St. John's Own Scottish Country Dance Band

This history of Corryvreckan was written by Bruce Shawyer, the Music Director. Bruce has also written an article entitled Playing Music for Scottish Country Dancing. Check out the Scottish Country Dance section of Bruce Shawyer's Home Page.

Scottish Country Dancing has been alive an well in St. John's, Newfoundland, for over thirty years. At first, the dancers relied on taped music for all dancing. In July 1987, the group held its first instructional week-end workshop, with a guest teacher. The group hired two music students to provide live piano music for the instructional classes, but the Friday evening Welcome Dance was held to taped music. For the Saturday evening Ball, Duncan Keppie and his Band were brought in from Nova Scotia. This was the first time many of the dancers had danced to live music. As all who have will tell you, there is a special atmosphere created when the music is performed live, and the general enjoyment is increased.

The Scottish Dancers held their second instructional week-end workshop two years later in 1989. This time, the musicians were Susie Petrov and Friends from Boston. They played for classes and for both the evening events.

Just before this, Bruce Shawyer had discovered that Stewart Gillies was a Scottish fiddler, and they started to play some music together. After the workshop, they received a lot of encouragement and information from Susie Petrov. They were joined initially by Bruce's daughter, Janet, who recruited a friend, Natalie Brunet. They both played recorders and tin whistles. Together, the four of them started to practice Scottish Country Dance tunes. By November 1989, they had developed a small repertoire, and debuted, playing for the Scottish Country Dance demonstration at the Multicultural Festival on the stage of the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre. This was followed in January 1990 by playing again for the demonstration at the annual Burns Supper, at the Legion Hall, Pleasantville.

In February 1990, under the name of "Rhum, Eigg and Muck", they played for the first time for public dancing, playing for half of the Family Night dance at Vanier School. They played for various other events during 1990.

In 1991, the dancers held their third weekend instructional workshop. By this time, Rhum Eigg and Muck were ready to play for a full program, and invited Duncan Keppie (piano accordion) to join them.

Since then, there has been live music at almost every social dance since.

In 1993, with a change in personnel, resulting in Bruce Shawyer and Stewart Gillies being the only two remaining members, the band's name was changed to "Corryvreckan". Corryvreckan is a "whirlpool", between the islands of Jura and Scarba, in the Inner Hebrides, on the west coast of Scotland. (More properly, it is a dangerous tidal race, caused by the tide flowing and ebbing past an undersea cliff. It is the only sea passage in the British Isles that is declared to be off limits by the British Navy. It is featured in the film "I know where I'm going".)

In its present configuration, Corryvreckan consists of (from left to right across the stage):

Stewart Gillies (violin), Alasdair Black (violin), Abigail Steele (whistles and flute), Andy Fisher (mandolin and guitar), Tara Bryan (guitar and violin), Phil Graham (piano accordion and harmonica), and Bruce Shawyer (piano).


Bruce Shawyer does the initial choice of music (the rest of the band soon let him know if they don't like a tune, and want it replaced - he usually obliges), arranges it for the various instruments, and prints out the copy. Since he uses a computer program to store the music, good readable music is the order of the day. Both he and Tara write harmonies. All members make suggestions of how to improve the general sound and feeling of the music. It is fortunate in that all members of the band are good sight readers, and so find it quite easy to learn new tunes.

Corryvreckan has a working repertoire of about 150 selections (usually of four tunes) for jigs, reels and strathspeys, plus a few waltz selections and various ceilidh dances. They have worked hard to be able to play in strict tempo, and at the moment, rarely make use of a metronome for setting the tempo (see also Bruce's article).

Currently, the band expects to play for the dancers' four or five social dances per year, as well as for any special events, such as instructional workshops or demonstration dances. Playing at the Burns Supper has become an annual tradition. They have also played at homes for the elderly (such as Glenbrook Lodge and St. Patrick's Mercy Home); for some benefits, such as the benefit for Dermot O'Reilly, and for Kittiwake Dance Theatre; and at the Annual St. David's Benefit Concert (where they are the traditional finale).

Most of the members also play in other groups, ranging from the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra through a Jazz Band to an English Country Dance band. Only Alasdair is professionally trained, and Tara, despite being a professional visual artist, has a degree in music.

Some former members are (I hope I have not forgotten anyone):

Wayne Brace (piano accordion)
Lance Forsyth (violin)
Mark Fuglem (violin)
Alison Gray (violin)
Kate Gray (flute)
Ray Kenny (percussion)
Stuart MacDonald (string bass)
Pat Roberts (viola)
Scott Swinden (string bass)
Brian Titus (flute and whistles)

Bruce Shawyer
Monday, January 17, 2000

updated August 1st 2007