In a crowded room at Roberts Creek Elementary School, accordionist Ian Lothian is demonstrating his versatile instrument. He plays it, he squeezes it, he even knocks out a rhythmic beat on the box. By his side, three other musicians of renown, Oliver Schroer on fiddle, Andy Hillhouse on guitar and Iain Fraser on fiddle, wait to talk about their instruments to a rapt audience of students. It's almost lunchtime, but no one's leaving. They may have danced all morning or played the fiddle, cello, piano, guitar or accordion until they're exhausted, but you can bet your sporran they'll jam through lunch, too. The fourth annual Celtic Music School Camp in Roberts Creek, July 5 to 9, was a roaring success by student standards with over 200 children and adults from all over assembling for a week of instruction.
"We were fully registered last April," says Ann Law who organizes the school each year along with John Law, Kathy Wood and Yvonne Hart. She seems surprised by its popularity that draws students from as far away as Hong Kong.
"We allow early registration in February for local people so they have a chance to come," she adds.
The school grew out of the Coast String Fiddlers' Association's mandate to bring traditional music to youth. In addition to the four instructors from Scotland, Natalie Haas from the U.S. and Pierre Schryer from Quebec, the school offers one-session workshops with local instructors: violinist Blaine Dunaway teaches, Graham Walker is seen moving around the grounds with his percussion instruments, and David Kelln talks about sound recording. Heather Beckmyer leads a class in original composition in which participants can hear a snatch of a new tune, born that morning, as yet unnamed. Danny Hart, who recently completed a year of musical study in Scotland, returns to the Coast to teach others. In another classroom, some of the younger children who can't withstand the long workday are doing crafts under the supervision of Johanna Dalgleish, fiddle player. Slumped in a chair in the instructor's meeting room, a jet-lagged Catriona McDonald tries to recover after the first intense day of teaching Shetland-style fiddle music. She's been teaching since the age of 13 and first learned the fiddle at the age of seven with a famous Shetland musician, Tom Anderson. Starting young is not unusual.
"Here's a rising piano star from Ottawa," says Law, as we encounter the musician in the hall on his way to the next class. The star is all of eight or nine years old. "I'm teaching a variety of levels and ages," says teacher David Greenberg from Halifax, "from seven to 17." It is a teenager who informs me solemnly that the accordion is the best instrument of all.
At the end of the school day it's difficult to stop. I'm told that the Gumboot down the street is the place to hear good music in the evenings. And for the final day's gala concert on July 9, 450 fans crowded into Rockwood's pavilion in Sechelt to hear the results of a week of intensive work and listen to the Coast String Fiddlers' latest CD, Look to the Mountains.