Chrissy Crowley:
music philosophy

Chrissy Crowley invested a good three years of study toward earning a philosophy degree.

She doesn't plan on putting it to use any time soon, however. "I decided I wanted to do music full-time," she says.

She entered the course of study without a clear career path in mind, Chrissy says. And she doesn't regret moving on to other things -- "There's not a lot you can do with an unfinished degree in philosophy except flip burgers or play the fiddle," she says.

She chose the latter path.

The dazzling young fiddler from Margaree, Cape Breton, is 22 years old -- "I like to say two decades, it sounds more professional," she says -- and picked up the fiddle without realizing she had a family heritage to maintain.

"Both my grandfathers played," she says, "but they'd stopped." When a piano player who was dating her sister brought a fiddler to the Crowley home one day, however, "I fell in love. I wanted to play the next day. It turns out I came from a legacy of fiddlers, but I had no idea when I picked it up."

She was, she confesses, "a little more into Nirvana" than traditional fiddle music at the time. That changed.

Fortunately, Chrissy approached the instrument with a good work ethic, which helped her rise to become one of the finest of a new generation of fiddlers.

"It's a hard instrument to play," she says. "But I had no problem rolling out of bed at 6 in the morning and practicing for eight hours."

She's "sort of self-taught," she says, although she's worked a great deal with pianist Jason Roach to hone her skills. "And I got an education from every fiddler on this island," she says.

She initially tried to adhere to the way things were always done, she says. "I thought of myself as a traditionalist. It was my job to maintain that style and play the way you'd hear it played in the 1930s."

These days, not so much. Chrissy says her "growing up experiences" gave her "a sense of the bigger world." That led to a variety of musical styles that fascinated her -- and, in many cases, that fit in neatly with her expanding sense of traditional music.

Fans will have noticed that her first album was almost entirely traditional, her second showed off more of Chrissy's extratraditional influences.

A third is in the works and will probably be only 25 percent traditional, she says. "It's not overly contemporary -- yet," Chrissy says. "I'm doing baby steps. ... For myself and my audience, there will always be at least one traditional track."

But the pure drop is making way for new horizons, such as Chrissy's growing fondness for the Cuban-Celtic crossover sound, which draws from Spanish and Celtic influences as well as the jazz club scene.

"I haven't quite been able to express it musically yet," she says. Give her time.

"I've started to write more," she says. "I'm writing with jazz notes in mind."

Look, too, for "funky naturals," as well as Caribbean and Middle Eastern themes. "I'm also starting to write with chords in mind," she says. "When I was younger, all I thought about was the melody."

Chrissy says she's in it for the long haul, too. "Until I can't do it any more," she says. "I could happily play until I'm 85. If it means being broke and destitute at times, I'll take it.

"I mean, it's not like I'm rolling in money right now," she adds, noting that she moved back to Sydney from Halifax to cut costs.

But she's also looking forward to a "world tour" this year with Coig, her band with fellow fiddlers Rachel Davis and (boyfriend) Colin Grant, pianist Jason Roach and multi-instrumentalist Darren McMullen.

"Coig" is Scots-Gaelic for "five," and Chrissy says it was never supposed to be a band. Coig formed for a promotional tour for the Celtic Colours International Festival, and it stuck.

"We had a blast doing it," she says. "A couple of festivals saw us and wanted to hire us, so we had no choice but to give ourselves a name."

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interview by
Tom Knapp

16 February 2013

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