Traditional musical instruments of the Metis include the fiddle, the concertina, the harmonica, the hand drum, the mouth harp, and finger instruments such as bones or spoons. The main instrument is the fiddle and in the early days, fiddles were hard to obtain and expensive. The Metis simply made their own from maple wood and birch bark. Unlike other forms of music, traditional Metis style fiddle music is not contained in a bar structure and this creates a bounce to the tune that is unique to North America and can still be heard across Northwestern Canada and the United States.
Metis style fiddle music is an oral tradition handed down for many centuries. The fiddle plays the melody, tells the story, and many Metis legends are recorded in fiddle tunes. Rhythm is supplied by toe tapping or spoons and the uneven and irregular beats of the fiddle creates a bounce in Metis jigging that is as unique as the fiddling itself. The extra beats make the Metis jig a rapid moving dance and though similar to the Scots - Irish stepdance, the Metis jig is definitely unique in style.
Another Metis tradition is called Turtulage. This is essentially the beating out of rhythm with spoons or heels, accompanied by syllables hummed to simple melodies. If a baby is handy, the baby is bounced on a friendly knee, introducing little ones to Metis music in the cradle.
The traditional dance of the Metis include the Waltz Quadrille, the Square dance, Drops of Brandy, the Duck dance, La Double Gigue and the Red River Jig which is the dance most widely known. To play the Red River Jig, the Fiddle is tuned differently, the bottom string is raised from a G up to A. The Red River Jig is a special piece of fiddle music that is played and danced in two sections. When the fiddle plays the high section, the dancer does a fancy jig step. Many Metis jiggers could perform up to fifty fancy steps.
The survival of traditional Metis style fiddle music depends solely on the dedication and commitment of the older generations of Metis fiddlers to continue to play the oral traditional tunes and style and to teach the younger generations, and other fiddlers who are eager to learn Metis style fiddling. Traditional Metis dancing can survive only as long as the tunes can be remembered in the fiddle. The Metis Resource Centre is committed to cultural preservation of the Traditional Music and Dance of the Metis, and is adding to the collections of oral Metis style fiddlers on audio tape, whether home taped or published, also video taped Metis fiddlers and dancers. Workshops on "Introduction to Metis style Fiddle music" are being held at the Metis Resource Centre on Wednesday evenings during the fall and over the winter under the instruction of Metis fiddler Tommy Knott who had been fiddling for 50 years.
Article by: Audreen Hourie
Cultural and Historical Researcher for: