Cape Breton Fiddler...and more.
One of Cape Breton’s most in-demand traditional fiddlers, Glenn Graham is also composer, songwriter, music instructor, published author, and academic. Glenn’s roots stretch deeply into the rich musical past of Cape Breton. On his mother’s side, Glenn is a member of the renowned Beaton family of Mabou. Many generations of this family have produced more than fifty musicians including fiddlers, piano players, Gaelic singers, pipers, poets/songwriters, composers and dancers. These include his mother Mary and grandmother Elizabeth (both accomplished pianists), his uncle Kinnon Beaton, (regarded by many as Cape Breton’s premier dance player), well-known pianist Joey Beaton, and well-established fiddling cousins Andrea Beaton and former Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald. Glenn’s grandfather Donald Angus Beaton was one of the island’s most revered fiddlers. Donald Angus was a posthumous recipient of the East Coast Music Awards' Stompin' Tom Award. Glenn's father, Danny Graham, is an accomplished Gaelic singer; Glenn's other grandfather, Alex Graham, was a step dancer. Oral history states that Alex’s grandfather Stephen was a fine stepdancer, helping to establish and corroborate that the stepdance tradition was carried over by Gaels emigrating to Cape Breton communities prior to, and during the 1840s. That side of Glenn’s lineage boasts other household names such as Buddy MacMaster, Natalie MacMaster, Betty Beaton, Gaelic style fiddler and grand-uncle Alex Francis MacKay, and Cape Breton’s most recognized composer Dan R. MacDonald.
Glenn grew up surrounded by Gaelic culture. Growing up in Judique, he often heard his grandparents speaking Gaelic in their day-to-day activities. He was also taught Gaelic words and phrases by his father in his pre-school years. Glenn's first public performance at the age of 7, was at a concert in Glendale where he sang a Gaelic song with his father. When he was 10 years old, he and a cohort of cousins were taught violin and music notation by Kinnon Beaton for about a year. Although Glenn for the most part quit playing for a few years, these lessons were his foundation when he began playing seriously when he turned 15. He learned by repeatedly listening to home and commercial recordings of the Beaton family. He also took some lessons a couple of years later from fiddler Neil Beaton, who lived in Judique at that time. Since then, Glenn was self-taught, occasionally turning to his parents and Kinnon and Betty Beaton for advice on tune interpretations. He focused on learning tunes from various tune books as well as extracting tunes and techniques from home recordings and watching older players at concerts and dances. Drawn to the "Mabou Coal Mines" fiddle style, Glenn’s main fiddling influences include Donald Angus, Kinnon, and John Morris Rankin while other notable players such as Alex Francis MacKay, Buddy MacMaster, and Howie MacDonald also served as strong reference points for his learning and playing.
In 1996 Glenn recorded his first solo album, Let ‘er Rip, while completing his B.A. with Honours in Political Science at St. Francis Xavier University. A year later he teamed up in the studio with Rodney MacDonald (they often play twin fiddles for performances) and released Traditionally Rockin’, which was a double nominee for Instrumental and Roots Traditional Artist of the year at the 1998 East Coast Music Awards. The band "Rodney and Glenn" quickly came to be in high demand at special events, festivals and dances.
In 1999, Glenn began actively pursuing a solo career when Rodney moved on to a career in politics. Glenn released STEPOUTSIDE, in July 2000. Adding his singer-songwriter and step-dancing sister Amy to the mix, Glenn’s songwriting and singing played a major role in the recording and helped garner him ECMA nominations in 2002 for Male Artist and Roots Traditional Artist. In 2004, Glenn recorded with the Beaton Family for the Smithsonian Folkways label. He followed this in 2005 with Drive: A Traditional Cape Breton Fiddle Recording. Nominated for Roots Traditional Solo recording at the 2006 ECMAs, this project (as with his other recordings) featured some of Glenn’s compositions and highlighted his ornamented, driving traditional style. Glenn's 2007 release, Decade: A Compilation, was an 18 track retrospective of his previous recordings and included "Silent Heroes", a previously unreleased vocal number penned by Glenn that included Amy on lead vocal. Another creative work from Glenn is The Glenn Graham Collection of Cape Breton Violin Music, a book released in 2010 containing over 200 original compositions and a few joint/solo tunes written with/by family members Danny and Mary, Kinnon, Andrea, and Rodney.
Glenn has appeared at various venues such as California’s Villa Montalvo, the Celtic Colours International Festival, Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Lunenburg Folk Festival, Saint John Festival By the Sea, Granville Green Concert Series, College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor Maine, the Wayne Gretzky Invitational, and numerous other venues. He performed in the first ever Cape breton Live on Tour production which toured Quebec and Ontario in November of 2006 with some of Cape Breton’s most recognized musicians. He has taught at such institutions as the Gaelic College (St. Ann’s, NS), Ceolas (South Uist, Scotland), Musicamp Alberta (Red Deer, AB), and Celtic Arts Foundation Winter School (Seabeck, WA). His music has been featured on international TV series and DVDs for Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five, multiple CDs and CD compilations, TV specials and independent films and DVD productions. When scheduling allows, Glenn continues to perform and teach fiddle throughout the Maritimes, Canada, the North-Eastern US, and the United Kingdom.
On the academic end, Glenn completed a Masters in Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary’s University writing a thesis on the evolution of Cape Breton fiddling. This led to the publishing of his book The Cape Breton Fiddle: Making and Maintaining Tradition, by CBU Press, released in October of 2006. Glenn finished his PhD in Political Science in 2016 at Dalhousie University where he was awarded the Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Doctoral Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He wrote his PhD dissertation about regionalism and region-building in Cape Breton in past and globalizing contexts. "Dr. Graham" is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Saint Francis Xavier University and currently lives in Antigonish with his wife, Dr. Claire Hamilton, and son Alec.
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