PRIME BROOK, N.S. — “Remember now, we’re the Prime Brook Philharmonic.”
Fiddler Dwayne Cote may be smiling as he speaks to eight people who have never picked up a violin before but he’s not joking. They’re students of his “Fiddle From Scratch” sessions being held at the Brooks Haven Seniors Recreation Centre in Prime Brook this week, part of the Celtic Colours International Festival.
Generally acknowledged as one of Cape Breton’s top players, Cote, 48, is on a mission. He wants to make sure Cape Bretoners keep loving, appreciating and playing Cape Breton fiddle music. He and his wife Lisa White Cote have developed the sessions to make learning how to play as easy as possible. The sessions began several years ago near St. Peters but have since moved to Prime Brook, since they live there now.
For a mere 35 bucks, anyone can take part. Cote even supplies the instruments so first-timers can get a feel for it before buying anything. According to first-time player Joan Roach from Glace Bay, it’s money well-spent.
“I’ve never played it before,” she said after completing the lesson. “I just thought it would be a neat thing to try. I love it.”
During the class, Cote patiently explains how to hold the instrument and bow. Within an hour, everyone in the class is playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in unison. Considering the violin is not the easiest instrument to learn, the accomplishment is startling but never tell Cote it can’t be done.
“I’ve taught around the world,” he says. “Everyone can learn how to play.”
It’s a sore spot with him. He grew up in a strong traditional music background in Grand Greve, Richmond County. His father was fiddler and piper Gordon Cote and his mother, Gladis Cote, was a dancer, teacher and performer. Although he began playing at age three, Cote sincerely believes everyone is capable of playing, even those who have come to the instrument at an older age or who may have been discouraged by others.
“That really upsets me because I’ve never turned away a student and I’ve been teaching since I was 15,” he says. “I’ve never had any student who couldn’t play that left my lessons. Ever. I believe everybody can play. If you can chew food, move your feet, walk, you can move the bow of the violin on the strings. That’s my motto.”
Cote has been performing professionally since he was 13 years old. While he’s best known as a Cape Breton traditional fiddler, he’s also a Celtic guitarist (in addition to the fiddle workshops, he also teaches guitar workshops during Celtic Colours), as well as a composer. Among his accolades, he won the 2011 East Coast Music Award for best jazz recording for his work done with Duane Andrews, an album that saw Cote compared to the legendary Stephane Grappelli. He occasionally plays classical violin as well.
While he teaches from his home and online, he wants to see more people encouraged to learn more about Cape Breton’s traditional music scene before it’s lost.
“In two years I’ll be 50 years old and I see that I’m not going to live forever. I want the music to stay alive and keep the culture moving, as did my dad. I want to see people learning and be inspired.
“I just want to preserve the culture.”