Fiddle & Song

see below for additional resources on traditional music in the Great Lakes

French Canadian culture is steeped in traditional forms of music. Although many pursuits, such as hunting and trapping, playing fiddle, and passing on oral traditions may seem outdated and increasingly unpopular, they provide an important understanding of the development of French Canadian culture in Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and throughout what historically was New France.

Fiddle and folk music, for example, remains a very popular pursuit among musicians from Louisiana to Quebec and New England. There are many styles of traditional fiddle and as many wonderful songs to go with it, rooted in the French cultures of North America. A new generation of musicians from these areas are not just revitalizing fiddle music, they are carrying on a tradition of music that stretches back hundreds of years. Examples from outside the Michigan area are Feufollet from Louisiana, Dennis Stroughmatt playing Missouri Creole Fiddle, Daniel Boucher of Connecticut, master fiddler Donna Hébert of Massachusetts, metis fiddler Sierra Noble of Manitoba, and Le Vent du Nord of Quebec.

In Michigan, fiddle playing was once a vibrant part of the French Canadian culture. The music included both local, improvised music and music that was part of the wider musical canon of French Canada, including songs common throughout the Francophone world. There exists an extensive repertoire of traditional folk songs that were once commonly heard across the Great Lakes.

Two scholars have done extensive work which has allowed this music to remain accessible to a new generation who might take up the fiddle once again. In the 1930s musicologist and folklorist Alan Lomax collected recordings of traditional fiddle playing from French Canadians around Michigan. These recordings have long been held on wax cylinders at the Library of Congress. They were digitized as part of a project to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Lomax’s trip to the Great Lakes in the Michigan 1938 Project. This project includes an e-book, podcasts, and a set of forthcoming CDs in addition to a traveling exhibit.

Marcel Beneteau, an ethnologist and folklorist at the University of Sudbury Ontario has collected hundreds of regional French folk songs. In addition he has issued many renditions of these songs on his own set of compact discs available through the Windsor, Ontario’s community museum. Beneteau’s work can be more fully explored through his entry on the Detroit River region’s French music in the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America.

Finally, Medicine Fiddle, a film of deep cultural interest to French Canadians, Metis people, and Native Americans alike, was produced in 1991 by sociologist Michael Loukinen. This film traces the influence of French Fur Trade on the Metis and Native peoples in the United States and Canada. The songs that are heard in this film are not unlike the many Voyageur and lumbering songs recorded by scholars such as Grace Nute and others in scholarly works throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Traditional Music Resources

Michigan Fiddlers Search for “French Canadian” and “Metis”
La Compagnie
Michigan I-O: Alan Lomax and the 1938 Library of Congress Folk-Song Expedition

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