Andrea Beaton grew up on Cape Breton Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada. The Beaton family, like the Rankins and the MacMasters, came to the attention of folk music enthusiasts in the 1960s and 70s through field recordings of house parties and dances. The main purpose of the music was social. It was something that knit together the small coal-mining communities.
Today, Cape Breton-style music is an important part of the tourist trade and one of the most identifiable Cape Breton exports. But when Andrea Beaton was growing up in the midst of it, her family was content to let her find her own way to the music.
When I'd come home from school before anyone else, I'd take the fiddle out from under the bed and play a couple of tunes. And then I'd get frustrated, and I wouldn't touch it for months. Nobody pressured me. They let me do my thing - I liked hockey, I liked other things. And then, when I moved away when I was 21, I wasn't homesick as much as I was "tune-sick." I was missing the music, and I had my fiddle there, and that's when I did a one-eighty. I was calling home all the time, asking my parents, "Am I playing this right? What about this tune?," driving them crazy for hours on the phone, trying to make sure I was doing things up to par.
Andrea Beaton began composing tunes early on. Her father, fiddler Kinnon Beaton, would help her write them down. Since 2002, she has recorded five solo albums. The latest, Little Black Book, is a tour-de-force of her new compositions for fiddle on which she also plays the backing piano accompaniment, a skill she picked up from her mother, Betty Beaton.
"It's one of the things that separates Cape Breton music from other styles of music, because the style of piano is so special," Beaton says. "It's got a ragtime-y feel to it at times. Really dance-y, a lot of our music is related to the step-dancing."
For the concert at the Richland Community Hall, Andrea will be accompanied by pianist Tyson Chen, an Ottawa pianist who moved to Cape Breton to learn the addictive style of playing. Tune sets are always led by the fiddler. She links together a series of tunes of ever increasing intensity, often on the fly. Accompanists have to develop a sixth sense for the changes.
Piano players are kind of magical. They just have to instinctually know and feel what you're going to do, and follow. Usually there's some kind of signal with the foot. The foot sometimes starts changing in the bar before the actual tempo change. It's a little bit of a warning, a cue, but also it's for us to make the transition smooth, so it doesn't go [makes car braking sound] and then go on. We have a flow to it.
Dick Hensold, a master of the Northumbrian smallpipes, is the third member of the trio appearing in Richland this Friday. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Hensold wrote a grant bringing Andrea to the States for a residency, and then they put their heads together to come up with a touring program.
We both picked some tunes. He has some stuff that he wanted me to learn, and there were some tunes we had in common that are old tunes. And then some of each of our own compositions. We put a show together so that we each have one or two solos, but most of it is stuff we arranged together. You'll see an array of instruments, and hear a few silly stories. It'll be a nice, fun evening of tunes and tales.