Judique, Cape Breton:
the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre

A rambling by Tom Knapp

The tour, led by former Kilt fiddler Bonnie Jean MacDonald, was brief. The visual portion of the center is dominated by a small room lined with memorabilia -- old 78s from the early days of recorded music, bits of the island's musical and cultural history, a tribute to a favorite local son, Buddy MacMaster (on whose birthday, Oct. 18, I just happened to visit).

Bonnie Jean even brought her rosin-covered fiddle out to demonstrate some of the local techniques of playing.

The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique lies in Inverness County on the western edge of Cape Breton, the fiddle-famous island off the northeast point of Nova Scotia in the Canadian maritimes. Given the sheer volume of talent that has leaked to the outside world, to say nothing of the countless amazingly skilled musicians who never seek fame or fortune beyond their beloved Cape Breton shores, a music center is less a curiosity and more a necessity. The island's culture and heritage must be sustained and preserved, and that's the mission the center's founders and staff have assigned themselves.

Perhaps they say it best themselves on the center's website: "The music of Inverness County is enriched by the past and full of promise for the future. But that promise can only be fulfilled by a conscious and concerted effort to build on the success of past and present community-based efforts." Bravo!

Founded in 1998, the center is caretaker to an impressive musical library. Local historian Joey Beaton was hired by the county's Department of Recreation & Tourism to research the biographies of Cape Breton fiddlers. After my tour, I had a chance to explore the archives with center director Joyce Rankin (whose insightful writing sometimes appears here at Rambles). The archives are low-tech but vital, a growing library of recorded and printed music from Cape Breton. More importantly, there is a large cabinet filled with more than 250 cassettes and mini-CDs, a collection of interviews with Cape Breton musicians old and new, famous and low-key.

Picking randomly from among the tapes, we listened to a young Natalie MacMaster discuss her early recordings, to Howie MacDonald providing the drive to a dance in Glencoe, to John MacDougall, from East Lake Ainslie, discussing his prolific career as a composer. ("He hasn't made a recording, but has been featured on a few collections," Rankin explains. "He's composed thousands of tunes, but hasn't published them.")

The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique is small but growing. It's a vital, living resource for the island's unique musical heritage, and as such it's a global treasure. If your travels ever take you to Cape Breton and you find yourself -- as so many people do -- entranced by the music there, be sure to stop in for a visit!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 25 January 2003

[ visit the CMIC website ]