Help Save "Downeast Ceilidh"

The mission of the Celtic Cafe is to help promote "Celtic culture," and traditional Celtic music is something we really love here. These incredible sounds should have a far wider audience than the tiny niche the music currently occupies, and thanks to "Webcasting," more of us can "tune in" to programs such as "Downeast Ceilidh" at WMBR (88.1FM), the MIT college station in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Downeast Ceilidh producer/host Marcia Young Palmater has been playing traditional and contemporary folk music of Canada's Atlantic Provinces for THIRTY years; lots of fiddle music, and songs in Scottish, Gaelic, and Acadian French. Now, sadly, the last show is scheduled for broadcast next Thursday, Sept. 26th. You can hear it from wherever you are through your computer -- check the time zone difference -- from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern. Marcia wrote in an e-mail message to the Cape Breton Music mailing list the following:

"The weekly radio program, Downeast Ceilidh, which has aired on Thursday evenings since February 3, 1972 on WMBR-FM in Cambridge, Mass. has been cancelled, effective September 30, by management to give MIT students more air time in a very crowded schedule...

There is an appeal process, and I will appeal, but I have no illusions; the situation will not change.

I deeply regret no longer being able to serve the interests of the Canadian-American community in the Greater Boston area, and the audience farther afield which had found Downeast Ceilidh on the Web. Even more, perhaps, I regret no longer being able to support the many superb musicians of Atlantic Canada; that has been a source of great pleasure and pride. And in the many years the show has been broadcast, many people were first introduced to this wonderful music and the rich culture of the area by listening in....

Support good music programs wherever you find them; their shelf life is not guaranteed."

Thanks to Andy Hawley and the Old Time Herald for the following about Marcia and the Downeast Ceilidh program.

WMBR's Downeast Ceilidh Threatened with Cancellation

Marcia Young Palmater's Downeast Ceilidh radio program, featuring traditional music of Canada's Atlantic Provinces (with an emphasis on Cape Breton fiddle music) and news of interest to the Canadian-American community of greater Boston, was first broadcast from the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Mass., on February 3, 1972. This past February Marcia celebrated her 30th anniversary with a live show on MIT's station WMBR (88.1 FM) featuring the renowned Acadian fiddler Joe Cormier.

Now, after over 30 years, Downeast Ceilidh is threatened with cancellation. WMBR's student management has not included the show in its fall schedule. Unless her listeners are able to persuade them to change their minds, the last show will take place this Thursday, September 26 at 8:00 PM.

Listeners and supporters of the show, and of the music which it has featured every week for 30+ years, are urged to contact the station management, as well as MIT Vice President Dr. Kathryn A. Willmore, urging them to reconsider.

Dr. Kathryn A. Willmore
Vice President and Secretary of the Corporation
MIT Office of the Corporation
Room 7-203
77 Mass. Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139

E-mail Dr. Willmore:

E-mail WMBR Program Director:

Downeast Ceilidh's Music and Its Community

All of the material played on Downeast Ceilidh is provided out of the music collection of Marcia Palmater and her husband Dave, who co-produces the show and handles the engineering, while Marcia chooses the music and does the announcing. Each show includes at least one set of music from each of the four Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland) and at least one Acadian French and one Scots Gaelic song. But the main focus is on music--especially fiddle music--from Cape Breton, which she terms "the mother lode in a rich vein" of musical tradition. In her show, as in a live performance, a typical fiddle set is an uninterrupted sequence of dance tunes, often beginning with a slower march or strathspey and becoming increasingly lively as it progresses through one or more reels, jigs, and/or hornpipes. Tunes are frequently named in honor of a friend, family member, or another musician--for example, "The Rev. John Angus Rankin Strathspey"--while songs often express nostagia for home and family down east.

Since 1972 this show has been serving a need, and a community, served by no other broadcast program in New England. The community is primarily Scottish- and French-Canadians who emigrated, or whose parents and grandparents earlier emigrated, to the Boston area from the Atlantic provinces. The need she meets, however, goes far beyond nostalgic affection for the fiddle tunes which settlers brought to Canada 200 years ago when they fled Scotland's notorious Clearances. For, interspered with the music, Marcia regularly announces local events in the Canadian-American community, such as a benefit performance for a hospital, or a corned beef and cabbage dinner followed by dancing to the playing of musicians who themselves are likely to be friends and neighbors of many of those listening. She tells her listeners who in the community is sick and needs a get-well card, whose relatives are visiting from back home, as well as who wrote the next fiddle tune she will play, and which friend or relation the composer named it for.

Marcia Palmater knows these people personally; she has known them, their parents, and their children, for 40 years, just as she knows and is known by their relatives in the villages of Cape Breton she first visited in 1963. They rely on her and are grateful to her. Fiddler Joe Cormier, a National Heritage Fellow who lives in Waltham, Mass., has recorded numerous albums, and has performed live on Downeast Ceilidh, says that Marcia has "done an awful lot for our music."

(In addition to the local community that is the base of her audience, Marcia has faithful listeners scattered across the U.S. and Canada, who have access to the show thanks to the Internet.)

Why Radio Shows Like Downeast Ceilidh Are a Precious Few

College radio stations, since they often rely on volunteer staff, can provide an opportunity for non-students as well as students to produce programs that would be rejected by commercial stations or even, in many cases, by public radio affiliates. Since they are not paid, those who choose to devote several hours each week to preparing and presenting their programs do so out of a strong feeling for the music or other material, and a desire to share their passion with others. Marcia Palmater is such a person; her passion for, and loyalty to, the musical culture of Atlantic Canada and particularly Cape Breton, is undiminished, forty years after she first discovered it and thirty years after her first Downeast Ceilidh show.

In using the public airwaves to broadcast its programming, WMBR, like other college radio stations, assumes a community obligation that goes beyond the students and the campus. Part of the way they have met that obligation is by airing programs whose audience is larger and broader than the student body, while still not attractive to commercial stations, with their profit-oriented focus on "markets." No WMBR program meets a greater community need (great because it is a real need of a significant community, and also because no other program exists to meet it) than Downeast Ceilidh. To take it off the air after 30 years would be a real disservice to its many devoted listeners.

For more information about Marcia Palmater and her show, Downeast Ceilidh, look for the February, 2003 issue of the Old-Time Herald magazine. Parts of the above were taken from this upcoming article.

Andy Hawley is a freelance writer who lives in Waltham, Mass. From 1994-2001 he hosted a bluegrass show on radio station WRPI in Troy, New York.

Marcia's e-mail address, if you'd like to contact her:

**Please help keep Downeast Ceildidh on the air.** Contact the WMBR Program Director at:
and let him know that you think this kind of music needs more public exposure, not less!

Feature: Bernadette Price
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