An introduction to great influential Cape Breton fiddler, Winston Fitzgerald

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In the next little bit, I’ll be writing a series of posts about Cape breton fiddlers you may or may not have heard of that I feel were influential in the evolution of the Cape Breton fiddle style. To begin, I’ll start with the late Winston ‘Scotty’ Fitzgerald.

I don’t think there is a single Cape Breton fiddle player who has not been influenced by Winston Fitzgerald, directly or indirectly. His crisp and articulate style was inspirational to the generations that followed him. So many Cape Breton fiddlers talk about trying to emulate his style. In addition to his style, the tunes he introduced into the repertoire have become classics in Cape Breton. McNabb’s Hornpipe (aka, Crossing the Minch) and the Farmer’s Daughter easily come to mind. That ‘classic cut’ is still heard on the radio today over 50 years after it was recorded. It’s difficult to not play the Farmer’s Daughter after McNabb’s hornpipe since the pairing is such a classic. And that is just one small example of the strong influence his playing, repertoire and recordings have had on the Cape Breton fiddle style.

Winston born in 1914 in White Point, in the northern part of Cape Breton. He came from a very musical family of fiddlers, singers and step dancers. At age 18, he toured Nova Scotia with a road show called “The Maritime Merrymakers”. He was heard regularly on the radio with his group the “Radio Entertainers” and he also played to a national television audience on the “John Allan Cameron Show” as one of the members of the Cape Breton Symphony.

While being strongly rooted in Cape Breton music, he had experience and interest in other styles. At about the age of 20, he toured and did radio shows as a member of Hank Snow’s band. He took a two and a half year correspondence course with the US School of Music. According to Paul Cranford, Winston ‘felt that this training gave him good instruction in bowing and got him started on position work”. If the opportunity had presented itself, he would have taken classical violin lessons. He also greatly admired the playing of the Scottish fiddler, Hector MacAndrew.

He was well known for constantly perfecting his tunes and crafting them into his own. His versions of tunes have now become classic. In his own words-
“After I got to learn music I had good tunes out of books-you know. Gow and O’Neill’s and Fraser’s and all those good collections. The Gow’s – they’d steal tunes and add variations so I figured if they can do it and get away with it, so can I. I might add a couple of grace notes or a little bit of bow work or some little thing that would add to it. It doesn’t take much to put a change in it for the better or for the worse.” (excerpt from an interview with Ron Caplan, Cape Breton Magazine issue 46)

So much can be said about such a pivotal and influential player, but his playing speaks for itself. A great introduction to his music is the compilation album, “Classic Cuts” and a tune book of his repertoire, “Winston Fitzgerald: A Collection of Fiddle Tunes”, both available on

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.

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