“The place was crowded—probably a hundred people,” Otis Tomas, luthier, fiddle player, and now author with the launch of his book, The Fiddletree. “We had friends, people from the community, played music, lots of chat. It was wonderful.”
Tomas launched The Fiddletree on Saturday, June 18, at Wildfire Pottery and Books on the Cabot Trail between St. Ann’s Bay and Ingonish.
Although Tomas says the actual book was finally written down over this previous winter, its composition actually began 16 years ago when he came across the centuries old maple tree that had somehow survived the logger’s axe on a hillside near his home.
Before he cut the tree down himself to use its wood to fashion musical instruments (a decision he pondered for a long time), Tomas composed a tune named for the tree. Since that time, the venerable maple has been transformed into various stringed instruments.
These instruments, called the Fiddletree Ensemble, were featured in a concert a couple of years ago during the Celtic Colours International Festival. Working with the specially chosen group of musicians for that show (who came from Cape Breton, Scotland, and the United States), Tomas says, “we had such a good time, we wanted to do some more playing together.”
The group assembled in the former North River School House for a week in April and, with musician, historian, and producer Paul MacDonald in charge of recording, they recorded a CD’s worth of material.
That album is part of the package with the book. Performing on the CD are Otis Tomas and Sarah McFadyen – violins: Mairi Campbell – viola; Abby Newton – ‘cello; Laoise Kelly – harp; Paul MacDonald – guitar; and Claudine Langille – mandolin.
Writing the book, Tomas sees as part of the musical impulse behind the creation of the instruments, the composition of the music written for those instruments, and the performances involving the instruments.
The book includes many photographs and musical notation for the tunes on the CD. It is available online at fiddletree.com. Tomas also has plans to place it in various gift and music shops around Cape Breton.