Story by Gareth Vieira
Photo by Nicolett Jakab

Are you aware that the fiddle is just the name given to the violin when one wants to loosen up their playing style? My friend Manja Horner, who has been teaching the instrument for over fifteen years, informed me of this along with other tidbits about herself and her passion for the fiddle, specifically for the Cape Breton sound.

When playing the fiddle, you need to mess it up more than classical,” she said. “What that means is to get the real flavour and style of Cape Breton, your playing can’t be perfectly polished, you’re adding in little embellishments and double notes in an ad lib way. If the melody is played perfectly, you can’t achieve the Cape Breton flavour in it.”

Manja started teaching the fiddle at George’s Guitars in Cobourg when she was sixteen. She then went on to teach at Long & McQuade in Oshawa for six years. She has recently begun offering lessons in Port Hope, her hometown.

Generally, interest in the fiddle, tends to be from adults. The kids learn the basics of violin technique. With adults, it seems to be something they have always had an interest in learning, or maybe someone gave them a fiddle at some time and, for whatever reason, now is their chance to give the instrument a shot.”

Manja presently has 8 – 10 students and would like to develop to the point where they are learning the same songs so they can all play together in a group setting.

I usually start a new lesson with the question: why the fiddle?” she said. “I’m really curious to learn what has driven them to this instrument. The common answer being ‘I’ve always loved the sound’; there is usually a personal connection to the instrument.”

In a fiddle group, songs are chosen in a set and played back to back which often becomes progressively faster. Each player can play as much as they are able and then drop out and observe the rest.

“It’s really fun when you can see how other people are doing because it can be a very protective hobby where you’re insecure about whether you’re good or not and it’s nice to let people know where they fit within a group. It’s encouraging and often pushes people out of their comfort zones and they learn a lot from giving it a try.”

Manja also plays with the Northumberland Orchestra and Choir (NOC) and says the 2017 -2018 season is shaping up to be one of their best yet.

The Orchestra’s next performance is on November 4th and we have four upcoming shows for the 2017-2018 season and they are amazing. There is actually a very exciting concert on February 10th with the Sultans of String. They incorporate the fiddle and have that world music sound and our full orchestra will be backing them up.”

Manja’s classes are held on Mondays and Tuesdays and there is still some availability for anyone interested. Summer sessions are 6-8 weeks with an option for parents and kids to take lessons together.

“I do demand a fair bit from my students,” she said. “When I know they have a goal in place, I’ll hold them to that. I had one student who came to me who was painfully shy. But, over time, she opened up and blossomed. Her parents accredited a lot to the music which gave her the confidence. My style is to really encourage my students to explore and push the boundaries of what they think they are capable of.” For more information about fiddle lessons, contact Manja Horner at