Lintlaw’s JJ Guy has just released his sixth CD, a fiddle collaboration with well-known fellow fiddler Gordon Stobbe.
Just arriving home from the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse, where he and Stobbe performed, Guy said he is pleased with Twin Fiddles. The compilation is all original compositions by both Guy and Stobbe in the twin fiddle style, a project that came to fruition after the two were encouraged to record the original music they were creating and already performing.
They first met at a fiddle camp held at Emma Lake in 2004, Guy explained last week from his home in Lintlaw.
“Emma Lake was my first fiddle camp. That was when I decided that this was what I wanted to do,” he said.
Although originally from Saskatchewan, Stobbe has made Nova Scotia home for more than a decade. The two have appeared jointly at several camps, teaching classes and performing from the east coast all the way to Whitehorse. Then they started writing tunes as a team.
“We really play well together,” said Guy. “Each piece on Twin Fiddles is geared to reflect the places and the people being written about.”
In an email to the News, Stobbe explained that the twin fiddle style is not a new concept with regard to traditional fiddle music.
“Simply put, it is a style of fiddling that has, at its centre, close harmonizations of melodies,” wrote Stobbe. “One fiddler plays the melody and the other harmonizes exactly with the first player.
“In some traditional fiddle styles, such as Scandinavian fiddling, it is common. Many early country stars had twin fiddles in the band. Western swing music sometimes had three harmonized fiddlers in the band,” he said. “Economic realities made it harder to have an extra fiddler in a band to play the harmonies and also, to make this work, you need a player to dedicate his/her time to learning all the harmonies.
“JJ and I travel and work together a lot and often in remote places so we have lots of time to compose music,” wrote Stobbe. “I have long been interested in the twin fiddle sound and have a lot of experience playing harmonies, so it was natural that we would write music that would lend itself to this style.
“Luckily, we both really enjoy the sound of two fiddles and we are doing this in a time when very few recordings of this kind of music are being produced,” wrote Stobbe, emphasizing why this particular project is so unique.
Because of Guy’s exhaustive itinerary, the News asked him if there were musical differences across the country.
“Ours (fiddle style) is based on two styles,” he said. “The eastern Don-Messer-Ontario style with influence from two groups, mainly the Ukrainians and the Métis.”
“The East (coast) has a totally different style, particularly when you get closer to Cape Breton where there is almost a heavier Celtic influence,” he said. “The fiddling is geared more toward dance — step dance — in the east, whereas here it is old-time dance.
“Newfoundland has a totally different style again. Their music is fast! They are simple tunes but played really fast.
“I like Quebec fiddling. It’s an entirely different repertoire. I also learned they have families that have their very own music that is not played outside of family gatherings. I find that very interesting,” said Guy. “In the West it’s the fusion of styles, especially with Métis. In B.C., it’s almost Celtic but different, almost more laidback.”
A big part of Guy’s life is also teaching fiddling at various camps across the country, something he clearly loves.
“I still get inspired by the students who have that spark when they’ve figured out how to play something,” said Guy. “Even when they are playing something as simple as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
There is still a lot of uptake among youth who want to play, partly, he thinks, because of the influence of Natalie McMaster. “But it’s a niche thing,” he said. If anything, where there are fiddling lessons, there’s a shortage of teachers. He cited Stobbe’s role in the Frontier School Division in Manitoba, where there are up to 2500 students who take fiddling through the school division as a regularly scheduled class. He said there are several teachers who rotate through the schools every week, and a camp is held the first weekend every May; about 500 students attend.
Always humble and just taking it all in stride, Guy feels he’s fortunate. “I’m really lucky to make a living playing a musical instrument,” he said.
Guy is basically packed and on the road from now through April. He will be joined by Stobbe between March 9-31 on tour, criss-crossing British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
“The more we do it, it seems the more patriotic we become,” said Guy of his tours with Stobbe. “It allows us to create tunes that really reflect the country.”
Fans can catch him on April 9 at The Bassment in Saskatoon or in Yorkton on April 26.
By Alison Squires