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St. Paddy’s concert offers taste of East Coast Featuring Scott Macmillan and Bernard Felix

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BY VALERIE HILL, RECORD STAFF

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony will go a little green this weekend as the wildly entertaining music of the east coast rocks Kitchener in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

In a concert entitled From The Rock, Newfoundland’s virtuoso accordion player Bernard Felix will partner with Cape Breton’s Scott Macmillan, a guitarist, conductor, composer and multiple East Coast Music Awards winner. Together they make quite the team.

“The first time we met was on stage for a symphony rehearsal,” said Macmillan. Felix added that “I had no idea what a Scott Macmillan was.” Macmillan then said “I haven’t heard you sing yet. ” To which Felix responded “there’s a good reason for that.”

And so goes the conversation with these two lively characters, who constantly shoot off playful little jabs along with a whole lot of praise.

“He’s a sweetheart,” said Macmillan, to which Felix responds “he’s a sweetheart, too.” Their banter might be partly fun and partly love fest, but theirs is a relationship based on a deep respect and admiration for each others’ talents, despite the fact that Felix can’t sing.

Felix was born, raised and still lives in the tiny Francophone community of Black Duck Brook, on Newfoundland’s west coast. Not interested in hanging out with children his own age, Felix preferred to soak up music played at the many house parties that were the centre of Newfoundland culture while he was growing up.

He taught himself to play accordion by listening to recordings. In the mid-1980s, he moved to Ontario for a short time for work and nearly lost his ability to play after a punch press sliced off three fingers. Two were successfully reattached but it would be two years before Felix was able to play as well as before the accident.

How does he manage?

With great flourish, Felix waggles his damaged fingers to indicate that even the reattached digits are crooked, though playing the accordion has kept everything flexible.

“Accordion playing is good for people who lost their fingers,” he says with a grin.
Five years ago, he broke his hand when a tire he was pumping up exploded. Yet neither slicing machines nor exploding tires could keep Felix from his beloved accordion, which is as much a part of his body as his limbs or his heart.

In his career, Felix has performed for royalty and heads of state, in Canada and Europe. Yet he’s still just that Canadian East coaster with enough energy to light a stage. And to pump the action up even higher, Felix plays sitting down, with his feet tapping out a jig or a reel on a wooden board, in the French Canadian tradition. Macmillan added with delight, “it’s like having a snapping snare drum.”

Macmillan is renowned as a conductor, a composer and a guitarist. It was during the 2005 East Coast Music Awards that Canadian singing icon Rita MacNeil announced that he had been an integral contributor to her success. He had an equally important role in lifting both the Rankin Family Band and the Nova Scotia Mass Choir to their present fame. As a composer, he has received numerous accolades and awards and several of his compositions will be performed during the concert, along with traditional East Coast, Irish and even Scottish music.

For the symphony, this style of music might be a departure from Bach or Rachmaninoff, but he is certain the orchestra is up for a little lighthearted, toe-tapping tunes.

“It will be fun for them,” said Macmillan. “They’ll love it.”

Felix will perform nine songs, six with the orchestra, which will have to follow the beat of his toe tapping, as Macmillan conducts. Felix and Macmillan will also perform as a trio with violinist and symphony concert master Stephen Sitarski.

Macmillan has performed with the K-W Symphony in the past and had struck up a friendship with Sitarski. It was on a visit to Macmillan’s Cape Breton home that Sitarski met Felix during a performance at a local venue. The three men spent a rousing evening together, playing music. It was that connection that brought the musicians to Kitchener.

The 2009 Canadian Open Stepdance Champion Sarajayne Sweetland of Ingersoll will perform at the Kitchener concerts along with Macmillian and Felix.

vill@therecord.com