Patti Kusturok

August 25, 2022

Red River Métis fiddler talks legendary career

Patti Kusturok has won many awards for her fiddling and has released over 15 albums.

Red River Métis musician Patti Kusturok has had an illustrious musical career.

With over 15 albums produced and many accolades received, Kusturok has cemented her legacy in the fiddling world.

For the master fiddler, it all started when she was four years old, when her parents put her into lessons.

"My parents were a big fan of the kind of music, so I absorbed it by osmosis, loved it, and said I wanted to play the fiddle. My dad was a bit of a collector of fiddles, so there was always one around the house," she said. "I started with the Suzuki Method - a classical violin method - and I wanted to switch to fiddling or at least get some fiddle music learned. At that time, they weren't open to that idea because they have a set method they follow, and fiddling wasn't part of that."

The Suzuki Method believes in the foundation that children can learn and develop musical abilities like they can learn how to speak their native language.

Kusturok noted nowadays, they do include fiddling in the Suzuki Method, and she was fortunate enough to be placed with a teacher who taught her classical music and how to play the fiddle while going through conservatory exams.

When playing, Kusturok draws influence from the East Coast, Cape Breton style of fiddling, Don Messer style, and Ontario style.

"I guess my main style would be a Métis type (of) style because I played for so many dances here, for so many square dancing and jigging events, and that's the style that I adapted," she said. "So, I would say it's primarily Métis style, but with little seasonings from other styles."

Kusturok has a long list of achievements, including being inducted into the North American Fiddlers' Hall of Fame, winning multiple awards with the Manitoba Association of Country Arts (now the Manitoba Country Music Association), and being inducted into the Manitoba Fiddle Association Hall of Fame in 2010. She is also a three-time champion at the Pembroke, Ontario fiddling competition, a six-time Manitoba champion, and has captured the Grand North American Championship three times. Kusturok was also the first woman and western Canadian to win the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Championship.

The Red River Métis fiddler has toured many times and outlined some of her most memorable performances.

"I did a tour (around Eastern Canada) in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. I've also travelled to Norway to play, and I've done that twice. I have a friend out there (who's) from Saskatchewan, and he's a piano player for fiddle music. He asked me if I wanted to come out and do a couple of gigs, and so I've done that twice," Kusturok said. "I've played in Paris, France, with a singer-songwriter from here, Dan Frechette, and Jeremy Rousseau. So, the three of us went to Paris, and that was exciting."

Kusturok also has some upcoming concerts she's eager to play.

"I believe I'm playing at the Manitoba Métis Federation Annual General Assembly in the fall. On Labour Day weekend, I'm flying up to Kelowna with my son. We're doing a show together, workshop, and a dance out there," she said. "My job is teaching fiddle, so that's what I do during the school year. So, I don't do a whole lot of travelling then, but I'm assuming in February, I'll be booked at Festival Du Voyageur again like I usually am, and anything else that comes up."

Patti Kusturok performs at the St. Madeline Métis Days in 2022.

Kusturok currently offers fiddle lessons, online workshops, and has partnered with Fiddlevideo for an online video teaching series. She started teaching the fiddle when she was 16, after her teacher retired.

"It was funny because I didn't know how to teach, and I know it sounds weird, but I was always fortunate. I never had to struggle to learn anything for some reason because I listened so much to fiddle music, I could almost listen to something a couple of times, pick up my fiddle and play it up to speed, and I didn't have to struggle to learn something," she said. "I thought everybody did that, so when I started teaching, I realized, oh boy, people don't learn that easily. So, what do I have to do to transfer what I know onto something tangible that I could help them learn? I had to dig deep and put myself in the shoes of the student, so I can figure out how to get this concept across that I've always taken for granted."

Her son Alex also plays the fiddle. He is a Canadian Grand Master Fiddle Champion and five-time Manitoba fiddle champion.

"I always made sure that from age three on, there was a fiddle in the house that fit him. Sometimes he would pick it up, and I'd put on a fiddle CD, and he'd play along with it, faking along with it," she said. "I put him into some lessons but didn't force him. He didn't practice like I didn't practice, and he'd get interested for a while, but I just made sure I never forced it one way or another."

Kusturok noted, that later on, her son picked up the fiddle, excelled at it, and would play in competitions and attend fiddle camps.

"This is his life. He is probably more passionate about the fiddle than I ever was and loves it."

Kusturok has formed a growing relationship with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) that started after performing at one of their Christmas parties a few years ago.

"During the pandemic, (I played in) The Beat Goes On show, some of the festivals, the Annual General Assemblies, and all kinds of conferences that are happening. They've been supportive, and I love that it's not just me they're supporting, but they're also giving a lot of fiddle players a chance," she said. "They're very open to bringing in other fiddlers and giving them a chance, so I'm always all about sharing like that."

The acclaimed fiddler has always known she's Métis, but it wasn't an official statement until a few years ago.

"When I was growing up, we would go to all the Métis gatherings, and there was a Métis days festival here in St. Vital. There'd be fiddling, jigging, and entertainment, and I was always a part of that. There wasn't really a big onus on 'Métis people,'" she said. "It was called Métis days, and I didn't even know what that meant. I didn't know that I was one. It was just something we did and who we were, and we didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it. I thought this is the kind of music here, and this is the kind of thing we do here in Manitoba."

Kusturok wasn't a registered Citizen until a few years ago. She learned her family was Métis during a conversation with her mom, brother, and uncle, which prompted her to obtain her Citizenship card.

Board Chair of the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championship taking place in Winnipeg on August 27, Kusturok gives credit to the MMF for stepping up in a big way.

"Now, with the Canadian Grand Master Fiddle Championship, they came on as a huge sponsor. Our sponsorship guy had organized a fiddling contest in Brandon in March, and the Manitoba Métis Federation was very supportive of that," she said. "When he came on board to do our sponsorship for the Grand Masters, he went to the Manitoba Métis Federation, and it was the same. They really wanted to help and support us, and they're the largest sponsor by far."


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