RIVERVIEW, N.B. – The first time Ivan Hicks played a dance at the Baie Verte Community Centre, he was just six years old.
He was accompanying his father, a fiddler, on the mandolin. By the time he was eight, Hicks played the dances alone; leading the jigs and square dances for more than four hours on his fiddle.
“Well my dad was a fiddler, and so I think I probably heard the fiddle the first day I was born,” Hicks said in an interview with Global News from his home in Riverview.
“I never actually took formal training. My dad was my mentor and then I was brought up on Don Messer music,” he said, referencing the well-known Canadian fiddler, known for his performances on radio and TV between the 1930’s – 1960s.
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Hicks plays a style of music known as old-time fiddling that was modeled on the way that Messer played.
“There are many forms of old-time fiddle music, depending on where you live in North America,” Hicks said. “We do have a Canadian old-time fiddling and it’s jigs, wheels, waltzes done in the Don Messer style.
“His music spread right across the country and anybody who picked up the violin would start playing his tunes, and so that’s where the down-east style of old-time fiddling came from.”
Hicks has been playing the fiddle for more than 60 years. In that time he’s recorded 18 albums and appeared on tracks for many other artists. He’s written dozens of his own songs.
“I wrote a tune one day in five minutes, a waltz. I just happened to be in my home in Sackville and my grandmother was there, and she knew her music very well,” Hicks said. “I played this tune and didn’t say anything. She came right over to me and she said, ‘where did you hear that piece of music?’ and I said I just composed it this weekend. ‘Ah, what a lovely piece of music…’ I called it Gram Lee’s Waltz.”
That’s his most requested song.
Over the years, Hicks has received many awards including being inducted into the New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2012, he received a Diamond Jubilee Medal. Now he has been named to the Order of New Brunswick.
“I was actually out in the field, mowing our lawn and I saw Vivian [Hicks, his wife] coming with the cell phone,” said Hicks. “I got a call from one of our nominators saying that ‘we just heard that you were chosen for the Order of New Brunswick.’”
Hicks is being recognized for his work preserving and promoting New Brunswick’s musical culture, both within the province and across Canada.
He is also recognized for his work teaching others. Hicks spent 32 years as a science and math teacher, as well as teaching music on his own. His greatest satisfaction was that many of his students continue to play the fiddle and went on to be teachers themselves.
“The thing that has made me the happiest of all is that we’ve been able to get our kind of music to the young people,” he said, adding that he and his wife never had kids of their own, but they considered their students to be their kids.
The ceremony recognizing Hicks will be held in the fall.