GALESBURG, Ill. — McLeod Sumner distinctly remembers a moment in his childhood when his mother took him shopping at a local thrift shop. In the toy aisle, Sumner found a pull string toy that spun, landed on a certain character and then made the sound of that character. For this particular toy, the wheel was full of instruments. Sumner pulled the string, landed on a violin and thought the sound was beautiful. From this point forward, Sumner knew exactly which instrument he wanted to play.
“I was enchanted,” Sumner said. “I listened to it over and over again and when we left the store, I told my mom I wanted to play the violin. So my parents bought me a violin and started taking me to lessons.”
Sumner went on to study classical violin and later moved on to traditional style. Though he has always had a respect and appreciation for his classical roots, Sumner stressed that he is now focused on the fiddle.
In high school, Sumner was introduced to the music of the island of Cape Breton. The music style was influenced by Scottish Highlanders and takes heavy notes from Celtic fiddling. Sumner remembers hearing this music for the first time and being taken aback by it like no other music style had before.
This style has been Sumner’s focus for the past few years. The problem for Sumner comes from the fact that few musicians play this type of music in the area. To continue learning, he has listened to countless records and tried to mimic the style from those songs.
Sumner studied abroad in Cape Breton during his junior year at Knox College. The area was, of course, filled with musicians of the inspired style, helping Sumner to fit in immediately.
“I had heard stories of these sessions of playing in pubs every week, and that was exactly how Cape Breton was,” Sumner said. “I made many friends with the prominent players on the island, allowing me to play for fundraisers and a bunch of other events, like a Christmas TV telethon special.”
Back at Knox, Sumner joined the Prairie Fireflies, which allowed him to continue practicing traditional music. He feels that since joining college, he has found many more opportunities to share in this style of music and play it in public settings. He believes the traditional style allows for more of a communal environment that invites others to join in the music.
Even through his travels and many play sessions, Sumner still thinks he has a lot to learn about the instrument and himself. His goal is to hone his technique, which he believes will be a lifelong goal. Though he views his current ability as being the highest it’s been since beginning to play, he believes there is always more a musician can learn.
In the future, Sumner wants to return to Cape Breton, even just to visit, and continue to be immersed in that culture. He feels that his time in Cape Breton was when he was fulfilled the most musically. However, he still finds a home in the Galesburg area and is proud of the response his music has found when performing.
“Wherever I end up living, I will continue to work on my craft,” Sumner said. “I need to just focus on being the best player that I can be. All of the external life circumstances will happen however they do. I do trust that opportunities will arise.”
Source: The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, http://bit.ly/2vJSn5d
Information from: The Register-Mail, http://www.register-mail.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Galesburg) Register-Mail.