Fiddle

The Métis people have always been known for their love of music and dance. The fiddle was the chosen musical instrument of the Métis people, and the sound of the fiddle is the heartbeat of the Métis Nation.

"The fiddle, they also say, is the closest instrument to the human voice and with the melding of the European culture and the Indigenous culture here, came one of the most beautiful cultures in the world, the Métis people. And also, out of it came customs, language, stories & music. We have distinct and very unique rhythms and melodies. We either drop off a note sometimes from the 16 or we add one or two grace notes, so it very often sounds like a fiddler is playing out of time."

As early as the 1800s, the fiddle was part of Métis culture. Every Métis family had a fiddle player. Fiddles were often handmade from maple wood and birch as many Métis were excellent craftsmen and carvers.

The Métis people have always been known for their love of music and dance. Blending First Nations and European influences into distinct fiddle-playing and dance styles. Europeans -more specifically, the Scottish and French - introduced the Métis to the fiddle and they quickly made it their own.

Métis fiddlers would mix First Nations, Scottish, and French-Canadian rhythms to a unique rhythm of their own to form their own distinctive style of musics. To achieve the unique Métis sound, the bottom string is often tuned up a tone from G to A. The playing style is based on syncopation and extra beats, which gives the music a "bounce" when played and heard. Frequently, the fiddle was played solo, but would sometimes be accompanied by a drum or spoons. The music is typically played up-tempo and has a routine back beat. It is these features that distinguish the performance from waltzes and reels, and make it particularly suitable for dancing and particularly, for the Métis jig.

"The fiddle, they also say, is the closest instrument to the human voice and with the melding of the European culture and the Indigenous culture here, came one of the most beautiful cultures in the world, the Métis people. And also, out of it came customs, language, stories & music. We have distinct and very unique rhythms and melodies. We either drop-off a note sometimes from the 16 or we add one or two grace notes, so it very often sounds like a fiddler is playing out of time."

Most families and communities had a beloved fiddle player, and the fiddle was played at home for entertainment and for most celebrations. Despite the lack of formal training, many Métis became master fiddle players. Most learned to play the fiddle by watching and learning from family members. Being excellent craftsmen, the Métis people made their own fiddles out of wood readily available in the area including birch and maple wood.

The first recognized composer of Métis songs was Pierre Falcon (1793-1876) who wrote: "La Bataille des Sept Chênes" or "La Chanson de la Grenouillère" ("The Battle of Seven Oaks" or "The Ballad of Frog Plain"). Falcon's songs are mainly about the Métis' martial prowess and their bison-hunting lifestyle. His songs were handed down through the Oral Tradition and as a result, many variations exist. Louis Riel also wrote some notable Métis songs, including "C'est au Champ de Bataille" (The Battlefield), also known as "De Tous Champs de Bataille" or "L'adieu de Riel" ("Riel's Farewell") and "La Métisse" ("The Métis Girl").

One of the most famous Métis fiddle tunes accompanies the most well-known dance, The Red River Jig, which is considered by some to be the unofficial Métis anthem. The first recorded reference to the Red River Jig was in 1860, when Mr. Macdallas played the tune for the wedding dance of a Métis couple. Father Père Brocher, who conducted the marriage ceremony, named the tune the "Red River Jig."

Sources:

[1] www.louisrielinstitute.ca/music-a-dance.php
[2] https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/music-and-dance

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