One of the outstanding and wonderful additions to the Port Alberni musical world began over seven years ago when a group of musicians and music lovers gradually started getting together to play fiddles and other instruments and entertain the Valley citizens. It was the beginning of a group that would perform together for the love of music and for the love of sharing their skills, with seniors and other segments of our population.
Under ¨the creed to promote the playing and enjoyment of Old Time Fiddle music’” the group volunteers to perform at the Seniors Care Homes as a community service on a regular basis. They officially became the Alberni Valley Old Time Fiddlers, Branch #19 of the B.C Old Time Fiddlers Association in 2008. And thanks to Abbeyfield, the group had the opportunity to start practicing in their living room on a weekly basis, and becoming a great addition to the residents’ musical programs. With more members added, the group moved their practice sessions to the “AbbeyHall” basement room at no charge for its use.
Six years on, the ensemble counts with almost 30 members, about 15 fiddlers, plus guitars, piano, mandolin, banjo, wash-tub bass and Irish whistles.
Although some of the musicians are self-taught, many have attended Fiddle Camps and workshops. Informal lessons are sometimes held within a regular practice when introducing a new piece of music.
“This music has been played for many generations in our country, from our great grandparents to successive descendants, and we continue with this tradition,” says Gordie McConnell, President and co-founder of the local Old Time Fiddlers.
Throughout the years, he has entertained thousands in the Valley and beyond, playing on his own and with bands. He plays evrything from from guitar and banjo to the steel guitar. His wife Myrna, a piano player and singer, has also been an important part of the ensemble, since its formation, as well.
“Myrna has sung all her life,” comments McConnell.
In addition to performing at Abbeyfield; the group also brings their music to Fir Park Village and Heritage Place on alternating Wednesdays, and on the fourth Monday of each month (May to September), they hold a regular practice followed by a presentation to the residents of Rainbow Gardens. Special appearances by the group also take place at Echo Village and West Haven.
Some kind of a tradition has recently been added to the Year End celebrations at both Fir Park and Echo Villages. The Old Time
Fiddlers take part in the closing of the year with music at these two seniors’ homes on Dec. 31!
Gail Ross, one of the directors who writes on the activities of the local fiddlers for the B.C. Old Time Fiddlers Association newsletter, plays the fiddle and the whistle, while husband Ron, the wash-tub bass and the harmonica.
“At the time I joined the group, I used to play guitar and I did not know how to play the fiddle; so, by practicing on a regular basis and with other musicians’ support, I learned to play it,” she said.
The Old Time Fiddlers are getting more and more popular in our community and other Island’s areas.
In addition to their various steady public performances, they have special presentations at the McLean Mill, Art Rave, July 1st festivities, Sunshine Club Dances, Fall Fair, etc. Also, at out of town events, such as: June Bug Square Dance, Lighthouse Bluegrass Festival, Coomb’s Jamboree and Branch 17, Courtenay Jamboree. Rosewall Creek Hatchery “The River Never Sleeps Days,” 4-H 100th Year celebration in Coombs, Surfside R.V. Park in Parksville.
They have played for a couple of weddings and family reunions.
Port Alberni is indeed fortunate to count on this musical group, which is increasing its numbers (players) and also increasing its audiences, because its music reaches people of all walks of life, from the young to the old. Just by attending their practices, the visitor can appreciate the enthusiastic atmosphere this group radiates!