More useful links about Cape Breton and its music

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With my erratic summer schedule behind me, I’m now settling into the fall which means more consistent blog posts! I thought I would begin with a short post to make you aware of some resources that will inform you more about Cape Breton and its music and places you may want to see if you have the opportunity to visit. This is a relatively new site that I have become aware of. It contains great information about festivals, workshops, and other events and venues in Cape Breton as well as other information that can help plan your trip there. You can also find great blog posts about Gaelic culture in Cape Breton contributed by Gaelic instructor Angus MacLeod and musician Tracey Dares MacNeil. The Celtic Colours International Festival is one of the largest best known Celtic Festivals in the world. Over 9 days in October, Cape Breton musicians join Celtic musicians from all over the world to perform in concerts and other events. About 5 concerts take place each night in various communities across the island. Each night, everyone gathers at the Festival Club at the Gaelic College in St Ann’s to enjoy music in a more informal setting. The festival begins traditionally on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving. The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre is located in Judique Cape Breton. This is a great place to drop in to learn more about Cape Breton music. The center offers live demonstrations where Cape Breton musicians talk about the music they are playing. The center also houses an extensive amount of archival material including photographs, videos, and recordings. Each Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon, you’ll catch a live performance of a well known Cape Breton fiddler. In addition to being the central location for the Celtic Colours International Festival, the Gaelic College offers workshops all summer long in fiddling, piping, step dancing, Gaelic language among other disciplines. Throughout the year, the College also offers Gaelic TIP (Total Immersion Plus) weekends.

Thinking of attending a fiddle camp for the first time? Some considerations….

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Are you considering going to a fiddle camp this summer for the first time? Around this time of the year summer camp registration begins to open up. There are so many to choose from, which is wonderful, but if you are wondering where to go, the task of choosing can be daunting!  After teaching at many fiddle camps over the years, here are my observations and suggestions to help you choose a camp that works for you.

Things to consider:

Genres Offered

Some camps focus on a specific genre, like Celtic, bluegrass or old-time, etc. Some camps are even more style specific, focusing on Scottish or Irish fiddling. Others offer multi-genres. So choosing amongst these depends on your own interest. You may want to expand your palette, and try a new style of music completely different than what you are used to. Or you may want to stay more focused. Do you play another instrument? You may want to find a camp that offers classes in more instruments than fiddle.

Classes and Levels

Most camps offer varying levels from beginner to advanced. If you are a beginner, keep in mind that depending on the instructor and the genre, you will be learning at least one tune per class. If you have 3 or 4 classes a day, that can be overwhelming. You may want to consider finding a camp that offers technique classes that focus on bowing, intonation, etc, in addition to tunes and stylistic concepts. That way, if you do find yourself getting overwhelmed with the amount that is being covered, a technique class can offer a breather.

The Day’s Schedule

Does the camp schedule events after classes like dances, faculty-lead jam sessions and faculty concerts? In addition to classes, these types of activities are important to help you put the music you are learning in context.  Some camps are more regimented with activities scheduled through the late evening. Other camps can be more laid back.  Both have benefits depending on your preference.  If you like to always  have something to participate in, the more structured evenings may be a good choice for you.  Some people like to have more free time to practice on their own, nap, go for a hike or just take a breather.

Quiet Residences

Odds are that at camp, folks will be jamming on into the wee hours of the morning. This is a big part of the camp experience and what so many people look forward to.  However, if you need your sleep, at least some of the time, make sure the camp offers quiet housing.


Camp is an amazing experience, but sometimes it can be intense. If you are the type of person that sometimes just needs to get away from it all, you may need to choose a camp that is close to a town or city where you can easily take a break if you need to. Sometimes a group of campers will plan a dinner during the week at a restaurant in town. For some, an outing like this has become a ritual and an essential part of the camp experience.

Student Make Up

Finally, if you are the parent of a musician, and are picking a camp for your child, or are bringing your child along with you, you may want to consider if the camp attracts other youth. The camp may not be as fun or useful an experience if children cannot socialize with kids their own age. Camp is not just about learning tunes and techniques, it is also about fostering new musical friendships that are key for motivation. For me, just simply having the experience of playing music with kids my age was key to keep me motivated throughout the year. I couldn’t wait to see all my friends at camp the next summer and share all our new tunes and ideas.

If any of these issues or other concerns you may have are not clearly answered  the camp’s pamphlet or website, consider emailing the camp coordinator to inquire.

What has helped you make good choices in camps? What has been your camp experiences over the years? Any suggestions to help first time fiddle campers?  Feel free to post them!  I love hearing from you!