Celtic Slow Jam welcomes musicians from beginner to expert

Members of Celtic Slow Jam in rehearsal

Photo: Ellen Katic


Celtic Slow Jam, left to right, standing: Ted Cosstick, Keith Shackleton, Johanne Aube, Cathy Zaitlin, Ken Roy, Rowena Stickler, John Moss, Mary Nash, Al Grunder Sitting: Ellen Katic, Shirley Moss, Randal Marlin

Photo: Eileen Clarke

By Randal Marlin


Who would have guessed that in the basement nursery room of the Glebe Community Centre a music jam brings together musicians from across the city to play music for two hours every Thursday evening?

It’s a group that for over two decades has attracted people, young and old, playing many different instruments. Abilities range from the very top level down to struggling beginners. Special efforts are made to encourage the latter to persevere and gradually learn to keep up; hence the name Celtic Slow Jam.

Its influence has extended beyond the Glebe. Groups across Canada and beyond have made use of sheet music assembled for it when it first began. An additional collection of tunes was put together by Carp musicians and is now added to the Glebe repertoire.

Competence formed from playing with Celtic Slow Jam has led to individuals or groups spinning off and forming new smaller ensembles that do regular paid gigs at different gatherings, including retirement homes. Among them is the Lyon Street Celtic Band founded by Lois Siegel, who was much involved in the early development of Celtic Slow Jam.

Musicians derive a huge benefit when they can play together. Each player is forced to keep to a particular rhythm and tempo. With solo playing the values of notes can get distorted. The group imposes a constancy of rhythm; otherwise there would be cacophony. Only practising with others can bring about the transcendence from individual time to group time. It’s a great feeling of togetherness and a wonderful form of social bonding.

The keyboardist has an important role to play in getting people to play together. Usually the keyboardist will be followed, but sometimes the group will decide on a slightly different tempo and some yielding occurs.

The formula for playing is constant. Each player in turn gets a chance to pick his or her tune from an assortment of over 200 tunes, and also determines the speed at which it will be played. Etiquette favours a speed that accords with the proficiency of those assembled on any particular occasion. Playing too slow can bore skilled players, while beginners get frustrated when the playing is too fast for them. When I first joined in the early years of this century I felt greatly despondent, and would have given up, but for the encouragement from the better players. I described this in “Valuing the Arts,” Glebe Report,” July 2010.

The number of players has been creeping back to pre-COVID levels. The current ad hoc leadership consists of accordion player Keith Shackleton, keyboardist Ellen Katic, treasurer and flute player Ted Cosstick, and fiddler Mary Nash. Sometimes very experienced fiddlers will stop by to enliven the group, even the legendary Denis Lanctot, who has inspired so many of Ottawa’s fiddlers.

The history of Celtic Slow Jam is not fully and precisely documented, but the group was well underway when Lois Siegel joined in 1997. Credit for compiling the original and extensive collection of Celtic tunes, prior to 2004, goes to Joel Joy, with Eugene Deery putting it in PDF format.

Lois Siegel has listed the names of 53 people involved with Celtic Slow Jam in 1999. Today the numbers are much lower − 15 to 20 − as people formed other groups in different parts of the city, often following the Glebe model.

Anyone looking to join the Glebe Celtic Slow Jam group would be well advised to first download and practise some of the tunes listed by the Carp group. These are available from the Carp Celtic Jam website in either printable or tablet-friendly formats.

Players currently pay about $20 for each of the fall, winter or spring sessions. The amount will depend on the number of players who join, as the room rental is the only expense and the needed amount will depend on the number of players for any particular session. A drop-in charge is also available for those who want to try out for a few meetings.

You can be sure of a good welcome at the Thursday night 7 to 9 p.m. gatherings at the Glebe Community Centre.


Randal Marlin is an adjunct professor in philosophy at Carleton University and a dedicated member of Celtic Slow Jam.

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