How the Music Found Me

Written by Max MacDonald.

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As I’ve mentioned previously, I wasn’t exposed to Cape Breton traditional music until I was in my twenties. I was aware of some of the bigger names like Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald and John Allan Cameron. I would see them and others on local TV programs from time to time when I was younger but didn’t pay too much attention. It just wasn’t cool. (I was such an idiot! But hey; it was the 60s. It was the Beatles not Buddy.)

Winnie Chafe was the first Cape Breton fiddler I ever performed with. She played on some early recordings of Leon Dubinsky songs we made with the CBC in the early 70’s. I thought she was very brave and remarkably open to some of the untraditional (read “crazy”) ideas we had.

As I became more active in the Cape Breton music scene, I began to meet fiddlers like Marcel Doucette and Ronnie MacEachern. They were part of a developing music scene in Cape Breton that was creating original music influenced by a variety of sources.

Then, everything changed for me one night at a house party. Jerry Holland and Dave MacIsaac were drivin’er in the kitchen and then suddenly switched to a beautiful slow air. That moment is as clear in my mind as the taste of my Mother’s chocolate cake with boiled icing.

I suddenly had a total understanding that this was our music, my music and that it was soul music too because I realized it spoke directly to my genes.  I was totally clear that it connected me to all those brave souls who had gone before, crossed the Atlantic and settled on this beautiful Island. I could feel this music deep in my soul. This was a life changing moment.

I still have a huge warm spot in my heart for Jerry and Dave. Without knowing, they gave me a wonderful gift. I was fortunate to be able to work and laugh with them in the following years.

Next time I’ll tell you an amazing story about Jerry and how he continued to shape and influence my understanding and appreciation of Cape Breton culture in the following years.