Maybelle Chisolm-MacQueen,
Dougie MacPhee, et al,
at Celtic Pianos,
Celtic Colours International Festival,
Judique Community Center,
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
(10 October 2000)

The Celtic Colours International Festival, recently named by the American Bus Association as Canada's No. 1 event, is a truly unique experience. Like many similar Celtic festivals, Celtic Colours is attended by a variety of artists. One can find concert venues featuring pipes, fiddlers, harpists, Gaelic singers, flutes, whistles, mandolins, accordions, guitars or balladeers. However, Canadians -- and Capers in particular -- manage to add their own particular flavour to the festival that leaves the festival-goer thirsting for more when the week is all through.

Take for example, the "Celtic Pianos" event which I was fortunate enough to attend this year. Pianos are often used as accompaniment in Celtic music -- especially in Cape Breton -- but it is not often that one has the opportunity to hear them as a separate entity. Giving the piano a spotlight of its own was precisely the intent behind this concert.

I must admit, when I arrived that evening, I was a little skeptical. How could five pianists hold my interest for three full hours? I was tired from a long drive ... I wanted to hear something upbeat ... I wanted fiddles! The fact that the stage was set up to look like a sitting room (which, although very cozy and homey looking, definitely not make me feel more energetic) didn't seem promising.

As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did those five pianists manage to keep me alert, it was all I could do to keep to my seat! They gave an energetic, crowd-pleasing performance which had the audience on its feet at least three times. The concert began with a short introduction from Maybelle Chisolm-MacQueen, who was serving as emcee as well as performing. This arrangement worked well, as the focus remained on the musicians and the music. The evening was full of highlights, from the enigmatic playing of high-school student Jason Roach, to Heather Richards' set of jigs which included a number of old favorites such as "Chopsticks" and "Three Blind Mice." Joel Chaisson played a number of energetic sets, as well as hopping up to stepdance at one point in the evening. Maybelle seemed content in letting her student, Jason, shine and the two played together several times.

However, it was Dougie MacPhee who set the crowd on fire when he played "Tullochgorum" and all of its variations. Not only did he accomplish this, but he also continued to speed up throughout the tune. Now, many of you will realize how difficult a tune this is to play on the fiddle. Well, I can guarantee that it is no easy feat on the piano, either! In fact, as Dougie played, I could see the mouths of the other pianists on stage gaping wider and wider with each variation. The looks of awe and respect on their faces told me just how difficult "Tullochgorum" is on the piano.

I must say that "Celtic Pianos" succeeded in giving me newfound respect for Cape Breton pianists. Although usually relegated to the background in the island's music scene, Joel, Maybelle, Heather, Jason and Dougie showed that they certainly don't belong there. The piano concert will definitely be high on my list of events to attend at next year's festival, and I'll be looking to add a few piano-based CDs to my collection.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]