TRENTON — For 15-year-old fiddler Gus LaCasse, the best week of the year is about to begin. His life is full of traditional music all year, but during the week from June 26-July 2, his far-flung group of fiddle teachers gather in Bar Harbor for the Acadia School of Traditional Music and Arts.
The Trad School, as it’s also known, is in its fourth year. An avid student of the program every year since the school began in 2013, LaCasse will be a featured performer and will make his teaching debut this year.
Many Mount Desert Island residents saw LaCasse perform in May at the TEDxDirigo event in Bar Harbor at the Criterion Theatre. A video from that performance will be available online soon, he said.
He has been playing the violin since age six, studying with Richard Hsu of Ellsworth.
“I heard a girl in my class playing violin at the Trenton school,” he remembers. “There’s a wall dividing the music room and the cafeteria. I was walking around the cafeteria, and I heard a kid playing. I got home, and I’m like, ‘Mom, I want to play the violin.’ ”
He played fiddle (the same instrument, he said, “the difference is all stylistic”) with the Big Moose Band for contra dances for several years and has focused for the last four years on traditional Acadian, Quebecois, Cape Breton, Irish and English tunes.
“I like the rhythmic drive of it, the fun you have playing it,” he said of the genre.
He said he listened to Prince Edward Island band Vishten with his mom Renee in the car for a whole year before he met and studied with the band members at the first Trad School.
Pascal Miousse of Vishten became one of LaCasse’s primary fiddle teachers, even though they only see each other once a year. He also has studied with Kimberly Fraser, Liz Carroll and Bruce Molsky as part of previous Trad School activities.
His first solo album came out a year ago on the day of his graduation from Trenton Elementary School. It’s an impressive collection, composed mostly of what Cape Breton musicians call “MSRs” – medleys including one march, one strathspey (4/4 dance tune, like a hornpipe) and one reel. One tune, called “Forster Charlton and His Cat” is from Northumberland, he said.
He recorded it in January of last year, in the Portsmouth, N.H.-studio of James Prendergast, whom he had met at a Stone Mountain Music Center event a few weeks before. Prendergast also plays guitar on the album to back up the fiddle.
In April, he took off on a performing tour of Ireland with a 20-member traditional music and dance ensemble based in Burlington, Vt. Another Trad School teacher, Pete Sutherland, made that connection.
The Young Tradition Vermont Touring Group, for which Sutherland serves as artistic director, performed in schools, colleges, churches and community centers from Donegal to Cork and Dingle on the weeklong tour. They even did a radio spot, which they recorded in the back room of a pub while another jam session was going on in the front room.
“We met and played with tons of locals,” LaCasse said. “We all jammed together. We only left when the people in charge said to leave.”
Next year, he said, the group is hoping to make a trip to Cape Breton.
“I’m signing on to that because Cape Breton is awesome, and that’s the style of music that I play.”
LaCasse is set to open for the first Trad School concert, June 26, at the Gates Auditorium on the College of the Atlantic campus at 7 p.m. He’s featured in the “New Generation Trad” concert July 1 and teaches his “Slow Airs for Fast Players” workshop Tuesday, June 28. Visit acadiatradschool.com.
Other gigs planned for the summer include July 8 on the waterfront in Ellsworth, June 24 and Aug. 20 at Coda in Southwest Harbor and an appearance in Lewiston at the Franco Center for their St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration June 24. See LaCasse’s Facebook page for updates.