John Angus was born April 15, 1898 near Munroe’s Mills. Although there is nothing to indicate when he started playing the fiddle, there is a photo of him holding a mandolin while overseas during WWI; therefore, we can make the assumption that he started playing early in his childhood. His sister, Mary Frances, was given a fiddle and he played on it for many years. It is now being played by his grand nephew, David MacPhee.
After he returned from overseas, he spent some time in Watertown, N.Y. before settling first in Cornwall and later St. Andrews W. It was then that he established himself as both a soloist and a group player with Fr. John McPhail’s troupe of fiddlers.
Those who remember John Angus and his style, have the same common reverence for his talent; his notes were clear and true and came out easily with a smooth rhythm. He used his fourth finger with the open strings and had a strong bow style which produced a unique sound. He was one of the best among his contemporaries.
The first Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville held a Scottish violin competition in which John Angus competed. As reported in The Glengarry News, he “won outright first prize beating out many other players from Glengarry, Ottawa and Montreal.” In later years he participated in the Glengarry Historical Society’s annual contests just “for the fun of it”; he placed in the top three for several years.
John Angus was a mentor to anyone who wanted to play the fiddle, especially young people and those in his own family who indicated any interest in carrying on the tradition. He would also patiently play for anyone who was learning how to accompany on the piano. His grand nephew, David, remembers as a child being entertained and the tapes John Angus made were a source of the first tunes he learned and even today, many years later, David still gravitates to his uncle’s music for his “never-ending quest for the right sound for the instrument.”
In addition to his musical talent, John Angus was a true gentleman with a deep sense of charity and generosity. He would not take money for playing; he would suggest that the money be given to the church or to charity.
Click to hear John Angus playing his signature tune.