Fiddler’s Dream

Fiddler’s Dream

What were you doing just a few weeks before your 21st birthday? (It was really more of a rhetorical question, but please feel free to leave a comment at the end.) I’ll tell you what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t getting ready to travel to Québec City to perform on stage at the Palais Montcalm with Natalie MacMaster. But that’s just what fiddler Allison Mombourquette has planned for the last weekend of the Quebec Celtic Festival.  That’s not to say we don’t have anything in common. She’s from Cape Breton and I’ve been to Cape Breton. I even have the t-shirt from Louisbourg to prove it. Actually it’s a faux medical shirt with the words “Psychiatric Ward” on the back. I was 17 when I bought it and it seemed like good idea at the time. But this article isn’t about how cool I was or wasn’t, it’s about Allie, as she prefers to be called.

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I find it interesting that some children are drawn to learn, to practice and to achieve at a young age. I wanted to know when Allie had first been bitten by the Cape Breton fiddling bug. She began step dancing at the age of 5. Her grandfather used to play the fiddle and she loved the music. When she was eight, her bedroom was being remodelled and she was inspired to take the curtain rods and pretend that they were a bow and fiddle. “I used them to play along with Natalie MacMaster’s No Boundaries CD,” laughs Ms. Mombourquette. That was in 1998; she started taking fiddle lessons soon after that.

That’s all well and good. I took piano and trumpet lessons but Wynton Marsalis hasn’t called me lately. What has been Allie’s motivation throughout the years? Actually, it’s not what, but who. She credits her next door neighbour and fellow fiddling friend, Kayla Bona, as an influence. “She helped keep me motivated; we’re still playing together,” says Mombourquette. Both Allison and Kayla are from the French community of L’ardoise in Nova Scotia. They started step dancing together when they were young and were later reunited at the Gaelic College in 2004. It was at the Gaelic College where Allie continued to study fiddle, piano, step-dancing and a how to play a Celtic drum called a bodhrán. Since 2006 she has been a part of Comunn Féis Mhàbu, an organization whose purpose is to facilitate the progressive development of Gaelic Language and Culture.  Their programs draw participants from all over Cape Breton and beyond and give young Celtic musicians the opportunity to learn from some of Cape Breton’s finest. She has also been a member of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association since 2001.

So it would appear that getting involved seems to be the key.  Busy people get more things done. Allie will certainly be occupied when she takes the upcoming weekend off from university, where she’s studying to be a French teacher, to come to Quebec City. Originally invited to play at a local bar, she’s now scheduled to play at three venues. Although I was fairly certain it must be a dream come true, I wanted to know how Allie felt about playing at the Palais Montcalm. “Nervous, excited; in my world, you can’t get much higher than playing fiddle with Natalie MacMaster,” expressed Mombourquette. “It’s a humbling experience to be selected amongst the many great Cape Breton fiddlers we have out here.” It was bit of luck that she was playing in a bar during a festival in Cape Breton when Guy Morisset, a cultural event producer and promoter for Les Productions Cibles, heard her playing and asked if she would like to be part of the show. I think it must have been meant to be. I believe that we are masters of our own good fortune and being at the right place at the right time just proves that you’re on the right track.

This won’t be Allie Mombourquette’s first time performing. She has already played alongside Natalie MacMaster, Glenn Graham, Andrea Beaton, Ashley MacIsaac, Jerry Holland, J.P. Cormier, and Dave MacIsaac. She has also and performed at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle, Saturday night square dances at the West Mabou Hall, Celtic Colours International Festival, and Friday night ceilidhs in Sloan’s Pub in Glasgow, Scotland. Finally, she’s been a guest fiddler at The Baddeck Gathering, Normaway Inn and Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. Allie’s next event will be at this year’s Celtic Colours International Festival from October 7- 15 happening in Sydney, Nova Scotia. You can check out the YouTube video on their website. It looks like a good time.

Allie has plans for her future; teaching French, putting out a CD of her own, working a Gaelic teacher at the college and passing the Cape Breton culture along. “I’ll take it as it goes,” she says. Allie’s not the only one with a bit of Gaelic in her. I’ve been doing my best to get into the Celtic spirit. At my son William’s request, I have signed him up for Saturday morning bagpipe lessons being given at Quebec High School. I’ve pulled out the old family tree and found the names Kelly and Delaney listed amongst my ancestors. Finally I rented Braveheart, the 1995 movie about Sir William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish knight , played by Mel Gibson.   But as I said before, this article isn’t about all the cool things I do, it’s about Allie Mombourquette. I rightly assumed that she had an iPod and I thought it would seem really hip to end our interview by asking her what she was listening to lately. For those of who don’t know, an 8GB iPod can hold Approx. 1500 ~ 2000 songs, it could have been a loaded question. Luckily it wasn’t, she asked me if I’d heard of Metric. I thought to myself; sure I’ve heard of Metric, it replaced the imperial system of measurement. I wasn’t sure why she was listening to that, but I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I decided to just act like it was cool and wish her luck, although I knew that she wouldn’t need it.

Categories: Arts & Culture

About Author

Jason Enlow

Jason Enlow is a Special Education Technician at an English elementary school. He was born in Montreal, Quebec and grew up in Burlington, Ontario. Jason studied Radio and Television at Ryerson University in Toronto. His previous employers include CityTV, CBC, The Weather Network, and Global Television. He’s worked as a DJ, camera operator, musician, teacher, translator and video game content designer. Jason moved to Quebec City in 1997 where he still lives today with his wife and three sons.