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Updated: Dec 30, 2023




The Pembroke Fiddle and Step Dance Contest in Ontario is back after cancellations in 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to the world wide corona pandemic. It happened in 2023 as announced at Festival Hall for the Performing Arts. Fiddle contest judges were Brian Hebert, Louis Schryer and Scott Woods. Kyle Waymouth, Tiffany Salt and Chad Wolfe were the step dance judges. Guylaine Gagner and Yours Truly were house accompanists for the weekend, while Art Jamieson and Paul Lemelin were masters of ceremony. It will go ahead again on Labour Day Weekend in 2024, with more plans to be announced in the coming weeks and months on and on their Facebook page. I have also been confirmed back as one of the house accompanists for the 2024 contest. Since I was in a supporting role again, there are points in this article for my Facebook pages and I can write about first hand.

It is not the same contest as it used to be, as contestant entries were not as high as they were in the past. But being forced into a three year corona pandemic shutdown did not help anyone maintain earlier participation numbers in the fiddle and dance community anywhere else either. A new committee, which took on the task of bringing this contest back into operation, had much to do to get this contest back on its feet. It had a large task to work against losing both fiddle and step dance teachers both locally and provincially in Ontario. They faced many surprises along the way, with some happening right up to just before the first contestants competed this past Friday. I won’t list them here, but although some criticisms will be valid, every class had contestants, prizes were awarded in all classes, and the open fiddle class (the highest level competition class) had all female finalists for the first time. Jam sessions happened in Riverside Park. Good times were had by all when the jam sessions happened, potluck suppers happened on Sunday evening in various locations again, old acquaintances were renewed, and there was fiddle music and fellowship throughout the week. Two weddings happened in the park at the Piano Man’s performance spot (not me) on Friday and Saturday. On top of that, there was an engagement celebration that happened at the Schryer tent hours after the contest was finished!

For those in attendance, there were varying reactions, which was no surprise for me. Some people of all ages who had attended earlier were missed for various reasons. Some were saddened because of the lack of fiddlers and dancers in attendance from outside Ontario. Some were surprised because it was different to be in a 500 seat theatre instead of a 3,000 seat hockey arena. Some were just thankful that the contest came back, so a local folk culture tradition could start anew. Some were glad the contest came back as it was missed during a corona pandemic that did not make life easy for anyone. Many were glad to share in fiddle, dance and musical fellowship again. Riverside Park had campers back in the fiddle park. By the end of the weekend, some were sad to see another year come to an end. These folks needed a kind word of assurance that all will be well and that God willing, we will meet again.

As I heard one person say about negative situations in another setting, we must acknowledge the facts as they are. An honest starting point is needed to recognize what we must deal with when something that was familiar and successful for years is not as it used to be or should be. Some people will hold on to that opinion and be hard to convince, even if proof to the contrary is shown. Some people wish to see people and organizations have a longer string of success before being convinced to come back and support. These situations are to be expected. I’m not surprised by this.

However, it is also true that the facts as they stand are not final. One person or more can make a difference. Situations can change for the better if people pull together, be open and honest about what needs to be done to finish a task, and begin with the end in mind. Many have posted their observations and contest updates under #pembroke2023. I encourage everyone to check postings under this hashtag, because all present who posted (and those have not posted) clearly understood the following points. It will take a musical and step dance community to bring its own members back, a committed city council to make this a tourist attraction again inside and outside Pembroke, and an organized host committee to listen to its support base when rebuilding the contest, with all involved needing more patience than some will believe necessary to work through the process and doing more than others think needs to be done in order to make the rebirth of the Pembroke contest the success that others remember it being in earlier years.

As I write this article at different times from Pembroke, Montreal, Amsterdam and my Norwegian home, the Pembroke Fiddle and Step Dance Contest is one example of a larger situation. I am very aware that the Canadian fiddle scene needs to network more effectively than ever before, including locally, provincially, regionally and nationally. This effort has to come from the grassroots participants that make this music and dance community what it is; a group of people with a common interest who live a lifestyle that shares and gives freely of each other to each other for each other. In communities where a local fiddle organization is in place, those involved can’t afford to keep working as if their events are independent events and think this is the way it will always continue. In provinces where there are provincial and regional fiddle associations, they need to come forward to provide venues and programs to help our musical community along is necessary. Networking with both the grassroots and the national organizations are needed. These links must be made and utilized now for the growth and development of the fiddle community and those in their related dance disciplines.

My next article will be a summary of the Norwegian choir project I have been working on for over a year and a half. Concerts begin next week. Until next time, see you somewhere down the musical trail!

Musically yours, Trent

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