Christmas music from Cape Breton

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Since it’s almost Christmas I thought I would give you some suggestions for some great holiday music from Cape Breton!

The Barra MacNeils are a band from my home town, Sydney Mines, Cape Breton. I’ve been very influenced by their music. The have two wonderful Christmas albums available as well as a DVD of their Christmas show. They are currently on tour with their Christmas show so check out their website to see if they will be in an area near you. Here is a link to their Christmas show promo video on youtube. httpv://

The Rankin sisters from the popular Rankin Family band also a great Christmas album, Do You Hear What I Hear. According to their website, they will be on tour in January.

Fiddler Ashley MacIsaac released a Christmas album in 1993 called A Cape Breton Christmas that has become a classic.

John Gracie is a wonderful singer from Cape Breton and has released several Christmas albums over the years. His Christmas songs are classics in Cape Breton. He will shortly be on tour performing Christmas music in the maritime provinces.

While fiddler Natalie MacMaster does not have any recorded Christmas music available to my knowledge, she is currently on tour with her Christmas show, Christmas in Cape Breton. Full details of her schedule are available on her website,

Please let me know if I have forgotten anything! Recordings from the Barra MacNeils and Ashley MacIsaac are available on itunes. Visit all of the artists websites for information about how to get a copy of their music.

Remembering Jerry Holland

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A blog post certainly does not do the music and accomplishments of Jerry Holland justice, but I hope that for those of you who are not familar with his playing, this post will encourage you to learn more about him and his music.

Jerry was one of Cape Breton fiddling’s most well known exponents. His music is has been enjoyed far beyond Cape Breton, having performed and taught all over North America and Europe. He was known not only as a brilliant player but was a well respected composer. His tune, ‘Brenda Stubbert’s Reel’ is one of the most widely played tunes in Celtic music.

Jerry was originally from Brockton, Massachusetts and moved to Cape Breton in 1975. Jerry’s father who was from New Brunswick, was a musician himself and passed on to Jerry his love of both Cape Breton and Irish music. From an early age, Jerry was exposed to the vibrant Cape Breton community in the Boston area, playing at Bill Lamey’s dances in Brookline, Massachusetts at age 10. In his late teens and early 20s, Jerry performed with the Cape Breton Symphony on the nationaly televised John Allen Cameron show. It was during this time that he had the opportunity to work with fiddlers like Winston Fitzgerald, Angus Chisholm, Wilfred Gillis, Joe Cormier and John Donald Cameron. In his own words, Jerry said that “I had to play my best in front of these people, and I worked at it. I had to really buckle down and listen to what old tapes we had, or recordings…to get the right kind of feel” (from and interview in Cape Breton Magazine, Winter, 1999).

In addition to his massive Cape Breton/Scottish repertoire, Jerry had a wonderful repertoire of Irish music that was influced by 78 recordings of Coleman, Morrison, Killoran, as well as the Cape Breton fiddler, Johnny Wilmot who was well versed in Cape Breton and Irish music, a trait of the Northside style. I love listening to Jerry’s verisions of Irish tunes because he had versions that I would not hear from other Cape Breton players.

I had the honour of accompanying Jerry on the piano for various gigs both in Cape Breton, the Boston area, and in Scotland for about 3 years before he died in July of 2009 from cancer. While I didn’t feel like and adequate accompanist, he was always extremely encouraging and I learned a lot from him. Jerry was a great accompanist himself on guitar and the piano. He knew that accompanists were not always given the credit that they were due and made sure to acknowledge his acompanists in his concerts.

So many of Jerry’s tunes are now staples in not just the Cape Breton repertoire but also the Scottish and Irish repertoire. Two collections of his compostions are available: Jerry Holland’s Collection of Fiddle Tunes and Jerry Holland: The Second Collection, both published by Cranford Publications. They are available on Paul Cranford’s site: Also, check out Jerry’s website, If you look at the discography section, you’ll find recordings of Jerry’s playing from the early ’60s. A great resource.

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