Ethnography of Fiddle/Canadian fiddle

Canadian fiddle is the opus or aggregate body of tunes, styles and musicians engaging the traditional folk music of Canada on the fiddle. It is an integral extension of the Anglo-Celtic and Quebecois French[1] folk music tradition but has distinct features found only in the Western hemisphere[2] Styles listed in the Canadian Encyclopeia are "Scottish, Cape Breton, Ukrainian-Canadian, French-Canadian, Acadian, Newfoundland, Ottawa Valley, Down-East, Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit, or Métis fiddling, among others".[3] Due to immigration and cross-border commerce, American interpretation of traditional Canadian fiddle music is part of the American fiddle repertoire just as is Irish fiddle.[4]

Natalie MacMaster 2007.jpg

Secondary sourcesEdit

David Reiner and Peter Anick collaborated on collecting 66 tunes for Mel Bays' Old Time Fiddling Across America which outlines several influences on what they call Northeastern Fiddling Styles: Cape Breton, French-Canadian (Quebecois) and Maritime.[5] Frank Ferrel, author of Boston Fiddle, uses the term Down East fiddle or Boston fiddle to refer to an eclectic blend of Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton (Canadian) styles.


Much of Canadian fiddling is transmitted to new generations through oral tradition (aural tradition) at regional and national fiddler's meetups in Canada and the US.[6] The traditional authentic means of learning to play is based upon an oral tradition as with all folk music forms but it is not uncommon for musicians to learn by listening to CD's or by reading from material such as The Fiddler's Fakebook. Aside from instruction, the traditions are maintained by Old Time Fiddler's Associations throughout North America.[7]

The Fiddler's Fakebook, by David Brody, is a collection of fiddle tunes in lead sheet form (naturally without lyrics.) It includes Canadian fiddle tunes.

Videographic documentationEdit

Sierra's Song from the 2006 documentary, evinces spoon percussion with commentary by ethnomusicologist Lynn Whidden, who compares percussive bowing and foot tapping with aboriginal drumming. Note the decorative fabric hanging from the violin scroll, not atypical of Northern styles and perhaps an artifact of indigenous ornamentation traditions. Chantal Boulanger Quebec Student of Mark Sullivan in Brussels - Quebec-style foot percussion work.


Smithsonian Folkways has compiled the award-winning album Mademoiselle, Voulez-Vous Danser?: Franco-American Music from the New England Borderlands [8] which lists several familiar tunes including:

  • Devil's Dream
  • St. Anne's Reel
  • Liberty (Medley with the above)
  • Growling Old Man, Growling Old Woman
  • Red WIng
  • Valse des Pasteureaux (Shepard's Waltz)
  • Turlutte

Composed music in the traditionEdit

Traditional music is an aural tradition [9] and as such consists of predominantly public domain material. Nevertheless, experienced musicians who are solidly anchored in tradition do from time to time compose pieces which remain within the strictures of tradition. Generally, it is only the old timers of young proteges of leading proponents of a tradition who can compose and have their music accepted into the canon.

  • Reel Boule de Neige (W) -- Joseph Allard. Recorded it in 1932. Steve Muise also on the Maine Fiddle Camp CD in 2003.
  • Caribou Reel—Andy de Jarlis, Manito As played by Marcel Meilleur many notes sharped at least a quarter tone; quite a few all the way from C to C# and G to G#. But does not play the D# at the end of the B-part "that would otherwise be a distinctive feature of the tune".
  • Reel de Chateauguay—Joseph Allard,Chateauguay, (1873-?) Quebec recorded 1929.


  1. Mel Bay Danse Ce Soir: Fiddle And Accordion Music Of Quebec Book/CD Set [Paperback] Laurie Hart (Author), Greg Sandell
  2. ref name=Reiner |David Reiner and Peter Anick|Mel Bays' Old Time Fiddling Across America|1989
  4. Frank Ferrell|Boston Fiddle|Mel Bay
  5. REiner
  8. Mademoiselle, Voulez-Vous Danser?: Franco-American Music from the New England Borderlands|Various Artists SFW40116 |2000|
  9. See for instance ethnographer comments in the Metis documentary in the section on Metis fiddle

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