Bay St. George Folk Arts Musicians work to keep traditional Newfie music

By Mitchell Clarke

Like many areas across Newfoundland, the Bay St. George has its share of rich Newfoundland culture.

The Bay St. George Folk Arts Council has put together several groups, all under the name Folk Arts Musicians. The group gathers local traditional musicians to  not only perform but also to teach people how to play instruments such as the fiddle, the accordion, bodhran, guitar and the mandolin.

About four years ago, Jim Mercer, a musician from Stephenville Crossing, approached the chairperson of the Folk Arts Council and asked if he could put together a little accordion group. Mercer came up with the idea after he heard of several accordion groups across the island.The accordion group started with eight members and has now grown to about 17 members.

Three years ago, Mercer had the idea of also starting a fiddle session, and the next year the local musicians wanted to start up a mandolin session.

The groups have no set teachers. Instead, members sit around playing music together giving advice to one another on how a song should be played.

“We don’t call it music lessons or fiddle lessons. We call it fiddle sessions because we don’t have any individual teaching,” said Mercer. “So the person next to you will say, ‘Ah do it this way.’ Neighbours help neighbours, and away we go. We always say it’s kinda like running in a race, even if you’re last, keep running, keep playing.”

Joan Davis, another musician from the Crossing, joined the accordion session when it first started. Davis had never played the accordion before and went to the sessions to learn.

“I had just retired and bought a brand new accordion and knew nothing about it, so I just wanted to learn from other accordion players. I was probably a month practising before I got two songs really well and then you just kinda keep practising. Maybe I can play about four songs right now.”

Davis said that not only is learning to play a new instrument fun but the social interaction might be the best part about the weekly sessions.

Mercer said the group is always getting new members. Even this Monday, two new people joined the mandolin group with no experience playing the mandolin.

The groups have performed at local schools and various local events such as the Blueberry Festival in St. George’s and the Trails, Tales and Tunes festival at Norris Point. The musicians are invited to play again at Trails, Tales and Tunes this year and they hope to perform sometime this year at some of the local schools, aiming for February and March.

With groups like the Bay St. George Folk Arts Council, traditional Newfoundland music will be here for a long time to come.

Comments are closed.