Brenda Stubbert and Melissa Emmons
at the Skye Theater in South Carthage, Maine

Event Description

Thursday, 2007 March 8
19h-21h30 (jam session at 18h30)
Skye Theater (New England Celtic Arts), 2 Highland Drive (off Winter Hill Road), South Carthage, Maine
A “house concert” featuring the Cape Bretoners Brenda Stubbert on fiddle and Melissa Emmons on piano; see the concert poster here.
$10.00 by advance reservation by phone at +1 (207) 562-4445 (which answers as McIntyre Auctions) or via e-mail to Phill McIntyre


Brenda Stubbert and Melissa Emmons jamming

Brenda Stubbert on fiddle accompanied by Melissa Emmons on keyboards

Brenda Stubbert on keyboards doing a solo

Melissa Emmons on fiddle accompanied by Brenda Stubbert on keyboards

Phil McIntyre watches the concert

Review for the Cape Breton Music List
(Posted 2007 March 11)[1]

Thursday evening in the mountains of western Maine, the Skye Theater’s 2007 concert season began with a fine evening of music performed by Brenda Stubbert and Melissa Emmons. I am indebted to Phill McIntyre for letting me know of this fine concert, as otherwise I’d have missed out on it (we need a Maine person to keep the list posted on all that’s going on there—there seems to be a lot!).

This list’s readers will need no introduction to Brenda Stubbert, the talented Cape Breton fiddler and pianist who is equally renowned as the composer of many fiddle tunes which have entered the Cape Breton repertoire. Except for those from Inverness County, they are likely to be much less familiar with Melissa Emmons, who is originally from New England but has lived in Cape Breton for eleven years now. She is an avid fan of Cape Breton music and an adept at both piano and fiddle (though I was unaware of her as a fiddler until Thursday night). I had seen her at a couple of dances in Cape Breton where she accompanied a fiddler while the evening’s accompanist took a break and had taken note that the author and Cape Breton Post columnist, Rannie Gillis, mentions in his book This is Not the Mainland, Either (ISBN 1-55109-341-3, p. 92). published in 2000, that “a very talented young lady by the name of Melissa Emmons was on the piano” at a cèilidh he attended. But, until Thursday, I had not had the opportunity to hear her play for an extended period of time nor in a concert setting as she is neither part of the concert scene in Cape Breton nor does she play for entire dances, so I was very curious to hear her perform—so curious that I set out at first light on a bright, sunny, though bitterly cold day (below freezing when I left New Jersey and downright arctic when I arrived in the Maine mountains, made colder still by a gusty wind) for the long drive to South Carthage, Maine (a bit short of 500 miles).

This concert is part of a swing through New England to promote Brenda’s newest publication, Brenda Stubbert: The Second Collection: A Totally New Compilation of Traditional and Original Melodies complete with piano chords arranged by Melissa Emmons & Brenda Stubbert (ISBN 13: 978-0-9782456-0-3; ISBN 10: 0-9782456-0-1), one of Paul Cranford’s fine publications available here (and doubtless at many other outlets in Cape Breton). The book is intended to document what Brenda is playing and has featured on her CD's, not all of which are her own tunes, although many are. When I opened up the new book, the first tune I saw was Compliments to Melissa Emmons, a jig Brenda wrote in her honour, on p. 55 (it also appears on track 1 of Brenda’s Music All Around from 2003). Melissa’s contribution to the book was to add chords to Paul’s transcriptions and then collaborate with Brenda at the piano to arrive at the final chording arrangements.

Brenda, who was in a talkative mood, told us during the concert about her composing technique. Since she neither reads nor writes musical notation, having learned all she plays by ear, when a tune comes to her, she hears it in her head and tries to play, whether on piano or fiddle, what she hears. She uses a cassette tape recorder to capture the music and then has someone else (frequently her editor, Paul Cranford) transcribe it into musical notation. She has also been known to leave a tune on Paul’s telephone answering machine for him to transcribe when he listens to the message. Some of the tunes she composes she hears in dreams that she remembers upon awakening.

The evening’s music began with a jam session at 18h30. There were far fewer participants than in the session with Jerry Holland and the audience was less than half of the theater’s capacity—there were other Cape Breton musicians playing in Maine that drew some who would otherwise have attended, several stalwarts had not yet returned to Maine from warmer climes, and did I mention that it was bitterly cold outside (though just fine inside)?

The concert proper started off promptly at 19h with a set of jigs, with Brenda on fiddle and Melissa on keyboards. It continued with typical Cape Breton fare, a slow air or march followed by strathspeys and reels, sometimes with intervening jig sets. For me, the most memorable piece of the evening was Old Southern Waltz, popularized by Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, a frequent visitor to the Stubbert home when Brenda was a young lass; unfortunately, it is not on the Classic Cuts CD, the only Fitzgerald recording I have, so it was new to me. It is a beautiful waltz and Brenda, who was in exceptionally fine form throughout the evening, more than did it justice. But equally striking was the lovely accompaniment that Melissa provided, which, without calling attention to itself, blended in perfectly and enriched the flowing melody with a complex and lovely counterpoint. Her accompaniments throughout the evening were equally fine; I heard embellishments similar to those I’ve heard from Mac Morin and Joël Chiasson, but Melissa’s piano stylings are distinctly her own. Often playing with her eyes closed, always technically perfect, she was a delight to hear. I certainly hope she gets more opportunities to share her music in the future as she is definitely an accompanist of considerable merit.

As usual, I don’t have names for most of the many tunes we heard during the evening, but two I do have are Hector the Hero and another Winston Scotty tune, Crossing to Ireland, which is on the Classic Cuts CD. During the course of the evening, Brenda gave us a solo piano performance, demonstrating her fine mastery of this instrument with a selection starting with Our Highland Queen followed by another I think she called Doug’s Delight in honour of Doug MacPhee. As well, she played Endless Memories, a tune she composed which also appears in the new book. Later in the concert, Melissa took up her fiddle and gave us two Paul Cranford tunes, whose names I did not get, while Brenda accompanied her on the piano. Although she seemed somewhat nervous when she took up the fiddle, her playing was nevertheless a delight to listen to.

Sincerest thanks go to Phill and Jan McIntyre for all of the work they have done in getting the Skye Theater up and running. It is a fine, intimate venue with superb acoustics—it doesn’t have and really doesn’t need a sound system—and they have done an amazing job in putting together an extraördinary roster of performers, including a number of Cape Breton musicians.

The trip back to New Jersey on Friday was also a delight; it was a completely cloudless day and the sun gleaming on northern New Hampshire’s snow-capped mountains and on cliffs faced with sheets of ice made the trip a very pleasurable one. It was an opportunity to see what I’d not otherwise have, adding to the joys of an evening of great Cape Breton music.

[1] This version corrects a typo and fixes an infelicitous duplication of words, but does not change the meaning of the original.