Donna-Marie DeWolfe:
making a happy tune

A particular treat of the Celtic Colours festival in general and the nightly Festival Club in particular is the likely chance you'll discover someone of amazing talented you've never heard -- or even heard of -- before. Such was the case on my first visit to the club in 2012, when Donna-Marie DeWolfe came by to play.

This young fiddler from River Tillard in Richmond County, near St. Peter's, was standing in the back hall of the Gaelic College's Hall of the Clans, talking shyly with club organizers about possible accompanists for her pending performance. An up-and-comer without much exposure beyond Cape Breton's shores, Donna-Marie hadn't even had her Celtic Colours debut yet -- this was only Saturday, and her spotlight gig, "The Torch is Passed," was still a full week away.

She was in luck tonight, though -- she scored a fine pair of accompanists in Adam Young on keyboards and none other than club emcee and Cape Breton mainstay Buddy MacDonald on guitar. The blast of tunes that soon issued from the Festival Club stage was impressive, breathless and just a little painful-looking, as she plays with her head cocked at what looks like a spine-crunching angle. Still, it was definitely worth a few moments later to get to know this fiddler better.

She plays with pure joy, burning up the stage and pounding out a double-footed rhythm all the while.

Her shyness in the hall earlier was no fluke -- she barely looked at the crowd while playing, but kept her attention focused mostly on her own fingerboard or, occasionally, Buddy -- but she readily sat down in the Green Room to talk a bit about her music. Just 17, Donna-Marie first picked up a fiddle a short seven years before.

"My Dad played a little bit," she said. "My grandfather made fiddles, and he played a little, too. A few other people in the family played ... there was always music going on in the house."

She had taken piano lessons for a few years before choosing the fiddle at age 10. She started taking lessons from Shelly Campbell -- whom she lists as a major influence on her style -- as well as group lessons with Eddy Rogers. She also says she's heavily inspired by Donald Angus Beaton's "Mabou coal mine style."

"It has a good drive to it," she explained. "You can hear the Gaelic in the music."

She enjoys the fiddle because "it makes you happy when you play it, or even just listen to it," she said. "If you're having a bad day, put on a fiddle CD."

Her passion is a little unusual, she noted. Although Cape Breton is famous for its fiddling tradition, the St. Peter's region is more about singing, she said -- there are only a few other fiddle students in her school.

For now, Donna-Marie is playing square dances -- she's traveled as far as Halifax to date, she said -- and is leaving her options open.

"I'll get a career, I suppose," she said -- at this point, she admitted, she has no idea what -- "but I'll keep doing this on the side."

interview by
Tom Knapp

5 January 2013

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