Music is a curious thing; a few notes can capture your imagination, telling you a story and stirring up emotions without a single word. From simple folk tunes to vast symphonic suites, music points back to the culture from which it grew, but also builds bridges between the players and the listeners. Celtic music is a prime example of this as it draws from a history stretching back to before music was written down and has been carried forward, influenced by countless cultures, to keep it very much alive today.
Music of any kind connects us and brings people and communities closer together. In the Celtic world, we call this a “Ceilidh” (pronounced like Kay-lee). A Ceilidh is a social gathering at which there is Scottish or Irish Folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling. This would be close to what we Maritimers would call a “kitchen party.” Usually, traditional, acoustic instruments are played such as violins, harps, guitars, mandolins, flutes, whistles and, of course, the Scottish pipes. A Ceilidh can last a couple hours, or wrap up after an entire weekend of fun.
Fundy Ceilidh is a new Celtic ensemble that has been playing locally and gaining momentum for over two years. Starting out as a jam session on Saturday mornings on the little stage of the Hillsborough Farmers’ Market, this group has quickly grown into an ensemble that has a repertoire rich in Scottish, Irish and Canadian Celtic Music. Drawing on the diverse backgrounds and interests of the band members, the group pushes into non-traditional music as well to challenge each other and surprise audiences. Fundy Ceilidh has performed at many festivals, fundraisers and concerts, sharing the stage with local folk, bluegrass, fiddle and Celtic musicians, such as Eddie Poirier, Samantha Robichaud, Ivan and Vivian Hicks, and George Belliveau.
The members of Fundy Ceilidh enjoy playing together in all different types of scenarios and venues, but the Farmers’ Market in Hillsborough and the Buddha Bear Café/Holy Whale Brewery in Alma are band favourites. These two venues allow the musicians to play together in a relaxed environment for an appreciative crowd that encourages them to feel at home and stretch their wings musically. These are good places to try new configurations, tunes and instruments.
The band currently has four members, who, between them, entertain on harp, bagpipes, whistles, violin, guitar and percussion.
Harpist Dorothy Brzezicki has dedicated her life to music since she was seven. She was born in Poland and received her master’s degree in music (Harp Performance) from the Frederic Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. She now teaches harp and plays solo frequently for weddings and events. Dorothy has played for royalty, rock stars and symphonies, but Celtic music is her greatest passion. As a young student, she recalls asking her instructor to teach her a Celtic piece, and she continues to entertain us with her exceptional musicality and effortless mastery. Her harp stands 6 feet tall with a wood and metal frame weighing 78 lb, and strung with nylon and gut. It has a series of pedals on the bottom that are used to change the pitch of certain strings to facilitate key changes within a piece. She carts this instrument around on a wooden dolly and tunes all 47 strings before each performance.
Ian Duncan is the bagpiper and wind section of Fundy Ceilidh. His formative piping years were spent in Saint John, NB, and at the Gaelic College in St. Anne’s, Cape Breton, where he both learned and taught. He has performed and competed as a solo piper and bandsman, most recently with the Simonds Lions Caledonia Pipe Band at the 2018 World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. He loves delving into and sharing the history and folklore of traditional music, as well as exploring the instruments out of their standard contexts. Ian bends notes and improvises without hesitation. His grounding in traditional and modern Celtic music makes him one of the main sources of the band’s repertoire.
With Fundy Ceilidh, Ian plays the Scottish smallpipes. This instrument is much quieter than the Great Highland bagpipe and more suited to playing with a group. Not only are these pipes smaller in size, they use bellows to provide air rather than being mouth-blown which greatly reduces moisture and temperature variance for the reeds. The Scottish dmallpipes can still be a temperamental instrument and often require fine-tuning of both the drones and the chanter. Ian also plays tin whistles, which are more flexible musically and add to the richness and diversity of Fundy Ceilidh’s unique sound. He plays solo for events and offers lessons, but most of his time is devoted to developing music for the ensemble.
Sara Liptay is Fundy Ceilidh’s violinist and fiddler. She holds a Master’s degree from Memorial University in performance and pedagogy, as well as a certificate in Baroque violin from the University of Toronto. She is a passionate and award-winning music educator and advocate (Music NB’s 2018 “Educator of the Year”). Sara is a founder of Sistema New Brunswick, a program that, since 2009, brings music to hundreds of youth every day after school, teaching out of centres including Moncton and Hillsborough. Sara plays many styles, ranging from baroque to modern, and performs as a member of Symphony New Brunswick and Tutta Musica. While Sara is classically trained, Baroque music of the 17th century informs her approach to Celtic music. Technique from that era employs many of the same quick bow strokes fast, fingerings and lyrical melodies. Having grown up with both classical and traditional music, she is thrilled to combine them both into the magic moment when the violin becomes a fiddle.
Steve Arsenault brings a wealth of knowledge and musicality to the group, adding layers of texture, rhythm and vibrancy. He plays acoustic guitar and percussion with Fundy Ceilidh, and has studied a wide variety of music and instruments, most recently with lessons in jazz guitar. His deep love for music hearkens back to his childhood where he was influenced by performers such as Jethro Tull, Phish and Moncton’s own Eric’s Trip. When he’s not jamming with Fundy Ceilidh, Steven can be found writing his own music, with nearly 60 pieces to his credit. Steve’s sensitive guitar accompaniment offers the other band members a solid and consistent playing field where they have the freedom to improvise, experiment and demand the best from their instruments. He shapes the musical momentum so that the quartet rarely plays a piece the same way twice. Steve challenges the band to interpret works from new genres and delights audiences with his flair on guitar.
Fundy Ceilidh has a busy summer concert season planned and are very excited to play for communities in the region. You can find Fundy Ceilidh on Facebook for video clips, concert listings and if you would like to reach them for booking information, their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for updates as well on the Connecting Albert County online calendar.
Photos by Christine Donovan, Donovanphotos@gmail.com