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A Touching Note

A Touching Note

An impromptu violin concert 52 years in the making
By Herb Mathisen
Dec 26
From the December 2018 Issue

He’s played for presidents. He was handpicked to be concertmaster of Boston’s touring orchestra by John Williams, the world famous composer of the themes for Jaws and Star Wars. And last July, concert violinist Joe Scheer played to a group of sunburnt fishermen at the weekly wine and cheese gathering north of the Arctic Circle, at Plummer’s Great Bear Lake lodge.

But Scheer, an avid fisherman who designs and builds his own fly rods, wasn’t chartered up especially for the show. It was actually a series of generous acts going back more than half a century that made it happen.

Chummy Plummer, the long-time owner and operator of Plummer’s Arctic Lodges, says he likes to B.S. with everyone before supper. That’s how he first heard about a rowdy Friday night Scheer had in Yellowknife before arriving at the lodge.

While eating dinner at the Explorer Hotel, Scheer got to talking with Gerald and Norbert Poitras, in town with their band, North Country Rock. When the brothers learned Scheer could play the fiddle, they invited him to check out their show at the Gold Range later. Scheer obliged—and wound up joining them on-stage at the notoriously raucous watering hole. “It was wonderful,” says Scheer. “The whole place smelled of stale beer and cigarettes and pot. You name it.” He had to bow out around 1 a.m. to catch his early flight to Great Bear Lake lodge. “But boy, we just had a lot of fun.”

Scheer recounted this tale and mentioned his recent retirement as a concert violinist, when Plummer mused aloud: “Thursday, if I can get you a violin, do you wanna play?”

For sure, said Scheer.

Now, to get a violin to the remote, fly-in lodge. Plummer called his Yellowknife fixer, Yvonne Quick, who lived up to her name by immediately contacting just the right person: Bob Bromley, a local fiddler, former MLA and all-around good guy. A violin was on the next plane up.

As guests from Plummer’s area lodges arrived at Great Bear for their weekly wine and cheese, Scheer retreated to his cabin to tune the violin. When he returned, he presented Plummer with a hand-written note he’d discovered in the case. Bromley had been happy to lend out the violin—a barely played instrument made in Germany in the 1950s by a friend’s father. But when he heard where it was headed, he felt compelled to put pen to paper.

Back when he was a gangly 14-year-old, Bromley, his father Peter and his father’s friend Ian Calder—the territory’s first resident dentist—were nearing the end of an epic paddle from Fort Rae to Great Bear Lake and they’d run out of food. “No shortage of jackfish,” Bromley wrote in the note, “but a growing lad was HUNGRY!” The trio met some of Plummer’s guests—a group of anglers fishing at White Eagle Falls, the last portage before entering the lake. The paddlers were encouraged to continue to the lodge (at its old location, before it was moved building by building to the north end of the lake.) There, the crew fed the paddlers “like I will never forget,” wrote Bromley. Staff even packed up a box of food for them to take. The Bromleys and Calder carried on to Sawmill Bay, where they caught a flight home to Yellowknife with legendary bush pilot Ernie Boffa in his Norseman.

Plummer, for his part, couldn’t remember that specific visit. “But, you know, we always do things like that if somebody’s coming through,” he says. It sure made an impression on Bromley though. “Chummy has been a giant in my mind ever since,” a guest read out, from Bromley’s note, to an appreciative group of mostly fishermen in camo pants and ballcaps.

Scheer, dressed in blue jeans, a sweater and wearing slippers, nestled the violin under his chin. “The first tune he played—I don’t really know these things—but it was Bach in D Minor or a darned thing,” says Plummer, laughing. “And he made it sound good.” (In fact, it was the Adagio from the G Minor Sonata by Bach. Close enough.)

That night, Scheer played with all the skill and sincerity appropriate for a tuxedoed and gowned audience back at Symphony Hall.