Howie MacDonald

Track 12 : Howie MacDonald (Piano)

The Second Star Hornpipe (G. Tate)
Tom Marsh's Hornpipe (Vincent MacGillivray)
Compliments to Doug MacPhee (Howie MacDonald)

Howie MacDonald is from Westmount, Cape Breton County. He is a talented fiddler and is also noted for his own style of piano accompaniment. Howie played with Natalie MacMaster on her last three recordings and toured and recorded with The Rankin Family throughout their career. During this period he would also play for dances with fiddler John Morris Rankin and, today, continues to do so with Ashley MacIsaac.

For Howie, Buddy has chosen "Tom Marsh's Hornpipe", considered to be one of the trickiest hornpipes in the Cape Breton repertoire. Tom Marsh was a friend of Buddy's father and a fiddler from Lingan, close to New Waterford, and this hornpipe was composed by Vincent MacGillvray of Low Point, an Irish style fiddler with some classical training.

At one time there was a fiddle style in this Cape Breton community referred to as The Lingan Irish, a style consisting mostly of clogs and hornpipes. Players included Tom Marsh and Jimmy Mahon. Doug MacPhee's mother Margaret often chorded for these players.

Cape Breton Piano Accompaniment

When Buddy MacMaster played his first dance in Troy he was not accompanied by the piano, but by another fiddler, teaming up with Vincent MacMaster to create enough volume to sustain the dancers through the night. The piano had only recently been introduced to Cape Breton music. The pump organ preceded the piano by more than thirty years and it was on this instrument that many of Cape Breton's players started out.

The pump organ could be used to imitate the sounds of the pipes and the pumping of the pedals would create a gentle syncopation and lift for the music. The droning, sustaining quality of the instrument also allowed the pump organ player to use the right hand for melody playing while keeping the fiddler accompanied with the left. The primitive techniques developed on this parlour instrument are the foundation of today's Cape Breton piano accompaniment style.

By the 1930's, upright pianos began to replace the pump organ and eventually became so popular that they arrived on the east coast by the trainload. The upright piano was perfectly suited to the front parlours of the day. The wooden flooring, lime plaster and wainscoting of Inverness county homes would enhance the already rich tones of these instruments. Pianos could be ordered through the Eaton's catalogue and popular brand names included Mason & Risch, Bell, Nordheimer and Sherlock Manning. The most prized of the uprights was the Heintzman and one is featured on several tracks of this recording.

Although there were a few guitar players, the upright piano was quickly adopted as the main accompaniment instrument for Cape Breton fiddle music. Early recording pioneers include Dan Sullivan, Betty Maillet of The Inverness Serenaders and Bess Siddall MacDonald of Antigonish, who recorded on the first 78 rpms of the Celtic label in 1936. As the tradition evolved, each new player brought something unique and individual to the style. Today there are as many styles as there are players and the piano is also recognized as a melody instrument in its own right.

This recording features players from throughout Buddy MacMaster's career, spanning almost the entire history of Cape Breton piano accompaniment. Although they all have different styles, most of these players have at least one thing in common: they've played at Glencoe with Buddy MacMaster!

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