Violin made in 1915 by Joe LeBlanc for his young son.

A violin made by Joe LeBlanc in 1915 for his young son Arthur LeBlanc, who became a famous musician.

Joseph LeBlanc
Musée acadien, Université de Moncton.
c. 1915
CANADA Southern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Southern New Brunswick, CANADA
© 2007, Musée acadien, Université de Moncton. All Rights Reserved.


The strings
are
for the winds,
winds blowing
in from New Brunswick,
sometime in the 1850s
when my great-great grand (giant)?
father cut down
a tree and carved
a fiddle, the way
he remembered
one in Ayrshire.

And I gave it
three coats
of varnish,
bought a bridge
and strings
and now it
hangs in
the dining room
turning gently
in draughts,
nineteenth century
fingers
brushing an echo
of a Scottish air.

by Douglas Lochhead

The strings
are
for the winds,
winds blowing
in from New Brunswick,
sometime in the 1850s
when my great-great grand (giant)?
father cut down
a tree and carved
a fiddle, the way
he remembered
one in Ayrshire.

And I gave it
three coats
of varnish,
bought a bridge
and strings
and now it
hangs in
the dining room
turning gently
in draughts,
nineteenth century
fingers
brushing an echo
of a Scottish air.

by Douglas Lochhead

© 1984, Fiddlehead Poetry Books. All Rights Reserved.

An exhibition of violins at the Acadian Museum, University of Moncton

The Acadian Museum situated on the campus of the University of Moncton developed an exhibition related to the theme of music.

Acadian Museum, University of Moncton
c. 1997
CANADA Southern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Southern New Brunswick, CANADA
© 1997, Musée Acadien, Université de Moncton. All Rights Reserved.


The violin is an instrument well known to all. It can be found in every kind of music from orchestral and symphonic to jazz and modern music! Equally, it has proven its worth in the world of music.

The violin is made of wood and strings and belongs to the family of stringed instruments such as the guitar, piano, etc. In the same immediate family as the violin we find the double bass, the cello and the viola. It can adapt to every musical taste, and can be heard in all kinds of music, from classical, modern, country and Acadian to "heavy metal".

It is not such a difficult instrument to learn, which is the reason why so many people can play it, but much greater discipline is required to truly master it. The violin was often played in earlier times at family celebrations or gatherings of friends, and still is today. Some of the guests played the "rigadoon" and others performed tap dances or jigs. They had great fun and in this way were able to forget their troubles for a while. Even today, people still celebrate in similar fashion, and the music is often accompanied by dancing.

It was during my visit to the museum that one instr Read More
The violin is an instrument well known to all. It can be found in every kind of music from orchestral and symphonic to jazz and modern music! Equally, it has proven its worth in the world of music.

The violin is made of wood and strings and belongs to the family of stringed instruments such as the guitar, piano, etc. In the same immediate family as the violin we find the double bass, the cello and the viola. It can adapt to every musical taste, and can be heard in all kinds of music, from classical, modern, country and Acadian to "heavy metal".

It is not such a difficult instrument to learn, which is the reason why so many people can play it, but much greater discipline is required to truly master it. The violin was often played in earlier times at family celebrations or gatherings of friends, and still is today. Some of the guests played the "rigadoon" and others performed tap dances or jigs. They had great fun and in this way were able to forget their troubles for a while. Even today, people still celebrate in similar fashion, and the music is often accompanied by dancing.

It was during my visit to the museum that one instrument attracted my attention. This was a violin made by Joe LeBlanc in 1915 for his young son Arthur LeBlanc, who became a famous musician.

It was in fact on August 18, 1906 that Joe's wife, Herménie LeBlanc, gave birth to Arthur LeBlanc, one of the great musicians of the twentieth century. Joe LeBlanc had devoted his life to music. He made and played violins. When Arthur was just three years old, Joe made a miniature violin for him, hardly suspecting that this little toy would change his son’s life. The violin quickly became his favourite plaything. He played his violin so much that each evening he fell asleep with it in his hands. Joe soon noticed his son’s natural talent, and as a violinist himself, decided to give him music lessons. At the age of five Arthur drew people to his father’s shop with his gifted playing. The young boy was unbelievable; he had become quite a phenomenon! He played pieces of great complexity for his age. By the age of ten, he was already giving recitals for admiring crowds.

Arthur thus spent his adolescent years in Quebec City pursuing his musical studies. In 1924 he left for Boston to study at the New England Conservatory of Music and, a few years later, went to Paris. After a series of trips abroad, Arthur decided to return to his beloved Acadia. He became one of the great violinists of the twentieth century.

One may thus conclude that the violin is an instrument which has been, and still is, highly appreciated in Acadia. Certainly, Arthur LeBlanc has done a great deal to promote this instrument. Even today, one can still attend a concert by the Arthur LeBlanc quartet. 



© 2007, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton. All Rights Reserved.

Old time fiddling is a very important part of the heritage of New Brunswick having been brought here by the Scots, Irish, English and French.

In the early history of New Brunswick, the fiddler was often considered an important person in the community being called upon to play at weddings, house parties, dances and other functions. I can recall Earl Mitton, a great downeast fiddler from Fredericton, relating to me that he could remember traveling from village to village in his early days playing the fiddle. For payment the people would give him meals and a place to sleep.

The art of old-time fiddling is usually passed on through the family or through the community fiddler. In my own case, my dad, Curtis Hicks, was a fiddler and without his influence and encouragement I probably would not have given it a try.

In the early days, fiddling was confined to the home parlour, lumber camps and a few recordings. Today, although there is less opportunity to hear fiddling during regular programming on radio, there are more different sources. Besides some special old-time fiddling programs on radio, T.V., recordings, outdoor festivals, fiddle fests, contests Read More
Old time fiddling is a very important part of the heritage of New Brunswick having been brought here by the Scots, Irish, English and French.

In the early history of New Brunswick, the fiddler was often considered an important person in the community being called upon to play at weddings, house parties, dances and other functions. I can recall Earl Mitton, a great downeast fiddler from Fredericton, relating to me that he could remember traveling from village to village in his early days playing the fiddle. For payment the people would give him meals and a place to sleep.

The art of old-time fiddling is usually passed on through the family or through the community fiddler. In my own case, my dad, Curtis Hicks, was a fiddler and without his influence and encouragement I probably would not have given it a try.

In the early days, fiddling was confined to the home parlour, lumber camps and a few recordings. Today, although there is less opportunity to hear fiddling during regular programming on radio, there are more different sources. Besides some special old-time fiddling programs on radio, T.V., recordings, outdoor festivals, fiddle fests, contests, and workshops have all allowed for more opportunities to see and hear fiddling.

There is a strong interest in old-time fiddling in New Brunswick today. There are still more “home” fiddlers (reluctant to play in public) than public fiddlers. There are more note readers today than in the past although even today in New Brunswick tunes are basically learned and played by ear.

Two major influences on fiddling over the past 40 to 50 years have been Don Messer with his downeast style (incorporating Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian tunes) and the Cape Breton Scottish stylings. Many tunes have come from these sources. In N.B. Ned Landry (known for liveliness and good intonation) and Earl Mitton (liveliness and interesting composition) along with such fiddlers as Jerry Robichaud(originally from New Brunswick but now Waltham, Mass.), Ward Allen (Ontario), Quebec fiddlers (such as Joseph Allard and Isidore Soucy) and American fiddlers like Tommy Jackson have greatly influenced fiddling over the past few decades. Recently an Acadian fiddler, Etienne Larocque, has become quite well-known through a recording and his appearances on T.V. and at contests. Being a very smooth and accurate fiddler, he enjoys playing the downeast and Scottish stylings.

Although every fiddler has his/her own set of favourite tunes, there are many standard tunes including St. Anne’s Reel, Big Jim McNeil, Maple Sugar, Money Mush, Princess Reel. In my opinion, most fiddlers tend to play a tune the same way (with some variations such as grace notes and bowing techniques) probably because fiddlers today learn from tapes, records, and written music. Fiddlers of my father’s generation and before learned their tunes by ear from one another and not all fiddlers would “hear” the same tune in the same way.

Characteristics of good fiddling perceived by fiddlers:
- good bowing techniques
- smoothness
- good intonation
- warm and lively playing (shows enjoyment)
- danceable fiddling

Young people must be exposed more to old-time fiddling since it is they who will carry it on. 




Canadian Journal of Traditional Music, volume 19.3 (1985)


© 1985, Canadian Journal of Traditional Music. All Rights Reserved.

Fiddler at Red Bank, 1953

Helen Creighton collecting folksongs with an unidentified fiddler at Red Bank, New Brunswick, 1953.

Richard H. Smith
Helen Creighton, First Nation's fiddler
c. 1953
CANADA Northern New Brunswick, New Brunswick, Northern New Brunswick, CANADA
1989.108.924
© 2007, New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, N.B.. All Rights Reserved.


Giant fiddle erected at Harvey Station in 2000.

A giant fiddle, made locally by Rollie McLean, was erected at Harvey Station in 2000 as a tribute to the memory of favourite son, Don Messer.

Rollie McLean
c. 2000
New Brunswick, CANADA
© 2007, Cherry Mountain Lodge #50. All Rights Reserved.


The beginnings of Don Messer's musical career.

Don Messer, who began playing the violin at five, learned fiddle tunes from local players - his uncle Jim Messer, Bowman Little, Charlie Bell, and others - and Scottish and Irish songs from his mother. At seven he was performing at barn dances, weddings, and other social gatherings in the area. After living for three years in Boston, where his studies with Henry Davis and Edith Hurter constituted his only formal instruction in music, he began his radio career in 1929 on CFBO, Saint John, NB. A local merchant subsequently sponsored regular programs by Messer's small band.

Unknown
c. 1930
New Brunswick, CANADA
P533/7, P204/450
© 2007, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. All Rights Reserved.


Don Messer and His Islanders. Old-time music group, the most popular in Canada during the mid-20th century, largely on the basis of its CBC radio and TV series. It was formed in 1939 for CFCY radio in Charlottetown by the fiddler Don (Donald Charles Frederick) Messer (b Tweedside, near Fredericton, 9 May 1909, d Halifax 26 Mar 1973).

Messer, who began playing the violin at five, learned fiddle tunes from local players - his uncle Jim Messer, Bowman Little, Charlie Bell, and others - and Scottish and Irish songs from his mother. At seven he was performing at barn dances, weddings, and other social gatherings in the area. After living for three years in Boston, where his studies with Henry Davis and Edith Hurter constituted his only formal instruction in music, he began his radio career in 1929 on CFBO, Saint John, NB. A local merchant subsequently sponsored regular programs by Messer's small band.

In 1934 the band began a radio show for the CRBC, broadcasting from CHSJ (Saint John) under the name the New Brunswick Lumberjacks. Charlie Chamberlain (b Bathurst, NB, 14 Jul 1911, d there 16 Jul 1972), Messer's long-time vocalist and the only band member who had Read More
Don Messer and His Islanders. Old-time music group, the most popular in Canada during the mid-20th century, largely on the basis of its CBC radio and TV series. It was formed in 1939 for CFCY radio in Charlottetown by the fiddler Don (Donald Charles Frederick) Messer (b Tweedside, near Fredericton, 9 May 1909, d Halifax 26 Mar 1973).

Messer, who began playing the violin at five, learned fiddle tunes from local players - his uncle Jim Messer, Bowman Little, Charlie Bell, and others - and Scottish and Irish songs from his mother. At seven he was performing at barn dances, weddings, and other social gatherings in the area. After living for three years in Boston, where his studies with Henry Davis and Edith Hurter constituted his only formal instruction in music, he began his radio career in 1929 on CFBO, Saint John, NB. A local merchant subsequently sponsored regular programs by Messer's small band.

In 1934 the band began a radio show for the CRBC, broadcasting from CHSJ (Saint John) under the name the New Brunswick Lumberjacks. Charlie Chamberlain (b Bathurst, NB, 14 Jul 1911, d there 16 Jul 1972), Messer's long-time vocalist and the only band member who had worked in lumber camps, joined at this time. The studio band grew to as many as 19 performers (including Chamberlain, Ned Landry playing harmonica, the bassist-banjoist Julius 'Duke' Nielsen, Maunsell O'Neil providing continuity in the persona of an Acadian lumberjack dubbed 'Joe LeBlanc,' and Eldon Rathburn, piano). Messer led a smaller group, the Backwoods Breakdown, in his personal appearances throughout the Maritimes and the northeastern USA.

On joining CFCY, Charlottetown, as music director in September 1939, Messer formed the Islanders - Chamberlain, Nielsen, Jackie Doyle (piano), Ray Simmons (clarinet and, later, also announcer, replacing Art MacDonald), and Bill LeBlanc (drums). By 1944 the group was heard nationally thrice weekly on the CBC.

Personnel changed over the years, but included such long-time members as the drummer Warren MacRae (who joined in 1942), the pianist Waldo Munro (1951), and the guitarist-fiddler Cecil McEachern (1951). Other instrumentalists, including the banjoist Vic Mullen and the organist Ray Calder, played with the Islanders for shorter periods. The singer Marg Osburne (b Moncton, NB, 1926, d Rocklyn, Ont, 16 Jul 1977) joined in 1947 and became (with Messer and Chamberlain) the artist most commonly identified with the Islanders.

Once the show was established as one of the most popular on Canadian radio, Messer and the Islanders began to appear outside the Maritimes, making their first tour of Ontario in 1949. They had made 18 tours by 1969, including a centennial trip in 1967 that lasted three months and covered 61 centres.

In 1956 the group began to appear regularly on CHBY-TV, Halifax. A nationally broadcast CBC TV summer series 'The Don Messer Show,' begun 7 Aug 1959, continued in the fall as 'Don Messer's Jubilee'. The show won a wide audience, and its cancellation in 1969 brought many complaints from viewers and raised questions in the House of Commons. However, a syndicated version of 'Don Messer's Jubilee' originating from CHCH-TV, Hamilton, Ont, began that same year and continued until Messer's death.

Messer and the 'Jubilee' cast were also seen in the NFB feature Don Messer: His Land and His Music (1971) and excerpts from the TV series were later issued in a CBC Enterprises video, Don Messer's Jubilee, in 1985. The show itself, a half-hour program, was rigidly structured, beginning with 'Goin' to the Barndance Tonight' and including a couple of fiddle tunes by Messer, songs from Osburne, Chamberlain (who favoured Irish material), and a guest performer, a closing hymn sung by Osburne and Chamberlain, and 'Till We Meet Again' played under the final credits.

Regular performers added during the TV era included the Buchta Dancers, led by Gunter and Irma Buchta, and the Scottish accordionist-singer Johnny Forrest who joined in 1966. Frequent guest performers included 'Stompin' Tom' Connors, Myrna Lorrie, Catherine McKinnon, Fred McKenna, and Graham Townsend. With the demise of 'Don Messer's Jubilee' Marg Osburne began a nightclub career - she enjoyed particular success in western Canada - and was host in 1977 for CBC TV's 'That Maritime Feeling'. Of her post-Messer recordings for Marathon (record label), 'Blues Comin' Round' was popular in 1974.

Messer insisted that his music was "not Western or cowboy music. Our tunes have been around for two or three hundred years. They're folk tunes passed from generation to generation" (CBC Times 11-17 Apr 1964). Besides traditional hornpipes, jigs, and reels, the Islanders played many tunes by Messer, as well as pieces by Al Cherny, Andy DeJarlis, Jim Magill, Graham Townsend, and others. Messer recorded some 35 78s 1942-52 for Apex - popular titles included Rippling Water Jig, Woodchoppers Breakdown, Cotton Eyed Joe, Don Messer's Breakdown, Highlevel Hornpipe, and Spud Island Breakdown - and has had some 30 LPs issued or reissued by Apex, MCA, Rodeo, and Rodeo's affiliate labels. The compliation LP The Good Old Days (MCA TVLP-79052) was issued in 1979 to some 100,000 advance orders. Folios of Messer's own compositions were published by Thompson: Original Old Tyme Music (1942), 'Way Down Fiddlin' Tunes (1948), Canadian Hoedowns (1952), and Barndance Breakdowns (1954). A fifth was published by Canadian Music Sales in 1967.

Messer has been credited (by folklorists Dorothy and Homer Hogan in their liner notes for Graham Townsend's LP The Great Canadian Fiddle) with a synthesis of the many and varied fiddle traditions in Canada, influencing other fiddlers with a style "as clean, straight-ahead and neat as a well-tended farm" and marked by its "down-to-earth simplicity". Recordings dedicated to Messer by Townsend, Bill Guest, and Reg Hill attest to his stature among Canadian fiddlers. His library and papers were deposited at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, and one of his fiddles was placed in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. He was inducted posthumously into the CCMA Hall of Honor in 1985 and, with Chamberlain and Osburne, into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989.

A musical, Don Messer's Jubilee, described as a 'fan letter' by its composer, John Gray, was premiered in 1985 by the Neptune Theatre in Halifax and subsequently toured in Canada. In 1989 a Theatre Plus production in Toronto found Catherine McKinnon in the role of Marg Osburne.

Author Richard Green




The Canadian Encyclopedia © 2007 Historica Foundation of Canada

© 2007 Historica Foundation of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

John MacLachlan (Howard) Gray. Playwright, composer, pianist, actor, writer, b Ottawa 26 Sep 1946; BA (Mount Allison) 1968, MA (British Columbia) 1972, honorary LLD (Mount Allison) 1989. Raised in Truro, NS, John Gray played Hammond organ and trumpet ca 1964-8 with the Lincolns, an R&B band popular in Nova Scotia. He later drew on the experience for his musical Rock and Roll. Gray went to Vancouver in 1968 to study theatre at the University of British Columbia. He was a founder (1972) of the Tamahnous Theatre, which produced an early Gray effort, Salty Tears (libretto by Jeremy Long), at the City Lights Theatre.

Composer of Musicals
Living 1975-82 in Toronto before returning to Vancouver, Gray worked initially as a composer and director at Theatre Passe Muraille, contributing songs to various productions, including the collectively conceived play 1837: The Farmer's Revolt. His first major musical, 18 Wheels (1976), was introduced in 1977 at Passe Muraille and later toured nationally. It was followed by Billy Bishop Goes to War (1978, a collaboration with Eric Peterson) and Rock and Roll (1979). The latter was premiered 16 Mar Read More

John MacLachlan (Howard) Gray. Playwright, composer, pianist, actor, writer, b Ottawa 26 Sep 1946; BA (Mount Allison) 1968, MA (British Columbia) 1972, honorary LLD (Mount Allison) 1989. Raised in Truro, NS, John Gray played Hammond organ and trumpet ca 1964-8 with the Lincolns, an R&B band popular in Nova Scotia. He later drew on the experience for his musical Rock and Roll. Gray went to Vancouver in 1968 to study theatre at the University of British Columbia. He was a founder (1972) of the Tamahnous Theatre, which produced an early Gray effort, Salty Tears (libretto by Jeremy Long), at the City Lights Theatre.

Composer of Musicals
Living 1975-82 in Toronto before returning to Vancouver, Gray worked initially as a composer and director at Theatre Passe Muraille, contributing songs to various productions, including the collectively conceived play 1837: The Farmer's Revolt. His first major musical, 18 Wheels (1976), was introduced in 1977 at Passe Muraille and later toured nationally. It was followed by Billy Bishop Goes to War (1978, a collaboration with Eric Peterson) and Rock and Roll (1979). The latter was premiered 16 Mar 1981 at the National Arts Centre, toured in Canada in 1983 and was adapted for a CBC telecast 20 Apr 1985 as The King of Friday Night. Gray appeared at various times in productions of all three works.

Gray's other musicals included Don Messer's Jubilee (1984, premiered 4 Jan 1985 at the Neptune Theatre, Halifax, and toured nationally) and Health, the Musical (1989, premiered 24 Feb 1989 at the Vancouver Playhouse). Thematically, many of his musicals explore the internal and external pressures that have shaped Canada's self-image; stylistically they draw on the energy and structure of the travelling vaudeville and concert troupes that were his introduction to the performing arts in Truro. The librettos for 18 Wheels, Rock and Roll and Don Messer's Jubilee were published in Local Boy Makes Good: Three Musicals by John Gray (Vancouver 1987).

Gray also wrote the children's musicals Bongo from the Congo and Balthazaar and the Mojo Star (1982, commissioned by the Vancouver International Children's Festival) as well as The B.C. Review (1986, 18 short musicals about British Columbia history for the province's pavillion at Expo 86).

Gray's Other Activities
From 1988 to 1992 John Gray wrote and performed in satiric music videos for CBC-TV's The Journal. He returned to writing for stage with the 1993 musical Amelia!, about the pilot Amelia Earhart; it premiered at the National Arts Centre, directed by Gray.

CBC Radio commissioned the 1995 biblical rock opera TheTree.TheTower.TheFlood. Gray's Rock and Roll, and revised versions of Billy Bishop (in which Gray reprised his role) and 18 Wheels, enjoyed revivals in several Canadian cities in the 1990s.

Gray's other writings include plays (eg, Better Watch Out, Better Not Die, 1981); film scripts (eg, The Legend of Kootenai Brown); and several novels and works of non-fiction. He has been a columnist for such newspapers as the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun.

Awards and Recognition
John Gray's musicals have reaped the Dora Mavor Moore Award (for Rock and Roll), the Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, the Chalmers Award and other prizes (for Billy Bishop Goes to War). For his other writing, he has won a National Magazine Award and several Western Magazine awards. Gray was created an officer in the Order of Canada in 2000.

 

The Canadian Encyclopedia © 2007 Historica Foundation of Canada. All rights reserved. 

© 2007, Historica Foundation of Canada. All Rights Reserved.

Ned Landry, a legendary New Brunswick fiddler.

Landry, Ned (Frederick Lawrence). Fiddler, composer, singer, b Saint John, NB, 2 Feb 1921. Though as a boy he taught himself to play the violin, Landry first appeared, in 1934, on Don Messer's CHSJ radio show 'Backwoods Breakdown' as a harmonica player. In 1939, with the New Brunswick Lumberjacks, he placed second in CBS radio's 'Major Bowes' Amateur Hour' in New York, and then became the first oldtime fiddler to perform on TV in Boston. He began recording for RCA Victor in 1955, completing eight LPs for that label. He also made LPs for Arc, MMC, Afton, his own Landry label, and Prime Time. The winner in the open class of the 1956, 1957, and 1962 Canadian Open Old Time Fiddlers' Contests, Landry appeared in the 1950s on CFBC radio, Saint John, and in the 1960s on 'Don Messer's Jubilee' and other TV shows. He performed throughout Canada and recorded many of his several hundred fiddle tunes, composed in various Canadian styles. Some are published in the folios Ned Landry Favorite Fiddle Tunes (Empire 1952) and Bowing the Strings with Ned Landry (Thompson 1959). Among his best-known titles are Ontario Swing, Bowin' the Strings, and Hillbilly Calypso. Honours and Activities after 1990 Landry was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1991. Among his performances in the 1990s and later were appearances at several festivals: for the Prince of Wales in Fredericton; and at Walt Disney World, Florida. The recipient of the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2002 East Coast Music Association Awards, Landry also received a lifetime contribution award from the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championship; the latter offers a trophy named for him. He was also inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame, and the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame. He continued to compose fiddle tunes, including his "Governor General's Waltz," and to make recordings. Among his recent recordings were Ned Landry: International Fiddling Champion (Atlantica NL-00102, 1994); Generations (with Ivan Hicks; ME-1013, 2001); and The Master and the Apprentice (with Ken Wood, 1999). The National Library of Canada holds his archives.

Betty Nygaard King
c. 2007
CANADA Atlantic Provinces, Atlantic Provinces, CANADA
The Canadian Encyclopedia © 2007, Historica Foundation of Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Learners will understand the central role played by the violin/fiddle in New Brunswick folk traditions.

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