Music from Down Home

The Centretown Buzz
Friday, April 20, 2007
By Lois Siegel

If you'd like to hear some foot-stomping music, then you should stop by The Royal Oak, 319 Bank Street, just south of MacLaren on the first and third Sunday of every month, 2- 5 p.m. to hear some great local musicians. The Ottawa Cape Breton Session was the brilliant idea of Beth MacGillivray and Aylene Gracie. Two of the players, Greg Clarke, bodhran, and Ellen Katic, keyboards, live in Centretown.

Andrew MacLean, Beth MacGillivray

Originally, Beth and Aylene used to take turns having ceilidhs in their homes. "We knew there were a lot of fiddlers in Ottawa, but not too many who played Cape Breton tunes," Beth explains. "There was always a big crowd if a Cape Breton artist was playing in town, so we knew there were fans of the music out there; we just didn't have the critical mass to get a group going."

©Photos by Lois Siegel
Left to right: Greg Clarke, Delores Woodley, Hugh A. MacMillan, Allan Francoeur

After Beth attended Sherryl Fitzpatrick's fiddle camp in Manotick and met a group of people who were really into Cape Breton music, they finally got the Cape Breton Session going, June 2005. "We started out at the Highlander Pub in the Byward Market, but there really wasn't enough space there, and it's carpeted, so it's not good
for dancing or foot stomping," Beth explains.  

They wanted a place that was central and had adequate parking. "The group has a lot of drive and energy. We decided to change venues. The musicians were determined that whatever hurdles, they would not let the session disappear," Aylene adds.

Duncan McDonald

She contacted the Royal Oak on Bank, and they welcomed the group. It's a traditional music session as opposed to a band performing on stage. "We have a great place to play with a wood floor, and the Royal Oak gets a larger Sunday crowd; there are lots of folks who don't play but just come to listen," Beth says. The Royal Oak provides free snacks for musicians during a break at around 3:30 p.m.

It's a rip-roaring Kitchen Ceili, in the Maritime tradition. "We've had as many as sixteen fiddlers, three bodhran players, a couple of guitars and a mandolin," Beth MacGillivray says. "Most often it's a core group of around 7 to 10 fiddlers." The crowd gets bigger every week, and a good time is had by all.
When they aren't at the Royal Oak, they have house sessions on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month. In the months when there are five Sundays, they play at a nursing home or senior's residence.

"Aylene is a vastly superior musician than I am, but I have more organizational experience, so she leads the sessions and is the "musical director," while I take care of communications - email and the website," Beth says.

Step Dancer Beth MacGillivray

Ellen Katic ensures tha
t they always have piano accompaniment; Graham Crate helps with the email list, Andrew MacLean adds the photos to the website, Greg Clarke handles posters and publicity. Ernie Fraser is a great Cape Breton fiddler who has been leading the sessions the last few weeks while Aylene is busy with her new baby. It's an entirely volunteer group.  

Ernie Fraser,  Duncan McDonald

 "We have folks from the Ottawa Cape Breton Society, and several other Cape Bretoners away from home who come every week," Beth adds.  The group also welcomes beginning fiddlers. Not many people can play Cape Breton music for three hours from memory, so many players bring music stands and use sheet music.

Hugh A. MacMillan

Their website is

Lois Siegel is a freelance photographer for The Ottawa Citizen. When she isn't teaching Video Production at the University of Ottawa, she plays fiddle with The Lyon Street Celtic Band.

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