Last Saturday evening, Gordon Aucoin, Lloyd Carr, and Rachel Reeds played for a Cape Breton square dance at the Canadian-American Club in the Boston area.
Gordon Aucoin “has been drawn to Cape Breton style fiddling since the house parties, dances, and concerts of his youth. Because teachers and recordings of this style are so rare in the United States, he spent many summers in Nova Scotia learning to play with cousins until he met John Campbell. ‘Gordie’ feels that dances are what keeps this tradition alive, and seeks to revive the rich musical community that Campbell remembers as a boy in Boston. In 2006, the pair was awarded [the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Folk Arts and Heritage Program] Traditional Arts Apprenticeship.”¹ Gordon plays in many of the traditional folk music concerts in the Boston area and is a member of the “Wednesday night regulars”, a group of mostly Boston area musicians consisting of Joe Cormier, John Garrison, and Gordon Aucoin on fiddle, Lloyd Carr (from New Hampshire) on piano, and Edmond Boudreau on guitar and mandolin.
Lloyd Carr frequently plays for contra dances throughout New England; after many trips to Cape Breton (which is where I first met him) to soak up the Cape Breton piano style, he has honed his playing accordingly and has become a fine accompanist for traditional Scottish fiddlers and a delight to listen to, always laying down a fine rhythmic foundation with the original embellishments one expects of a Cape Breton piano player..
An online search shows that Rachel Reeds is active in the New England music scene, playing at contra dances and elsewhere in the area; you can find videos of her 2010 performances at the New Hampshire Highland Games regional open fiddle competition on YouTube. I had heard her play the occasional set previously, but not for any extended period.
The evening began with several sets by Gordon and Lloyd when there were only a few of us in the hall. As the evening progressed, more folks arrived, but only thirty or so were there at the peak.
I’d heard Gordon play before in the past, usually filling in while the musicians on the bill for the evening took a break, but never for an extended period of time; what I had heard struck me as an “older” sound than that I hear from many of today’s players and I was eager to hear more. His playing recalls to my ears that of John Campbell, Joe Cormier, and Rannie MacLellan, to name three who exemplify this style that I have been lucky enough to hear live. It turns out that he has a large repertoire of tunes, a few of which I do not remember having heard previously and one of which, at least, was his own composition, a fine tune indeed!
After about forty-five minutes of playing, Gordon and Lloyd stepped down from the stage and Rachel Reeds, accompanied by Peggy Morrison on keyboards, gave us a few sets. The tunes she played were all tunes heard in Cape Breton and sounded very much in the Cape Breton style to my ears, with perhaps a bit less “dirt” than there might have been, but very enjoyable for all that; my only real criticism is that there wasn’t enough “foot” — she’s one of the few fiddlers in the style whose feet are usually completely immobile (not always, though, as I did catch a surreptitious tap or two), perhaps a result of her early musical training. Then, around 21h, Bill Luoma, with Gordon and Lloyd back on stage, called for a Boston set and got eight couples out onto the floor for the first square set. A Mabou set followed that and, later, another Boston set and then another Mabou set, with about the same number of dancers each time. Joe Cormier, with Lloyd on the keyboards, played for a couple of jig figures during one of the Mabou sets. Rachel and Lloyd gave us some more sets of music, one of which was a waltz I don’t hear often and for which Lloyd gave a fantastic accompaniment that shed a whole new light on the tune. Kyte MacKillop, Jennifer Schoonover, and Louise Mahoney gave us a Gaelic song while the fiddlers took a short break. The last hour of the evening mostly had Gordon, Rachel, and Lloyd playing together. A step-dance set got Jennifer Schoonover and Rachel out to dance, but there were no other takers.
Those who stayed home missed a fine evening of music. I know the musicians were also disappointed at the smallish turn-out, because they said they feed off the dancers and the listeners. The evening’s organizers were likewise disappointed, but low attendance is a problem one encounters even in Cape Breton; it is too bad that more people don’t value this wonderful music enough to support it when they have a good opportunity to hear it. I found the evening’s music well worth the five-hour drive (one way) and I believe most of the others there had an equally enjoyable time. Thanks also very much to the organizers who gave their evening to make this music available.