Witch Trials. I liked Langille's voice, which was strong and clear, and McFadyen added nice harmony vocals. They put two of Tomas's tunes in the mix. I love the tunes, but it is always refreshing to hear a song or two in these concerts, so I enjoyed this one.

MacDonald was next to step up to the mic. He played an air he wrote for a man who lived on the same road as Tomas and him, who passed away a couple of years ago. It sounded really sweet on the Fiddletree guitar. The tune was smooth and jazzy. MacDonald is a master of the instrument, and I always enjoy hearing him play. He followed the air with a reel, which got toes tapping. I could hear a heartbeat on the church balcony above me. This was followed by a waltz, a jig and a reel for the late fiddler Dougie MacDonald, who Tomas once made a "big fiddle" for.

After a brief intermission and the draw for some nice prizes, the group took the stage for a set of tunes, including one Tomas wrote on cello - he said he'd leave that to Newton for tonight, since he found it much more difficult than playing his fiddle. I could once again hear the heartbeat of the balcony above me when the group went into reels.

Then they played a Tomas tune called "Checkmate," which became a "puzzle," according to Tomas. He said the old quote to kick the set off, "the only certainty in life is that there is uncertainty." The medley included solos and harmonies, and some very unique and interesting tunes. Describing it as a "puzzle" was very fitting. It received the loudest applause of the show so far.

Kelly took her solo next. Her set included the Irish tune, "Cup of Tea," because she is a "tea-aholic," as she put it. Then she said, "we're going to have a little jam with our tea," meaning everyone was going to join in. She began with a melancholy, but beautiful air, though, where the Gaelic title translated to the words "disease, sorrow and love." "You get the idea," she said with a laugh.

Following the set, Tomas explained that the harp was made for the late Carol Kennedy. He thanked her husband, Gordon, for keeping the harp and for letting Kelly borrow it for this show. The group played a lovely tune for her as a tribute called "Carol's Hope," which Tomas wrote for her when she was diagnosed with cancer. They followed it with a lively reel, which "Carol would have danced to."

After this, there was a switch of artists and instruments for McFadyen's spotlight time. Sanderson played the cello and Newton played the viola for this one, which was a song by McFadyen called "Otis & Deanie," which was to reminisce of her time spent in Cape Breton, playing tunes in Otis's workshop. It had a lilting, waltzing melody. Sanderson, McFadyen and Langille took turns singing melody and harmony. The audience loved it.

Next, Sanderson switched to mandolin, and Deanie Cox joined the group on stage for another song by Langille, called "Jealousy," even though she explained that she's thankfully not jealous anymore. Langille and Cox have very similar voices and really sound as one when they're singing in unison. They said they've been singing together for a long time, and it really showed. The song was a bit heavy for me, though, especially since the concert was in a church.

The group lightened things up a bit with some tunes, one which Tomas wrote for this very group of performers called, "The Unfathomable Menagerie." They finished off the show with some sincere thanks and, of course, a set of tunes by Tomas. It began with a waltz, led into a tune called "Critters" and ended with "Seeing in the Dark," which was exactly what we'd all be doing to get to the Festival Club.

The musicians very sweetly responded to the audience's standing ovation by playing Tomas's waltz, "The New Land." They played it for Tomas to thank him for inviting them to play his instruments for this show. It's one of my favorite tunes, so I was humming along.

I truly enjoyed the uniqueness of this show. I love that all of the beautiful instruments came from one tree and the tunes made up a suite to represent it. I'm in awe of Tomas's talents. It's not very often that I hear of a luthier who can make so many different instruments -- most stick with one. Tomas built a whole chamber ensemble. It is really amazing.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

8 December 2012

what's new