Traditional Cape Breton and Irish Music in Boston: the Muise Family Collection

Followers of traditional fiddle music will be pleased to learn that the Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music has recently been processed as part of the Burns Library’s Irish Music Archives.

The Muise Family collection includes recordings of impromptu house sessions of Cape Breton and Irish music, performed by a variety of musicians in the Boston area. Included are informal music gatherings and social events that took place in the Muise home in Dorchester (1951-1965) and Roslindale (1965 and later), as recorded on home recording equipment by Johnny and Mary Muise. The collection also includes some concerts and other gatherings.

Left to right: Jimmy Kelly, Mary Muise, and Mary's sister | Photo: Tim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

Left to right: Jimmy Kelly, Mary Muise, and Mary’s sister | Photo: Tim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

Johnny Muise (1923-2005) was born in Boston and was raised in the Inverness area of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. After enlisting in the Canadian army as a teenager during World War II, he returned at age 20 to Massachusetts, where he worked as a union bricklayer as well as in other trades.

One of five sisters, Mary Edmonds Muise (1926-2014) was born in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, to Mary Margaret Cameron and Robert Edmonds. The Edmondses acquired a piano specifically for visits by Betty Maillet, Mary’s “Aunt Liz.” A pianist who recorded professionally with the Inverness Serenaders in the 1930s, Maillet had received her initial piano training from the nuns at St. Patrick’s School in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and subsequently learned Cape Breton traditional music from family connections in Scotch Hill, Margaree. Whenever Maillet would visit the Edmonds family in Boston, Mr. and Mrs. Edmonds would invite traditional Cape Breton musicians to gather and play music in their Boston home. With “Aunt Liz” as a role model, young Mary learned to play piano by ear, as well as to step dance.

Left to right: Jimmy Kelly, Sally Kelly, Bill Lamey | Photo: Jim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

Left to right: Jimmy Kelly, Sally Kelly,
Bill Lamey | Photo: Jim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

Mary Edmonds and Johnny Muise married in 1951 and settled on Neponset Avenue in the Dorchester area of Boston. The couple acquired a piano, and, by the mid-1950s, they were hosting impromptu music sessions, some of which were occasioned by the visits of Betty Maillet. In 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Muise moved from Dorchester to Roslindale, where they continued hosting informal house sessions of Cape Breton and Irish traditional music. Mary Muise, an accomplished pianist, can be heard on some of the recordings. Johnny made an effort to record much of the music, first on open reel audio tapes and in later years on audiocassettes. Performers include Mary “Gacie” Edmonds Muise on piano, Ron Gonnella on fiddle, Jimmy Kelly on banjo, Sally Kelly on piano, Bill Lamey on fiddle, Eddie Irwin on piano, Betty “Aunt Liz” Maillet on piano, Johnny Muise on “clappers,” Johnny Wilmot on fiddle, Janine Randall on piano, and many others.

Johnny and Mary Muise with their daughter Janine Randall and their grandchild | Photo: Jim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

Johnny and Mary Muise with their daughter Janine Randall and their new grandchild | Photo: Tim Prendeville, circa 1975, used courtesy of Janine Randall

The collection of open reel tapes and audiocassettes was donated to the Burns Library by Mr. and Mrs. Muise’s eldest daughter, Janine Randall (BC ’83), between 2007 and 2015. The open reel tapes were digitized by Boston College, and the digitized audio is available for listening on CD in the Burns Library Reading Room. Ms. Randall, an accomplished pianist, worked with the library to identify performers, venues, and dates on the audio that was digitized from open reel tapes. Selected audio clips are presented below.

For more information about the Muise Family Collection, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at burnsref@bc.edu or 617-552-4861.

For more information about the Burns library, visit libguides.bc.edu/burns. You can also like the Burns Library on Facebook, follow the Burns Library on Twitter, view Burns Library Collections on Flickr, and subscribe to the Burns blog.

  • Elizabeth Sweeney, Irish Music Librarian, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Selected audio MP3 clips from the Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music:

Clip 1:  “Annie Laurie” performed by Ron Gonnella (fiddle), Mary Muise (piano). Box 1, Folder 34, 11:00-12:17, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 2:  “Irish Washerwoman” performed by Ron Gonnella (fiddle), Mary Muise (piano). Box 1, Folder 34, 12:17-14:02, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 3:  Fiddle and piano music performed by Alec Gillis and Mary Muise, Box 1, Folder 35, 0:00-1:29, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 4:  Fiddle and piano music performed by Alec Gillis and Mary Muise, Box 1, Folder 35, 8:56-10:31, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 5:  “Impromptu get-together,” Mary Muise, Johnny Muise, Jimmy Kelly, clappers and bones, Box 1, Folder 49, 5:44-10:00, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 6:  “Impromptu get-together,” Jimmy Kelly, Sally Kelly, and Johnny Muise, Box 1, Folder 49, 10:00-14:26, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 7:  “House party with dancers,” John Campbell, Donald Angus Beaton, Joey Beaton, Kinnon Beaton, Mary Muise. Box 1, Folder 58, 15:16-22:00, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 8:  “House party with dancers,” John Campbell, Donald Angus Beaton, Joey Beaton, Kinnon Beaton, Mary Muise. Box 1, Folder 58, 35:20-42:33, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 9:  “A selection of Irish and Scottish traditional tunes,” performed by Betty Maillet (piano), Box 1, Folder 150, 18:20-28:26, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 10:  “A selection of amazing popular tunes,” performed by Betty Maillet (piano), Box 1, Folder 150, 29:30-46:08, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 11:  “Lovely solo trad tune,” performed by Betty Maillet (piano), Box 1, Folder 150, 47:03-48:38, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 12:  “Fiddle sets,” performed by Alec Gillis (fiddle) and/or Angus Chisholm (fiddle), Betty Maillet (piano), Box 1, Folder 150, 57:40-63:03, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.


Clip 13:  “Fiddle sets,” performed by Alec Gillis (fiddle) and/or Angus Chisholm (fiddle), Betty Maillet (piano), Johnny Muise (clappers), Box 1, Folder 151, 18:09-22:39, Muise Family Collection of Cape Breton and Irish Music, IMC.M082, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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