Museum and School Programs


Above: With Pressgang Mutiny – Great Lakes Show

Entertaining and historically appropriate musical programming for Canadian museums since 1980.

     There is a list of my museum clients at the bottom of the page.

For over 30 years I have been presenting lively (and well-researched) programs of the grassroots entertainments of old Ontario at museums, and historic site and in a wide range of living history settings.

I’d like to think I come by it somewhat honestly. Though I’ve picked up this old music from many sources, in my life I’ve been lucky enough to find ways to make music with many great players who were a generation (or two) senior to me. These have included fiddlers Tommy McQueston, and Carl Grexton, stepdancer Alec Mulligan and fiddler/dance caller Jack Hayes, and singer Onias Weber.  I’m eternally grateful for the powerful links to the past which they so generously created for me. (The music I learned from Tommy McQueston who was born in 1902, he in turn learned from a fiddler who was active in the 1870s…and so it goes.)

Over the years, my performances have included everything  from concert / lectures to barroom shadow-puppet shows, to full-scale recreations of 19th century music hall shows, dances and temperance meetings – the latter complete with four part harmony and heartfelt testimonials! I am also happy to  present informal music in historic houses or other living history settings. This can be done in period clothing with period instruments and in first-person style if appropriate.

I perform solo, or with a variety of accompanists, depending on what the situation requires.  My accomplices are all drawn from the “A-team” ranks of Ontario traditional musicians, so the performances are always thoroughly professional and convincing.

See also the page IAN BELL & TEILHARD FROST

My instrumentation includes: concertinas, button accordion, small-pipes, various guitars and banjos, (including authentic gut-strung 19th century instruments) and an assortment of “pocket instruments” like harmonicas, jaw harps, bones, whistles and noseflute. Whenever possible I invite a fiddle player to join me – usually Anne Lederman or Geoff Somers. Most performances include a mix of period and modern (acoustic) instruments.


FROM THE HOME FRONT TO THE WESTERN FRONTSongs and music from the era of the Great War 1914-1918 (with pianist Tom Leighton) A lively and touching mixture of music – some familiar and some not so, that would have been heard in Canada (and in France) during the First World War, much of it composed by Canadians. The program features patriotic ditties, marching songs, instrumental selections and sentimental favourites played on piano, concertina, banjo, button accordion and guitar. The show includes the use of a number of  actual period instruments and original sheet music arrangements.

CHRISTMAS – MIDWINTER – HOGMANAY19th Century songs, stories of the season.This can focus on Christmas or New Years or both.

ROBBIE BURNS DAY – THE SCOTS IN ONTARIOA mix of Scottish and Scottish-Ontarian songs, tunes and poetry with a goodly helping of the work of Robert Burns. Haggises will be addressed.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY – THE IRISH IN ONTARIOIrish songs, jigs and reels from both sides of the Atlantic. This program focuses on the lives of Irish immigrants in early Ontario

SONGS OF THE GREAT LAKES / with Images –  Songs, chanteys and colourful tales of the the sailors who worked under canvas during the “schooner days” on the Great Lakes. This concert can also be presented along with a PowerPointslide show of terrific period images of Great Lakes vessels, ports and sailors.

MUSIC & INSTRUMENTS OF OLD ONTARIOA general introduction to the music and musical instruments heard inOntario between about 1780 and 1920

THE MUSIC OF OF 1812Authentic songs of the war along with examples of the other music that would have enlivened the barrack rooms and taverns of Upper Canada in that era.

A SOLDIER’S / SAILOR’S LIFESongs and tunes of the barracks and foc’sle in 19th century Ontario. Can be focused on either or both occupations

FARMING AND RURAL LIFE –  Songs and traditional tunes that tell the story of the rural culture that defined Ontario in the 19th century. Farming, logging and country social life are all part of this program.

TIPPLERS AND TEETOTALERS  –  Songs, stories and poetry from both sides of the old debate. Temperance hymns and drinking songs go head-to-head. Who will win this epic cage match?

OLD-TIME ONTARIO DANCEParticipation – Learn some traditional Ontario contra & square dances

SHAPE NOTES & SINGING SCHOOLSParticipation – Early four-part harmony hymns from Ontario singing-schools

STAFF / INTERPRETERS’ WORKSHOPS –  This is particularly geared to interpreters working in living history settings. Musical examples, answers to early music FAQs and active participation are all part of the session. There are also hand-outs and links to online sources of music.


See  “Ian’s Recordings” page for links to CDs and downloads of some of this music

Hint: One of the most useful and varied CDs for Ontario museums      is “A Grand Musical Entertainment” It’s right at the bottom of the list on the recordings page.

There is also a “best of” album of Ian’s historical music NOISES FROM THE ATTIC – available for download through Bandcamp


Over the years my clients have included: (in no particular order)

Upper Canada Village

Royal Ontario Museum

Black Creek Pioneer Village

Joseph Schneider Haus (Folk Artist in Residence – 1993)

Gibson House Museum

Dundurn Castle

Glenbow Institute

Gennesee Country Village (NY)

Fort York

Fort George National Historic Site

Mackenzie House

Marine Museum of Upper Canada

Bradley Museum

Britannia Schoolhouse

Enoch Turner Schoolhouse

Colborne Lodge

Todmorden Mills

Woodstock Museum

Norwich & District Museum

Eva Brook Donly Museum

Backus Heritage Village

Windsor Community Museum

Annandale National Historic Site

Moore Museum

Ball’s Falls Conservation Area

Niagara Historical Museum

Historic Fort Erie

Ridgeway Battlefield Site

Battlefield House

Westfield Heritage Village

Brant Museum & Archives

Fieldcote Museum

Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead

Ontario Agricultural Museum

Waterloo Region Museum

Woodside National Historic Site

Huron County Museum

Sharon Temple National Historic Site

McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Pickering Museum Village

King Township Museum

Markham Museum

Grey Roots Museum

Collingwood Museum

Dufferin County Museum

Historic Naval & Military Establishments

Bethune Memorial House

Fort Wellington National Historic Site