The Next Generation
at the Gaelic College,
St. Ann's, NS (18 October 2003)

The Next Generation is a venue of the Celtic Colours festival that gives younger musicians a chance to shine. This year's concert featured performers from Cape Breton, Ontario and Scotland who showed that Celtic music traditions are a long way from dying out.

Leading off the show was Krista MacKinnon, a 12-year-old Cape Breton performer who plays fiddle, guitar, mandolin, piano, tin whistle and flute, sings and stepdances. She played two sets of tunes on the fiddle, and her playing was excellent. The tunes were well-paced yet very clear, and loaded with expression and ornamentation. I was also quite impressed with her selections. She steered clear of the usual sets and played a well-matched bunch of lesser-known tunes. Although Krista was rather quiet on stage -- I don't recall her actually saying a word -- her music spoke for itself, and she did look to be having a good time. Certainly, the audience was enjoying the tunes. I was rather disappointed that she only played the two sets! Colin MacDonald accompanied Krista on the piano, and did a fine job -- good chording, nice and rhythmic.

Next to the stage was Rankin MacInnis, a 15-year-old piper and pianist from Mabou, accompanied by his sister Shauna on piano. Although Rankin has only being playing for five years now, it could be 20 by the sound of his pipes. For his first set, Rankin played a great set of jigs on the Highland pipes that was full of expression. His next set was a strathspey and reels on the Scottish small pipes, another fantastic set that included one of his own compositions. The transition from strathspey to reel was smooth, and Rankin's own composition had a great melody. It is fantastic to see young people composing new tunes in the traditional style. Again, I wouldn't have minded hearing a few more sets from this young man.

Plockton is a small village on the West Coast of Scotland that is home to the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music, based at the high school. Students must audition to gain entrance to this program, which combines studies in traditional music with regular studies. Seven of these students journeyed to Cape Breton to take part in the festival, all of whom were quite versatile instrumentalists who swapped instruments throughout the show. Between them, they played flute, fiddle, accordion, guitar, piano, bodhran, pipes and whistles, and sang.

Although some of them were lacking in stage presence (the bodhran player only cracked a smile once, and spent much of the show in a pout), the music was spectacular! Sets were characterized by cohesive and interesting arrangements, and a lot of great instrumental harmonies and beats. I was quite impressed at the talent shown by these young people. There were great finger-picking guitar bits, unique off-beat rhythms, whistle and flute harmonies, an energetic piano beat, good vocal harmonies and high energy sets. They'd fit right in on Cape Breton Island any day, especially with the percussive piano accompaniment. They even tried some audience participation in a great arrangement of "Hey, Donal." This band certainly deserved the standing ovation they received at the conclusion of their performance.

Next to take the stage were the McCarrel Sisters, a traditional Celtic group from Bruce County, Ontario. The three played piano, fiddle and guitar with accompanists on drums and bass. The girls played three sets of tunes and the music was quite good, with a definite Cape Breton flair. Transitions were good, and there was lots of expression to their playing. The band was quite cohesive. Although I really enjoyed these sets, and found the playing to be good and energetic, I felt that the actual performance lacked energy. I was tapping my feet along, and enjoying the tunes, but I didn't feel the urge to jump out of my seat and dance that I get with some groups. I kind of felt like I was listening to a CD, rather than a live performance. Perhaps it was that the band was all seated, and they didn't really seem to move that much themselves. Nevertheless, the performance was a sound one, and the music quite good.

The last group to perform was the youth section of the Cape Breton Fiddlers' Association, who are all fiddlers 18 and under, the youngest being 8. Now, I'm not sure of the total number of performers, but they certainly were crammed onto the stage! Together, the group played two sets -- a waltz, march, strathspey and reel set, and a set of jigs. I have to say that I am not a huge fan of fiddles en masse. My feeling is that you only need one or two to make the tune sound good, and when you add more, it still pretty much sounds the same, but there's more chance of errors and you lose the individuality that can really add to the tune. So, as far as a large number of fiddles playing the same tunes go, this group did a fine job. Some were energetic and others weren't, and it was interesting to watch the differences in playing styles. It was also nice to see such a large number of young people on stage playing traditional fiddle music.

After the first two sets, Leanne AuCoin, the conductor (and oldest youth member) played fiddle while Edmund Tate played piano for some of the youth, who performed the third figure of the Inverness square set. Then AuCoin and Tate switched instruments for a whole wack of stepdancers from the Fiddler's Association, who each did a few steps in turn. Then, the whole group took the stage once more for a set of strathspeys and reels, and another set opened with a lovely air. Again, fine playing, but the en masse playing just went on a little too long for my tastes.

As is customary, the whole ensemble took the stage for a finale -- quite a feat considering the number of performers at the venue! They did a nice version of "Mrs. MacLeod's Reel" with a Chieftains-style concept -- everyone stuck to the main tune, and then each group of performers would be highlighted with a separate tune. It was a good way to finish the show, and let everyone in on it. They could have used a few more microphones, however, as some of the performers were a little difficult to hear. At any rate, the audience gave another standing ovation, and went home energized, so a wonderful job by some fine up-and-coming musicians!

- Rambles
written by Cheryl Turner
published 10 January 2004