Trent Bruner

You are here:    Home > News > THE NEWS FROM BRUNER'S BROOD - AUGUST 18, 2018
Hello everyone!

I hope your summer activities have continued to go well for you. This update is released as an article for Facebook and Parts of this article were also published in the August 16th, 2018 edition of the Shellbrook Chronicle weekly newspaper in Shellbrook, Saskatchewan.

On Tuesday, August 7th, John Arcand, the “Master of the Metis Fiddle” from southwest of Saskatoon, visited the Canwood Library for a fiddle presentation and interview that revolved around the recent book release “John Arcand: The Man, The Music, The Festival.”  This book, released by the Gabriel Dumont Institute, provides a summary of John’s personal and musical life, his artistic accomplishments and the growth of the annual John Arcand Fiddle Fest that happens every August at his Windy Acres residence.

With a standing room only audience from Canwood, Debden, Shellbrook and as far away as Petersfield, Manitoba, John was assisted and interviewed by Trent Bruner on piano. Accompanying John was guest fiddler Fay MacKenzie of Orillia, Ontario.  The three together shared many stories about his family and musical roots in the Debden and Batoche districts, how he started playing the fiddle, the way he began composing fiddle tunes, the history behind how he began making fiddles, what led him to become a dance fiddler and teacher, how music as community became a part of his life, the roles he played in bringing fiddlers together and how this all became a part of his musical legacy.

While John began learning how to play a two stringed fiddle at home at a young age, he also shared how he started accompanying his father, Victor Arcand on the mandolin and said how he didn’t like to play mandolin in the end, but later chose guitar instead. During his youth, John sought out various materials to make a homemade fiddle such as spare boards, match sticks and homemade glue, but the materials that were available for him to use did not bring the best sound out as he had hoped. But this did not deter him from developing this craft in later life. As of the interview, he acquired blueprints to make violins, and through trial and error, eventually made 56 fiddles as of August 7th, 2018. For this presentation, he and Fay played number 36 and number 32 respectively.

John began to play old time dances at a young age with family and friends and has since played as a house fiddler for Red River Jigging contests throughout Western Canada, most notably at Back to Batoche Days in Batoche, Saskatchewan. He has played for dances and concerts at various venues throughout Canada and the northern United States, as well as performing in Ireland. He has also judged many fiddle contests as well as competed at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition in the early 1990s. He became an original fiddle instructor at the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp (Canada’s first ever fiddle camp) in 1988, which not only gave John a chance to teach, but also provided a platform for John to feature his own compositions and also develop his composing craft, most often with Alberta fiddler Calvin Vollrath.

John Arcand is also a composer of over 390 original fiddle tunes either by himself or with others, and has 16 album releases to his credit. When asked how he composes a tune, John answered that it could be a simple thought about a person, place or thing that inspires a melody. When he was invited to submit tunes to be published in a 1990 compilation book titled “Canadian Fiddle Music Volume 1,” he had some new tunes recorded on a cassette, which were recorded over by his children. With this publishing opportunity before him, John called me to perform with him at “The Ecological Fair” (the forerunner of the Ness Creek Festival) at Ness Creek, Saskatchewan and to visit his house over that weekend to notate these tunes for him in July 1989. Once these tunes were notated, John sent these tunes to Ottawa fiddler Ed Whitcomb for publication in the 1990 release. Because John has composed so many fiddle tunes by himself and with others, the John Arcand Fiddle Fest Board of Directors decided to institute a John Arcand repertoire class on the Friday afternoon of his contest. This class runs one round for the novice (12 and under) class, junior (18 and under) class, Adult (19-54) and Senior (55 and over), which is a testament and acknowledgement to John’s creativity and the power of music to recognize history and people, encourage and preserve folk culture tradition and provide a platform for its future growth and the people who are in this tradition.

Another facet of John’s musical life is his desire to see fiddle tradition passed down to the youth. John’s volunteer service on the Saskatchewan Fiddle Committee that assisted in local contest development, contest judging workshops, the Saskatchewan Fiddling Championship, the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp, and the establishment of the Traditional Fiddling class at various fiddle contests in Western Canada are samples of the contributions he made at a provincial level that reached both inside and outside Saskatchewan. His vision and encouraging of the founding of the Parkland Fiddlers in 1989 and a local contest under this body that went from 1990-2007, were also shared and discussed with the audience. Each of these committees and organizations were stepping stones leading to the vision of giving back to fiddle music by way of his own Fiddle Fest that began in 1998 in Greencourt, Alberta. In 1999, the event moved to its present location at Windy Acres, southwest of Saskatoon.  It is part of this passion for fiddle and folk culture that John has received the Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Award, a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Association, the Molson Prize from the Canada Council on the Arts, and was installed a member of The Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honour.

On the theme of youth, in later years, he has been teaching fiddle for one week a month to Grade Five students at Ile-a-la-Crosse during the school year, as well as giving private lessons from his craft shop where he makes his fiddles. He has taught at various fiddle camps such as the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp and the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party. As a follow up, Canwood youth fiddler Becky Wilson, a student of Shellbrook area fiddler Kerri English, was invited to play with John, Fay and Trent to conclude the sixty minute presentation. Refreshments and visiting followed.

John Arcand: The Man, The Music, The Festival (or “The Book of John,” as John smilingly refers to it,) may be borrowed through Canwood’s Public Library. The next article will feature my time at the 21st annual John Arcand Fiddle Fest from August 9th-12th, 2018. Until next time, see you somewhere down the musical trail!

Musically yours, Trent