Joella Foulds:
Otis Tomas's fiddle tree

While walking through the cultural area of Milwaukee Irish Fest 2009, I happened upon the Nova Scotia tents and was excited to see there was a Celtic Colours booth. I decided to stop in with a friend of mine. I was telling him about the festival, with the help of Joella Foulds, co-chairman of the event. I mentioned I would be attending the festival, again, this year, and that I was staying at a cottage owned by Deanie Cox, Otis Tomas's wife. Excitedly, Joella asked, "Do you know about Otis's show?" I answered, "I vaguely know about it." She continued, "Have you heard of the 'fiddle tree?'" I was intrigued and asked her to enlighten me.

Foulds explained: "The fiddle tree is a single tree that Otis made an entire family of stringed instruments out of. He made some fiddles, a viola, a cello, a harp and some guitars, and they're all going to be used in the Fiddle Tree concert during Celtic Colours." This was pretty impressive to me, because I knew Tomas made fiddles and guitars, but I was not aware he had made all of these other instruments. And from a single tree?

Fascinated, I asked Joella who would be playing in this concert? She handed me a festival brochure and replied, "We are really excited to have Laoise Kelly (from Ireland) playing the harp Otis made, and Abby Newton will be playing the cello. Mairi Campbell will be playing the viola and we have Sarah McFadyen, of Orkney, coming to play fiddle."

I noticed in the brochure that Tomas will also be joined by a couple of other wonderful Cape Breton talents, including fiddler Paul Cranford and guitarist Paul MacDonald.

"Not only are they playing Otis's instruments; they'll be playing a piece he wrote called the 'Fiddletree Suite.' Also, Sarah will be learning to make a fiddle while she is in Cape Breton, so it is a really unique concert," Joella said with an excited smile. "It's a concert unlike one we've ever had before at our festival."

Knowing how wonderful Tomas's instruments sound, and with such a stellar lineup, it is sure to be an amazing show. It will be held at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Sydney Mines on Oct. 12. For more information on the show and festival, be sure to check out the Celtic Colours website.

[ visit the Celtic Colours website ]

interview by
Kaitlin Hahn

19 September 2009

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