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General News · 10th July 2009
Richard Trueman
North Shore Celtic Ensemble Summer Tour 2009

The NSCE Summer Tour 2009 began with a bang, bright and early on July 1 with a concert on the 'Celebrate Canada Stage' at the Canada Place festivities in downtown Vancouver and then again at Lafarge Park on the main stage at the Canada Day celebrations in Coquitlam. Both audiences and organizers alike appreciated our lively and eclectic repertoire and the west coast Celtic feel to the original arrangements we were about to take on our Island Tour. Drawing from traditional Celtic, but also east coast and Quebecois music, ours could be termed a truly Canadian Celtic musical celebration.

The next morning it was twenty-two enthusiastic travelers who pulled off the Island Highway into the Old Country Market at Coombs on Vancouver Island for the first pit stop and impromptu open-air concert of the Tour. We were graciously received by all including the goats living on the roof and we were able to sample the amazing variety of delicious delectables offered by Larry and his family run business. Chad writes to say, “…that we thoroughly enjoyed listening to your talented group…. thank you for taking the time to share your music at our market…. feel free to come back anytime!” And the very colorful 'Rev' tells us that we can compete with his busking whenever we next come through. CD's were sold, friends were made, and music and ice cream were enjoyed by all!

Afternoon found us in Campbell River having successfully negotiated the ferry line up to Quadra Island and having surprised the booth lady no end with the fact that our discount 'experience' card for ferry travel matched exactly and precisely the amount of vans and people we were! She'd never seen such a thing and it made her day! For this and for all the ferry organizing that was done in advance of the trip departure date, thank you Julia! A ten-minute ferry ride later and the four laden vans were zipping across Quadra Island in order to catch the forty-five minute boat over to Cortes, the gateway to Desolation Sound and our destination for the next three nights.

Cortes Island is a beautiful place in this world and a wonderful west coast experience. We were met by Tim, our man on the spot, who suggested that we head for the lake and an evening swim before contemplating anything else on the agenda. Legend has it that the pristine white sand at Hague Lake is due to an earthquake which brought the lake bottom up to the surface creating a beautiful beach where none had been before. The water was cold and greatly refreshing. After the swim kids met with billeting families and we touched base with organizers Doone and partner Dave as well as with Tim's partner Elizabeth and their daughter, Jemma. Lena and Élan met Chloé, Tom, Ruben and Mia; Jesse, Gabriel and Erik met Jenn, Scott and Merlin. Bruce, Patrick and Kurt stayed with Stephano, Leslie, Marino and Manuel. Dave, Doone, Tara and Kellen welcomed Emily, Amanda and Alex W. Marnie and Mike had fresh berries and ice cream ready for Noah and Matthew while Brienne, Sage and Alex C. stayed and played with Zoasis, Zack, Mandela, Tunji and Zaven. Each family looking after us was wonderfully gracious and hospitable and contributed to our stay on their Island in myriad ways, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Our first morning on Cortes dawned quietly, muted roosters and song birds blending with the music of ocean and trees. Tim and Elizabeth had offered their hand built studio 'Kula', meaning 'gathering place', for the rehearsal that morning and so by 10:00 a.m. having been served fresh homemade breakfasts - eggs directly from chickens, pancakes with freshly ground grains, berries picked that morning - we were in fact gathered and tuning for an acoustically brilliant rehearsal! Thank you so much Elizabeth for the opportunity to play there.
Friday is Market Day on Cortes and so after a couple of hours in Kula we headed for Manson's Hall to enjoy all the tables had to offer and a delicious lunch of our choosing. We played a set or two to give our potential audience a small taste of what was to come and are now featured under the big cedar tree in the photo gallery of the online newspaper 'Tideline'. 'Tideline' was also instrumental in helping to spread the word of our coming. With our name on the marquee and Tim's enthusiasm with posters we were hopeful that we would have an engaged and enthusiastic gathering to play for and, this was so. A full concert, two sets and an extended encore with a successful workshop the next morning set us up for the beach at Manson's tidal lagoon and a potlatch barbecue Saturday afternoon before the gig at the Gorge Marina Saturday night!

Richard and Michelle Glickman, partners in a beautiful marina development heard that we were going to be there and invited us to join them at the last minute for a sunset concert on their stone patio, the rising moon our backdrop. CDs flew off the table to a very enthusiastic boating community, many from the States and a good contingent of local Celtic music lovers as well. Though we all appreciated the spontaneity, Richard would like to see us play there again as he can accommodate many more and he is an avid supporter of the local music scene. The sun had set by the time we were done and we took some tired and replete performers home to their billets for their last night there.

Early Sunday found us back at the ferry to Quadra Island, having said au revoir to our new friends on Cortes and with many enthusiastic and practical invitations to return. Tim and Doone have invited us back and have said that they wish to work with us at any time again in the future; thank you so very much to you both! We had ample time for lunch, reconnoiter, sound check and set up and though the audience turn out was small for the Quadra gig the concert was high energy and engaging, the performers in top form - an excellent experience in performing and playing our best no matter what. The Hall on Quadra was built by a small group of community volunteers 20 years ago and is acoustically beautiful in a landscaped and shady setting. Thanks so much to Sonia for meeting us and encouraging the group to be there!

After playing for over an hour we said goodbye to two of our chaperones and five performers who raced off to catch the next ferry and head down-Island for the boat to the mainland that night. The group, now numbering fifteen, finished packing up and made a more leisurely journey to Nanaimo and Celtfest, thus ending the northern Gulf Island tour and beginning the next stage of this exciting and memorable experience, a completely different scene.

Monday and Tuesday were full workshop mornings in an excellent series our fiddlers enjoyed with Pierre Schryer and Jonny Hardy. From 8:30 until noon these two master fiddlers worked with everyone alternately and together, teaching very unique and individual styles from their own backgrounds, Quebecois and Scottish respectively. A varied number of tunes were learned and memorized and different techniques were introduced and practiced. Foot dancing was also tried with a great deal of success!

Jonny Hardy of course is the fiddler with the well-known Scottish Band 'Old Blind Dogs' and when Pierre joined a few of them on the céilidh stage of an evening they were humorously introduced as three blind dogs and a frog! We opened for 'Three Blind Dogs' in the University Theater Tuesday night with an intense and concentrated three sets that had feet tapping and hands clapping. We were very well received with many enthusiastic and positive comments about how inspiring our players are for them and for their children, giving them a sense of what is possible. It made it all the better knowing these guys from the workshops and from sharing the stage with them the night before! And it was a wonderful bonus to hear their concert from reserved seats in the audience after our own performance.

Invited to play in some capacity at the camp céilidhs while we were there, we enjoyed some great audience enthusiasm for our 15-minute sets. There was a good turn out of young Irish dancers, some of whom danced to our music, as well as the occasional piper or drummer and a number of brave camp students who stood up to play their instruments individually. We had the opportunity to play with our two workshop teachers as they took their turn on the céilidh stage. As the evening progressed some of our kids started to join in for a few tunes and soon the whole group was playing along. The NSCE kids knocked 'em dead with their enthusiasm, the number of tunes they could join and the sheer speed and dexterity of their playing. There were good dynamics, some great foot dancing and of course the occasional Irish hard shoe! Pierre and Jonny with their vast repertoire of tunes were great at anticipating new tunes and adapting as new tunes overtook the old continually. Sharing the stage with such well-known and capable fiddlers as Pierre and Jonny was definitely one of the highlights of this trip and a great opportunity for us all.

As the céilidh wound to a close after midnight on Tuesday and we said our final good-byes, the excitement and enthusiasm were still high, only slightly dampened by the thought of the 6:30 wake-up call and return home the next morning. Many thanks to Carolyn Phillips Cusson of Celtfest 2009 for her part in the success of our tour and to the many volunteers and Vancouver Island University staff who helped us to get our bearings and cheered us on throughout.

Thank you as well to the chaperones on this trip, Barb, Teresa, Phil and Laura for their flexibility and pro-activity, for the brainstorming support and on the spot decision making and for their absolute care for and obvious enjoyment of these young performers and the whole trip experience. Thank you to the performers themselves, for their cheerful help and cooperation, their enthusiasm and enjoyment and for their wonderful music making. Most of all, thank you to Claude and Jay, our well loved and respected artistic directors and intrepid leaders, for the richness and variety of the experience, for their thoughtful and easy going presence and for their talent and unlimited creativity in all situations!

Thank you to all for another fabulous North Shore Celtic Ensemble trip experience. We look forward to the next time. Au revoir, slan go foill and until next we meet, may the wind always be at your back and may each day be a celebration of music and the love of life.