The Highland Clearances were horrific events in Scottish history. In the 19th Century Crofters were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Highlands of Scotland and those that survived starvation and death ended up scattered all over the world. “It was an ill wind that blew some good” and this “ill wind” was responsible for the Scots settling in Cape Breton. With the new settlers came all the elements of the Scottish Highland Culture. It included the Gaelic language, music, dancing and story telling and some say this transplanation of culture is responsible for the survival of the Scottish Fiddle tradition not only in Canada but in Scotland itself. By the time the CBC aired a TV show called “The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler” in 1971 the Cape Breton style of fiddling had been in existence for well over a hundred years. The CBC show lamented the decline of the tradition and predicted the inevitable demise of the Cape Breton fiddler. Boy, were they ever wrong with that conclusion. Within a few short years of the airing of the show the tradition became revitalized and went though a period of explosive growth. As well as a whole cadre of older and younger fiddlers, part of the positive change can be laid at the feet of at least two master fiddlers, Jerry Holland and Buddy MacMaster. Jerry past away in 2009 and in this past week at the age of 89 he was joined by Buddy MacMaster. Hugh Alan, or simply ‘Buddy,’ began playing the fiddle at the age of 12 and secured his first paying gig at 14. It was the start of a career that would introduce the world to Cape Breton music. In his adult life Buddy had a real job as a station agent and telegrapher for the Canadian National Railways and it wasn’t until he retired at the age of 65 that he became a professional musician. Although by that time the professional prefix was probably just an after thought. His playing was never anything short of professional. Buddy MacMaster died at his home in Judique, Nova Scotia on August 20, 2014. He was 89. His niece Natalie MacMaster is one of the many young fiddlers who have inherited Buddy’s legacy and along with this whole new generation of fiddlers the tradition lives on.
“Simply amazing how good they are together….Thank God for Buddy MacMaster,if not for him the Cape Breton fiddle may have died…”