Thank You For the Music

By - July 28, 2010 (Updated: January 23, 2017)

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Atlantic Canada.
The Ceilidh Fiddle Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Photo by Dianne Pike)

The Ceilidh Fiddle Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (Photo by Dianne Pike)

As I start to pack my over-stuffed suitcases for my summer marathon journey across North America, I’m giddy with the thought of being surrounded by friends, family, food and feelings of home. Despite my current contentment with expat life, there are still a few things I miss about Eastern Canada. While sitting in a pub in Wales, a few weekends ago, I was reminded of another – Music.

While visiting our friends in the UK, several weekends ago, we decided to head to a pub and catch some live music. As I sat there in the dim light with my glass of box-wine, listening to the melody of guitar and fiddle, I was suddenly home-sick for something I didn’t realized I missed. To be honest, the music wasn’t that good. But sitting there with my friends and having nothing to do but enjoy a tune reminded me of home.

I’m not a musical person. In fact I can’t carry a tune in a bucket with a lid. The rest of my family’s musical talents are lacking as well. That never stopped us though. There was always music around; on the kitchen radio, in the car, in Dad’s workshop. When the three of us went on road-trips together, the tapes were always packed first. What we lacked in musicality we made up for in volume. It didn’t matter if it was ABBA or John Denver, we sang along with gusto.

Chris from Sloan in Halifax (Photo by HeavyMetalMomma)

Chris from Sloan in Halifax (Photo by HeavyMetalMomma)

Eastern Canada has a strong tradition of music. There is a rich Celtic influence from the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled here. It’s not uncommon for bands to have a bag-piper and traditional instruments like the bodhrán often make an appearance.

The Acadian French have left their musical mark on the East coast as well. You can hear it in the fiddles and accordions they took with them all the way to Louisiana and back. The Black Loyalists brought gospel music to Eastern Canada, where it still has strong roots to this day.

But East Coast music isn’t all folk songs and tradition. It’s also cutting edge – rock, pop, rap, country, you’ll find it all here. Sarah McLaghlan hails from Nova Scotia, as do  SloanEric’s TripJaleThrush Hermit,  April Wine, and  Matt Minglewood.

There is music everywhere: in bars of course, always, but also in shops, restaurants, on the boardwalk, the streets, even occasionally on the ferry. There are concerts and festivals across the East Coast, all summer long for any style of music you can imagine.

Great Big Sea (Photo by Cindy Funk)

Great Big Sea (Photo by Cindy Funk)

The thing about all of this music is you take it for granted; at least I did. Back in Halifax, I have several talented friends who are professional musicians. I have many more who just love to play for fun. There are signers, a handful of guitar players, a banjo-man, a piper, percussionists and a bassist. And that’s not counting the harmonicas and penny whistles that are sticking out of pockets.

It goes without saying that any East Coast gathering will involve beer, food and music. We call this a Kitchen Party. It’s informal, relaxed and most of all fun. A Kitchen Party is essentially just a big jam-session. Everyone sits around and plays or sings – no talent necessary. Many old standards will be hauled out – “Barrett’s Privateers” inevitably is sung in varying states of drunkenness. There will be 80s pop and power-ballads and lots of silliness. Mostly it will just be about good friends having a laugh together.

Sitting in that Welsh pub, I was transported to the pubs back home; to my own kitchen parties and I realised how much I look forward to being part of that scene again. So, Eastern Canada, thank you for the music that has been the soundtrack to my life. I’ll see you in the kitchen.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  2. Comment by tez

    tez July 28, 2010 at 12:40

    I miss the music as well. It’s like no where else in the world. It’s one of the sounds of home to me. Sometimes, I pull out the Barnacle CD that LeeAnn and I bought after a particularly entertaining night in town. It isn’t all that good, but it never fails to put a smile on my dial and it gets my toes tapping. 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 28, 2010 at 12:48

      So true. I miss just being able to pop into the Blue’s Corner or the Tickle Trunk and watch some second-rate garage band. It doesn’t have to be great, just fun.

  3. Comment by Amy

    Amy July 28, 2010 at 13:11

    Great post! I have wonderful memories of the ceilidhs we went to when visiting Cape Breton Island years ago. I absolutely love the fiddle music. Hopefully I can go back again someday!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison July 28, 2010 at 13:30

      Thanks Amy! There’s definitely a lot of fiddle music in the Maritimes 🙂 Cape Breton is a great place to hear some of our musical roots.

  4. Comment by pugwash pops

    pugwash pops July 31, 2010 at 00:40

    music speaks to and from a part of our soul that can only be accessed through music, powerful! … and the penny whistle I gave your other half is …. ???? lotsalov … PP

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison August 1, 2010 at 17:09

      In a shirt pocket of course 🙂

  5. Comment by Nomadic Chick

    Nomadic Chick July 31, 2010 at 03:21

    What a great post! I love Sloan. 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison August 1, 2010 at 17:09

      Thanks Jeannie! Looking forward to some Canadian tunes next month 🙂

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