Fiddler Cheye From Colorado Joins The Ceilidh at St. Ann’s (on her way to Celtic Colors International Festival One Day?)
Do you admire those people who bare no limits to life’s journeys and expectations?
Just went to a great concert of Celtic Colors featuring “Northside Memories” with fiddler/pianist Brenda Stubbert, Doug Macphee, David MacIsaac, Howie MacDonald, Mario Colosimo, Larry Parks and host Paul Cramford…and their concert and playing was really a tribute to musicians past who’d inspired them and gone way beyond what you’d think someone could learn often “by ear…”
We often go to Ceilidhs (concerts/dancing) at the St. Ann’s United Church…and we meet musicians there who have that kind of talent and daring and one of them was a 16 year old named Cheye.
Imagine this 16 year old from Colorado showing up at a traditional Nova Scotia concert and dance gathering (called a ceilidh in Gaelic), going up on stage and taking charge of the fiddle with a world class fiddler- a Celtic Music icon who is pushing 6 foot even when she takes her shoes off to dance.
Well that can happen because on Cape Breton there are a number of sixteen year old fiddle greats who have a way of becoming local legends before, like Natalie MacMaster, taking on a world audience.
It all happened on a Tuesday evening at a Ceilidh at a church close to Indian Brook on the Atlantic side of Cape Breton Island, just across a car ferry from Englishtown. Twice a week these Ceilidh bring some of the best musicians together with an audience mostly of discriminating musicians and Celtic music lovers.
The fabulous fiddler Brenda Stubbert was on stage with the equally renowned Howie Macdonald on piano. The Stubbert and MacDonald families carry on a tradition of Celtic musicians going back for generations- since they came from Scotland. It is said that Cape Breton must have something special in the water that generates fabulous fiddlers, singers and step-dancers.
Well, Brenda went through about an hour and twenty minutes of sets and we broke for an intermission of oat cakes and tea. Then Brenda switched to piano and Howie played the fiddle without missing a beat. When the concert ended, Brenda did the traditional thing for the last moments of a Ceilidh, asking: “anyone out there have a song to sing or a dance for us?”
Never could tell who was in attendance. Could be a Rita MacNeil or Jerry Holland just sitting there, ready to sing or play. To my surprise one of the interns from our Cabot Shores Resort, a 16 year old named Cheye from Colorado asked: “Can I use your fiddle, Brenda?”
Brenda said: “sure, young lady, come right on up.” Now as you can imagine Brenda Stubbert stands over 6 feet and on the stage she’s even more imposing, when she gives an order, people listen and obey. No problem for Cheye, she eagerly jumped onto the stage. Cheye started her set and the audience clapped politely. Not yet a Natalie MacMaster or a Jennifer Roland (one of her early teachers), but gutsy enough to do a respectable first performance. Played something the piano player didn’t know but they made it work.Then she surprised us (and Brenda even more), by asking if she could do some step-dancing. Brenda said: “Don’t see why not”, took the fiddle and nodded at the piano player. Brenda looked down at Cheye’s feet. No special shoes. Just flip flops. Brenda did a double take and nodded again at the piano player and they launched a jig.
Cheye started her dance. And step dance she did. In flip flops. Everyone kind of looked at each other. What’s she doing up on stage? Well, she’s step dancing and she’s doing it in flip flops? And it’s working and the audience is really watching, She’s not quitting, and the Cape Breton set is getting faster and faster.
The musicians are looking at each other. When is she going to stop? And then Brenda gestures and they go into another gear. Double time. Triple time, faster and faster and faster. Till Cheye looks over at them and Brenda is kind of peering down at her.
Cheye’s breathing hard. Brenda is smiling. Never said a word but the message was clear: “Had enough?” See how far I can push you. “Okay, enough,” said Cheye, breathless.
But it was not quite enough. The next Friday Cheye was back in the audience and back on stage fiddling and step dancing. This time in the proper dancing shoes.
PS Shortly after the Ceilidh, Cheye invited 16 recent graduates of the Gaelic College Summer Program to Cabot Shores, where they played a Ceilidh, including bagpipes, fiddle, piano, drum and other musicians–Captain Stan MacKinnon of Whale Watching fame and Mike Cavenagh.
PPS The above article appears in different form on ezinearticles.com.
PPPS Brenda Stubbert is one of the most talented musicians among Cape Breton Fiddlers. She pictured below and Paul Cranford has featured her in at least two books of her music which is available on cranfordpub.com.