Jason Lepine

October 10, 2023

Fiddle champion and recording artist a staple in the Red River Métis music community

Jason Lepine comes from a long line of fiddle players.

Jason Lepine has always held a special place within the vibrant Red River Métis music community. The musician has managed to captivate audiences all over the country with his performances, bringing the joy of fiddle music to many Métis communities.

The Red River Métis Citizen, who grew up in Portage la Prairie, comes from a long line of fiddlers in his family. Before he began fiddling at the age of seven, his family was uncertain about which musical direction he would go in.

"My dad thought I was going to be a guitar player because when I was younger, I used to strum his guitar on the floor," Lepine said of his father, renowned fiddler Gary Lepine.

Finding inspiration from the supportive people in his life, Lepine began exploring his passion for playing the fiddle.

"I got a little plastic fiddle from one of my fiddle icons, the late Reg Bouvette, and that's when I switched over to the fiddle," he said. "And then that's all I heard, you know, the house was filled with music."

With a legendary Métis fiddler for a father, there was no shortage of music in Lepine's childhood home.

"Music was always there at all times of the day," he said. "Really, it didn't matter what time it was, my dad was practicing his fiddle music."

Under the guidance of his father, Lepine began honing his skills.

"As a youngster, I wasn't quite sure how far I was going to go, but I really enjoyed the music. I basically taught myself, I never took lessons," he said. "My dad taught me the basics, and I went from there through learning off of tapes and records."

Lepine was 12 years old when he participated in his first fiddling contest.

"My first fiddle contest was in Bashaw, Alberta, where my grandma lived, and they had a little town fair," said the musician. "At this point, my dad taught me some fiddle, and I needed one more tune for the contest, so he and I learned a new tune that day. It was a very simple tune."

The talented young fiddler showed off his skills in the beginner class, where he went on to win the competition.

"That was basically a good start to my career. And it's not just about winning a fiddle contest, it was about going out and playing for bigger crowds," he said.

With the love and support of his friends and family, Lepine's talents began to flourish. Despite being a shy child, he found solace in music, which helped him overcome his inhibitions and come out of his shell as the years went on.

"My first experience outside of playing in front of some family members was probably at my junior high in Portage la Prairie, and that was very nerve-wracking because I was playing in front of all my peers," he said.

Lepine didn't let his fears hinder him from playing the fiddle for his fellow classmates. He continued to embrace his passion throughout his entire high school journey.

"I was so nervous playing in front of all my teachers and my peers," he said. "So then after that, it just went from there and the confidence that my friends loved it, teachers loved it, I had a lot of support from a lot of people. So, I kept going and it evolved to bigger things."

Despite his focus on perfecting the fiddle, Lepine also took an interest in learning the mandolin due to the instrument's similarities.

"The mandolin is close to a fiddle, but it's two strings to one and you're just plucking it," he said.

Exploring many genres throughout his life, Lepine would always find his way back to his Red River Métis roots.

"Métis style is very interesting because it has extra beats or we kind of crossed the bowing techniques with double bowling and double strings," he said. "People who read notes may look at it and think that those tunes sound like are crooked simply because they have those extra beats for some tunes, or they cut across and shorten part of the note."

The Red River Métis performer acknowledged other differences that make Métis fiddling special.

"There are different styles just depending on where you live and the communities you come from. Métis fiddlers have their own versions of certain tunes," said Lepine. "It's nice that Métis fiddle players have the freedom to play something that is so ingrained into our culture and our history, but have their own take on it."

According to Lepine, many performers within the fiddling community are self-taught.

"If we all played what was put on paper, and were trained that way, we'd all sound the same. But most people that play by ear, you're going to all incorporate your own style," said Lepine. "And that's how people pick you out or can identify your style of play is by playing your version of their sound."

The performer's musical range is not just limited to the classics, as Lepine has an extensive repertoire of music he enjoys playing.

"I try to play a lot of the traditional Métis fiddle tunes, like 'The Road to Batoche.' But I also like songs like 'Whiskey Before Breakfast,'" he said.

Lepine has travelled all over Canada and the United States to share his fiddling talents.

The fiddle champion has had the pleasure of composing and recording his very own music.

"I have three recordings out. My first recording was called Hearsay. My second recording was called Driving Force, and my third one was called Métis Flair," he said.

In 2014, Driving Force won in the Best Fiddle CD category.

Along with the creation of his three albums, Lepine has achieved an incredible range of successes in the world of competitive fiddling.

"I was invited to the Canadian Grandmasters Fiddle Championships in Ottawa in 2001," he said. "It was one of my biggest accomplishments in my career, because I got to see all the different styles of fiddle playing from across Canada."

Taking part in the fiddling competition over two decades ago was the start of a slew of victories in numerous fiddle contests for Lepine, including the Manitoba Championship and Festival Du Voyageur. Yet, nothing can surpass the incredible individuals he has had the pleasure of meeting on his musical journey.

"Some of the standouts are meeting people and talking with people. You just never know when you play an event, no matter how big or small, who's going to be there listening," he said.

"I get a lot of my gigs by going out and talking to people and hearing their shows."

The performer is known for actively participating in numerous Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) events, leaving imprints on the hearts of all who have the pleasure to experience him perform.

"I have to thank, of course, the MMF, for everything that they've done for me and continue to do for me in regard to hiring me to play their special occasions and events, so that's been amazing," said Lepine.

Grateful for the relationship he has established with the MMF, the musician keeps his Red River Métis identity close to his heart.

"I have so much passion for my culture. And, you know, I always perform with my sash on. I even have a little sash on the end of my fiddle, a little sash that hangs down," he said. "I do my best to make sure I am just being myself. You got to do what you do best, and that's what I feel that I can do." 

Lepine is also grateful for the endless support of his family throughout his career.

"I'd like to thank my mom and dad, and of course the people that have gotten me to where I am," he said. "I also have to thank all my musician friends; they are all incredible people. Winnipeg is rich in all genres of music, so you meet a lot of different people in the music industry."

Lepine found musical inspiration in the talented, late keyboard player Jean Snyder - one of his greatest influences throughout his career.

"She was like a grandma to me. She was a cheerleader all the time," he said. "And without that support of people that are going to cheer you on, things can change that you might not pursue." 

He is also appreciative of Yvette Carrier, his talented keyboard player.

"Yvette played a huge role in shaping my career as my keyboard player at fiddle contests and dances," he said. "She had such a positive influence on me."

In 2020, Lepine had the incredible honor of being inducted into the Manitoba Fiddle Association Wall of Fame. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic he was unable to celebrate this special accomplishment until 2023.

"I really want to thank the Fiddler's Association of Manitoba for choosing me to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," he said.

Lepine is excited to continue motivating others to pursue their passion for the fiddle.

"I was given a special gift to play fiddle, which I inherited from my dad. I continue to share that gift of playing fiddle with many Youths and Elders," he said.

As a Support Worker for Métis Child, Family and Community Services, Lepine has been able to teach Métis Youth to play the fiddle.

"I teach it by ear and what they call numerical tabs, like just the 1, 2, 3, 4. I put bigger lines on the fiddle and apply it," he said.

The fiddler fosters patience in his students as they learn the instrument, encouraging them every step of the way.

"I know it can be very overwhelming because the fiddle is one of the hardest instruments to play. And when I teach, I cut things up into pieces, just like putting a puzzle together," he said. "I tell a lot of my students, 'We're going to look at this piece by piece and it will come together', so another thing that you'll need is some patience, and to not be so hard on yourself."

Lepine hopes to inspire his students to find joy in the world of Métis music the way that he has.

"I'm doing my best to give back to others what was given to me," he said. "I try my best to keep the tradition of (Red River) Métis fiddling alive for many generations to come."


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