Monday, January 29, 2018

Alma Townsend, Fiddler

A relative just sent me an entry on my mother from a book on old-time fiddlers in British Columbia. Old-time fiddling, which is based on a repertoire of jigs, reels, schottisches and other genres of dance music largely from Scotland and Ireland and dating back centuries, is a deeply-rooted folk music in Canada. It is found in rural places right across the country and is particularly strong in the Maritimes, especially Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, parts of Quebec, where the style is a bit different, and right across the Canadian prairies to the Pacific.

My mother was an accomplished fiddler in this tradition as well as having a natural musical talent that enabled her to play several other instruments including piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass guitar and so on. When I was growing up there was a musical instrument case under and behind every piece of furniture! Here is the entry on my mother from the British Columbia Old Time Fiddler's Association book:

Click to enlarge

The two main things missing from this account are that she passed away in 1997 and that she was the provincial fiddling champion on more than one occasion. She also won a radio contest once for playing a tune on more different musical instruments than the other competitors. The article also does not mention her wayward son, who ended up as a classical guitarist instead of following the family tradition!

I have an album of her playing made in 1987. I had been doing a lot of recording in a private studio in North Vancouver and that connection provided the occasion for her and a couple of friends, Charlie and Bill, to spend a few hours recording some of their favorite material. Throughout her life my mother played thousands of Friday night dances, usually for no or minimal pay, but this is the only time to my knowledge, that she made a recording. I was going to put in a clip of her playing some traditional repertoire, but I have to prepare it in iMovie first. In the meantime, here is another track from the session of her one and only composition, the "Silvertone Waltz":

UPDATE: The photos are of where we used to live in Northern BC and of the typical dance my mother would play for.


Will Wilkin said...

What a joyful tune, played with great verve! Love it!

Bryan Townsend said...

Yep, my mother should have written a few more tunes!

Marc said...

There's an independent radio station here in town, KRVM, where one can listen to such lovely music-- they broadcast in a range of genres but the DJs will feature pieces like Silvertone Waltz often enough. I listen when I'm alone at work on Saturdays, although sometimes the reception of the UO's radio station's broadcast of the Met's opera is clear enough I can tune in there. Good to know that you have such beautiful memories of your mother and her music!

Bryan Townsend said...

I didn't always appreciate my mother's music, especially when I was young. But it grows on you.