Hitting all the right notes: Stadacona Band launches new Celtic Ensemble

Stadacona Band launches new Celtic Ensemble.

Stadacona Band Celtic Ensemble

Joanie Veitch 
Trident Newspaper

When the Stadacona Band posted a video clip of the newly formed Celtic ensemble playing the Irish folk tune ‘Sí Beag, Sí Mhór’ on the band’s Facebook page recently, it generated a bit of buzz, racking up more than 6,000 views in the following days.

“Celtic music is very well loved here on the East Coast,” says S1 Mark Morton, a percussionist with the Stadacona Band and the ensemble coordinator. “Actually, because this audience knows the music so well, there was some apprehension about forming the ensemble.”

The four members of the ensemble are PO1 Charmaine Chaddock, who plays tin whistle and occasionally spoons; PO1 Larry Bjornson on bass and guitar; PO2 Jeff Brancato playing mandolin, Irish bouzouki and guitar; and S1 Morton on violin and mandolin. All, with the exception of PO1 Bjornson, play secondary instruments.

While the band has performed in the past with many Celtic-inspired arrangements and played with East Coast musicians, such as Scott Macmillan and Dave MacIsaac, the idea of forming a dedicated Celtic ensemble first came up at a Christmas party back in 2018. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that it really took hold.
Casting about for a project to work on during the initial “lockdown” phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, S1 Morton and some other band members returned to the ensemble idea.

Knowing the band had two “nice old violins from the 1800s” in its inventory, S1 Morton took one home to try out.

“I had taken violin lessons as a kid but when I first tried it again, I had to relearn everything. I felt like I was 10 years old again,” he says.

Still working to improve his proficiency on the violin, S1 Morton also purchased a mandolin. After spending some time “fiddling around” with the two instruments, he and the other three members of the new ensemble began sending each other song ideas and YouTube clips to try.

Drawing from the deep well of Celtic and traditional folk music, the group assembled a small repertoire of songs, some instrumental and some with vocals, with each of the members rehearsing mostly on their own at the beginning and in person whenever possible, depending on restrictions and work schedules.

Given the persistent COVID-19 situation, logistically it made more sense for the band to focus their efforts on smaller groupings, such as the brass and woodwind quintets, and the smaller jazz ensembles, as many of the activities that would have involved the regular band – things like change of command ceremonies, ship arrivals and departures, concerts and other public events – have been limited during the pandemic.

That’s how the Celtic ensemble got their debut last October, where they played two sets at the gala celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Cape Breton Highlanders Regiment, held in Sydney, NS.

“Nothing like jumping into the deep end for your first performance. It was well received but I figure there’s no tougher audience than that,” says S1 Morton.

Now that the group can practice together in person more consistently, S1 Morton said they’re looking forward to playing at more events. There’s just one snag, the ensemble doesn’t have an official name yet.

“We’re looking for name suggestions, something with a naval theme, of course,” he says.

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