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The fiddle may keep us grounded in who we are, but its music seldom lets both feet touch terra firma at the same time.

The fiddle is something special. The instrument's tones tie us together as a culturally unique part of the country, its tunes ring echoes of our heritage and the word itself is a jack-of-all-trades-fiddle with, fiddle away, fiddle about, fiddle around, fit as a fiddle, play second fiddle. Like most of us, the word can do different things for different reasons.

Popular myth tells us that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. This is probably not true, since the fiddle wasn't around back then. But even if it were, could you blame him? Nobody knows better than those of us on the East Coast how captivating the fiddle is-once it warms up and hits our ears, all parts of our bodies begin to react. Toes and fingers tap, heads nod, faces smile, hearts beat faster and bottoms jiggle, in a sitting or standing position. Whether you're a performer or a listener, nothing else matters but the music. Would we notice Rome burning once the fiddler moved into high gear?

There's something about fiddle music that goes deep into our souls. It resonates in our roots. Some have visions of highland hills, others of northern fiords and yet others of barren coasts. If anything unites the different cultures currently alive and well in our eastern provinces it is the heritage music that springs from our Scottish, Irish, French, Scandinavian and other European backgrounds. Like us, our fiddle music is a blend-a rich one. The fiddle may keep us grounded in who we are, but its music seldom lets both feet touch terra firma at the same time!

Gary Copeland has recently published the fascinating book entitled Fiddling in New Brunswick: The History and its People. It's a 575-page tome of fiddling detail about the young and the old music, people and places of New Brunswick. There are captivating stories of fiddlers who played for royalty and those who perform for their friends at kitchen parties. I haven't read the entire book yet-I savour it bit by bit. As I read the write-ups of the fiddlers I'm reminded again and again of our culture, traditions and lifestyle. Marriage and jobs take us from province to province; the jigs and reels keep us anchored at home.

Ivan and Vivian Hicks had a hand in preparing the book for publication, too. They are two of the warmest, most welcoming and accomplished musicians in the East. As retired school teachers, they now devote their time to teaching others about fiddling. Every Wednesday evening novices and experienced fiddlers gather in a church hall in Riverview, NB, to learn new tunes and techniques, but mostly to be together and play-known collectively as the Sussex Avenue Fiddlers. On the evening I joined them the eldest was in his 80s and the youngest was nine. Two of the most delightful participants were the great-grandchildren of Ned Landry, one of New Brunswick's greatest fiddlers. Alexander, 12, is quite the accomplished musician and confident performer, as is his sister Allison, 9. Some of the young people had been attending for three or four years and they haven't reached the 10-year-old mark!

Does anything in particular make you wax nostalgic about bygone days? Tastes do it for some people. Smells and sounds work for me. The smells of fresh-cut wood or rotten eggs immediately take me back to my mill-town home in northern New Brunswick. A whoosh of homesickness can still overwhelm me though I'm miles and years removed from home. "The Joys of Quebec" takes me to a shanty in the Baie des Chaleurs, fishing through the ice for smelts while friends play the fiddle, guitar, harmonica and comb. I can still feel the bait jiggling in tune! Most jigs and reels, like "Maple Sugar," take me to fun square dances in Charlo, NB.

Where do you go with the things that trigger your senses? Back to cherished and happy times I hope

Though not the only farm growing fiddlers in the region, Cape Breton nevertheless is home of some to the best known. I recently spent a glorious afternoon at the Doryman Tavern in Cheticamp listening to Ashley MacIsaac perform in front of about 250 local admirers. That man's fingers can move! And so could the fingers of the piano accompanist. Such stamina! Part of the fun was watching the people: all heads moved like dippy-birds keeping time to the music. And occasionally someone popped up on stage to do a Cape Breton step dance-ever see that happen outside this region, other than in places like Fort McMurray, Alta?

Fiddlers love to play, whether it's for a formal audience, a gang of friends or just themselves. They seem to be born performers. It would be interesting to know the roots of the fiddling buskers in cities and towns across the country. Or even more interesting, the roots of those stopping to tap their toes in time to the music. Bet a high percentage would have Atlantic Canadian connections!

Let's claim that Sir Walter Scott, Scottish novelist and poet, was thinking about fiddling and our part of the world when he wrote:

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!

Next time you hear a fiddle, sit back and let the emotions wash over you-you'll know you're home whether you're here or far away.

For more information about Fiddling in New Brunswick: The History and its People go to www.ivanhicks.com/book-2.htm, or contact Gary Copeland at (506) 859-9284.

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