After 16 years, the final Canadian Celtic Celebration concert in Thunder Bay is set for June 24.
The husband-and-wife duo of award-winning fiddler Pierre Schryer and Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra principal trumpet Merrie Klazek have been the driving force behind the annual celebration.
The festival first started in Schryer’s hometown of Sault Ste. Marie in 1999 with the idea of presenting a concert of high-quality Celtic music for the community.
“I was also itching to play with some of my comrades that I have met over the years,” Pierre Schryer told The Chronicle-Journal. Acting on that ‘itch’ he decided to make an event of it.
Schryer has deep roots in Celtic music with four fiddlers in the family. He grew up hearing his uncle play the fiddle along with his older brother and sister, who performed at competitions all over Ontario.
“I remember the day when we were eight years old, sitting on the couch and there was a meeting in the kitchen. We knew it was important,” he said as he recalled the moment his parent “asked the big question ‘do you guys want to learn violin?’ and we all said yes at the same time.”
The three brothers that said yes to learning the violin became known as the Schryer Triplets and included Louis, Daniel and Pierre. They were classically trained, but the fiddle lesson they learned at home from their older brother Raymond and sister Julie.
The Schryer triplets recorded their first album at the age of 14 and then radio and television programs like The Tommy Hunter Show got hold of the trio who played coast to coast.
This year’s June 24 concert will be the first time for the ‘famous’ Schryer Triplets get to perform together in more than 30 years, mused Schryer.
“I got to meet high-calibre musicians on my tours and from overseas and I wanted to present something of authenticity and not just like a pub band,” said Schryer on wanting to put together a festival. He said if you start with great musicians, you are going to have a great performance, even if they haven’t played together before.
Over the year’s it’s been a great way for Schryer to bring his friends together, so it’s bittersweet to have the last one happening. He noted the great support of sponsors and audiences that believed in them.
Merrie Klazek calls the feature concert a group effort between artists.
“Part of our mandate is for the individual artists to have an opportunity to collaborate with each other,” she said. “Not only does that feed are own artistic growth . . . it gives the public something that will never be repeated again.”
Topping the billing this year is the Schryer Triplets who will be accompanied by guitarist Tom Power, a radio broadcaster who hosts Q on CBC Radio.
Power also performs with Emilia Bartellas, a fiddler and all-around musician of various styles from Newfoundland.
The concert will also have a strong Irish contingent featuring the Uilleann pipes performed by Joey Abarta.
Klazek describes the music as “that haunting mystical sound that you associate with Ireland and the landscape, the fog over the hills, and the ocean.”
Dance has been a highlight of the concerts and this year is no exception. Nova Scotia’s Niamh Webster does traditional Irish dance and has shared the stage with artists like Ashley MacIssac, Altan, Teada, Loretto Reid, Brolum, Day Break and Dervish.
Webster’s husband Andy Webster will also be performing. He is a guitarist and a singer/songwriter known for Celtic guitar stylings using the alternative “DADGAD” string tuning.
Another dancer featured is Eimear Arkins, a multi-instrumentalist and singer in the Gaelic language from Ruan in County Clare, Ireland.
The concert falls on the same day as Quebec’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. In keeping with French-Canadian tradition, Quebec accordion player Marie-Jeanne Brousseau will also be featured.
Klazek is hoping to do a collaboration with Brousseau during the concert.
Another tradition that Schryer and Klazek have introduced to the city is a Ceilidh Dance, which will take place on June 23 starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Polish Legion Branch 219 on Cumberland St.
The traditional Ceilidh dance has been going on for centuries, said Klazek, who added that the most popular image of the dance is from around the time of the plague when people would have to leave cities and would find themselves separated from their family.
“If someone had a fiddle and a copy of John Playford’s book they could have a Ceilidh dance,” she said. “And we are still dancing a lot of those dances today.”
The Ceilidh event in Thunder Bay has really taken off and largely because it is so much fun, said Klazek, who explains the dances and calls them as well. Next Friday’s dance also features a live band made up of some of the performers who will be on stage of the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium the following night.
As for the legacy of the festival, Klazek has found that there are pockets of people in the community who play traditional music, love traditional music and have learned about traditional music from what they have built.
“We hope that it continues,” she said.
Klazek has taken a teaching position with University of Victoria, which will see the couple and two children relocated to the west coast next year.
“To be honest, we hope to comeback and do a Celtic splash for Thunder Bay every now and then because this is a place we will always call home,” said Klazek.
For more information on the concert and dance visit CanadianCelticCelebration.com.