Trent Bruner

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Like many others who were in the Shenkman Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario during the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Competition on August 25, 2018, I was saddened to hear of the passing of a great Canadian fiddle legend; Frederick Lawrence "Ned" Landry.

A member of the Order of Canada, fiddler, composer, and singer, Ned was born February 2, 1921 in Saint John, New Brunswick and died August 25, 2018 in Saint John, New Brunswick at the age of 97. Ned left a mark on Canadian fiddling through his many albums, appearances on radio and television, as well as in shows and dances throughout Canada. I received a Facebook message during the afternoon preliminaries, but did not read about it until the evening finals while I was backstage. Once the message was verified, Ned’s passing was announced to the audience by contest M.C. Cathy Sproule. A fitting tribute to Ned was presented during the Saturday Night Finals by veteran fiddlers Ivan Hicks of Riverview, New Brunswick, Louis Schryer of Chapeau, Quebec and Calvin Vollrath of St. Paul, Alberta when they played “Ontario Swing” and “Bowing the Strings,” two of Ned’s most well known fiddle tunes for all present.

I am thankful to say that I had accompanied Ned Landry five times on stage during the 1990s. The first time was in 1992 when he was the guest artist at a fiddle contest in Carman, Manitoba; both on piano and guitar that year. Not only was I one of the house accompanists for the contest, I was a part of a house band with Yvette Carriere on piano, Bill Stewart on drums and Bob Marginet on bass backing up Ned in show and dance. The Carman Fiddle Contest was a three day event that was one of Manitoba’s largest on the Western Canadian contest circuit on the August long weekend, and for Ned to appear as the guest artist that year was a strong drawing card for anyone acquainted with Canadian fiddle music. His tunes were simple but lively. The dance floor was full every time he played a dance set. He was a quiet, gentle man who got along well with everyone and had everyone’s attention while playing on stage.  After the Carman Fiddle Festival was finished, I knew that it’s not too often that accompanists work with people of this stature. I thought this would be the only time it would happen.

But in 1995, the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in Nepean, Ontario had hired Ned to be the guest artist, and contest chairman Len Grace had asked me to not only be house accompanist for the contest again, but to also play with Ned that year for Canada’s national fiddle championship.  For me, it was an honour to be asked to play with him again. His mannerisms never changed from the last time I performed with him in Manitoba. Tunes like “The Old Man and the Old Woman,” “Ripple Rock Jig” and “Hillbilly Calypso” came off his fiddle just like they were recorded on the LPs, cassettes and CDs. The newer tunes he had composed like “Governor General’s Waltz,” “Celine” and “My Little Bear Waltz” showed his creativity continuing to bear fruit as I accompanied him on stage. His bow arm was strong and sure and the twinkle in his eye was still there. His singing voice held notes in tune and messages of years gone by that many in the Maritimes would have regularly heard over radio years ago. I left the stage with the same feeling of humility as I did earlier in Carman, Manitoba, but little did I know that I would be on stage with him again once more.

In 1996, the title “Ontario Swing” had a personal meaning for me because this was the third and fourth time I performed with Ned Landry. Firstly, it was at the invitation of the Renfrew County Fiddlers, a fiddle club in the Ottawa Valley region of Ontario. This performance was part of a double bill with Alberta fiddler Calvin Vollrath (Canada’s Fiddling Sensation) in the Renfrew Armoury Building in Renfrew, Ontario, located between Ottawa and Pembroke. It was during this year that Ned was also named a recipient of the Canadian Grand Masters Lifetime Achievement Award, and it was a delight to share in tradition and the dance stage with Ned. I truly thought that this would be the last time I would perform with him as I played “The Blue Canadian Rockies” and other tunes with him, but I was surprised again as he was asked to play one more time on a large stage and I would be there to share it with him. 

In July 1999, I was on stage with him again for “Fiddles of the World,” a fiddle convention that took place at the Metro Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We played for the Sunday evening wrap up gala concert in the hockey arena portion of this complex to a few thousand people. The same tunes he played in Carman and Nepean were heard once again for fiddlers and audience coming from throughout Canada, the United States and Western Europe. Other tunes like “Stompin’ Tom Connors,” “The United Way Special” and “The Irish Washerwoman” were also played flawlessly during the last time I would ever perform with him. What I do remember was that as we were playing for the audience, the lights went out on stage. We quietly got up, left the stage and when power was restored, the next act took their turn. Nothing more was played individually by Ned that evening, but the tunes of a fiddle legend would become pleasant memories for many, and this was happening when Ned was 79 years old, and was still playing well. I remember his kind compliments on my accompaniment that he passed on to me via Paul Lappin, who was chairman of the Saskatchewan Fiddle Committee at that time. He was more than satisfied with my performance and he told this directly to Paul, who then told me about it after the convention was finished.

I did feel sadness when notified of Ned’s passing backstage at the 2018 Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in Ottawa, Ontario, but as I return to my wife and family in Norway, I will always treasure these times and tunes with a little man who made a big sound and left all of us with a tremendous musical legacy through print and audio. I am more than thankful to have shared in a part of Mr. Landry’s musical life, no matter how small it may have been. These will always be large memories for me.

Rest in peace, Ned. We will all miss you.