Alvin Bernard | Bowing Down Home

Alvin Bernard, 1992

Biography

When Alvin Bernard was young, people in his area frequently got together in the evenings at events called parlor socials; there would be card games, music, and of course square dancing. There would also be dancing at weddings, wedding showers, and (in the summertime) at the local skating rink. Generally, there was a fiddler in each community who provided the music for all such events.

Bernard learned the rudiments of playing at age 12 from fiddler Andrew Johnson, who lived just down the road. He then continued learning on his own, picking up tunes by ear both from local fiddlers such as Bill Durant and Bernie MacKinnon, and from fiddlers he heard on the radio. In terms of the latter, important sources for him (in rough chronological order) were Québecois players via station CHCN (New Carlisle, Quebec), Don Messer and Ned Landry via CFCY, and stations from Nova Scotia that broadcast Cape Breton fiddling.

He also learned some tunes from Jimmy Beairsto, the fiddling barber of Kensington.

Alvin started playing for local dances in his early 20s, and early on began working regularly with guitarist Edwin Simmons; they remember that when they started out an average evening’s pay for playing a dance was $1.50.

In the 1960s, local interest in fiddle music and dance began to fall off, a phenomenon that Bernard and Simmons attribute to the coming of television and exposure to pop culture.

In the late 70s, Bernard became a founding member of the Prince County Fiddlers; he also joined Rubin's Jamboree, a group of about a dozen local musicians who played at community and charitable events (two other members were Leo Farrell and Ralph Hardy). He also began teaching others to play by taking part in an Island-wide adult education program known as Community School.

Simmons joins Bernard on fiddle for Tina’s Schottische.

Tune Selections

Bernard, Alvin - Chinese Breakdown Accompanied by: Edwin Simmons, gtr
Western Queens
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Bernard, Alvin - Country Waltz Accompanied by: Edwin Simmons, gtr; Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Bernard, Alvin - Nelly Grey Accompanied by: Edwin Simmons, gtr
Western Queens
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Bernard, Alvin - Silver & Gold Accompanied by: Edwin Simmons, gtr
Western Queens
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Bernard, Alvin - Tina's Schottische Accompanied by: Ken Perlman, bjo
Western Queens
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Bernard, Alvin - West Point Jig Accompanied by: Edwin Simmons, gtr
Western Queens
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Oral Histories

Bernard, Alvin - Effects of TV and pop culture Wouldn't be the in thing to be playing, the modern music was coming in, by 1960s; fiddling was for the older people; then TV came along and took people's attention elsewhere info and transcript
Bernard, Alvin - The Fiddler’s Role Every community had a fiddler or two to provide the music: most speaking here done by gtrist Edwin Simmons info and transcript
Jimmy Beairsto the fiddling barber Jimmy Beairsto the fiddling barber of Kensington info and transcript

Video Clips