Members of the Fiddleheads and Nanaimo fiddle ensemble — Fiddelium — during a fiddle collaboration earlier this season. (Kat Bunker/Submitted)

Northern Fiddlestorm forecast for Yukon Arts Centre

More than 80 fiddlers will be on stage for year-end performance

There’s a storm a-comin’— a Northern Fiddlestorm that is.

On May 5, the Fiddleheads of Whitehorse will be joined by the Valley Youth Fiddlers of Smithers, B.C., as part of the Fiddleheads’ year-end performance — Northern Fiddlestorm — with James Stephens of Chelsea, Que., directing the show.

The collaboration is part of an effort by both fiddling groups to create greater connections in the wider fiddling community. Artistic directors from both groups described the community as an extended family of sorts.

“It seemed like a perfect fit,” Leslie-Jean MacMillan, artistic director of the Valley Youth Fiddlers said of performing with the Fiddleheads.

She’s seen lifelong friendships formed over a shared interest in music.

It’s not uncommon to run into the same people at various fiddle camps held throughout the country. Over time those connections can evolve into strong friendships, she said.

Whitehorse and Smithers have a lot of similarities when it comes to fiddling, officials with each group pointed out. Both got their start as youth fiddling groups (though the Smithers group has grown to now include adults as well) around the same time in the late 1990s, have worked with many of the same mentors and follow a similar structure.

They are also faced with the same challenge of many northern organizations in the cost and time to travel to gain more experience, tour and take in camps to improve their skills. In this case, the Youth Valley Fiddlers are able to travel to Whitehorse thanks to a couple of grants from an arts fund and through lotteries funding.

The Valley Youth Fiddlers boasts about 100 fiddlers in total, with 53 youth and two mentors travelling to Whitehorse for a weekend full of activities culminating in the May 5 performance.

After leaving Smithers on May 2 they stopped in Dease Lake, B.C. for a performance before moving on to Whitehorse.

“Keitha’s built in a lot of fun activities,” MacMillan said, speaking of Fiddleheads’ artistic director Keitha Clark.

A big aim of the entire weekend is for the fiddlers to form friendships and learn new music and techniques. Jam sessions, musical workshops and making sure the visitors get to take in the sites and sounds of Whitehorse are all part of the plan along with getting ready for the show.

The Fiddleheads have also done collaborations with other groups, though this is the largest. Past experiences have contributed to significant growth for many of the fiddlers, Clark said.

A group from Nanaimo, B.C. here during Rendezvous to work with the Fiddleheads is already talking about coming back to the territory.

Clark said it’s possible the Northern Fiddlestorm is the largest fiddle collaboration to happen in the North.

The first part of the show will feature the Fiddleheads celebrating French Canadian culture, going back to the introduction of the instrument in Canada 350 years ago. There will also be more contemporary tunes and The Best of Franco-Yukonnaise, a fun mini-play directed by Brian Fidler.

The play has provided an added benefit of giving some of the Fiddleheads who are enrolled in French Immersion programs an opportunity to practice their French language skills outside of the classroom in a bilingual performance, Clark said.

Following the Fiddleheads part of the performance will be Act II, featuring the Valley Youth Fiddlers performing “fun and frenetic fiddle tunes from afar.”

Along with more Francophone songs there will also be a number of Nordic tunes, giving the audience a flavour of Scandinavian fiddle music.

Just as the Whitehorse group has a mini-play planned into their performance, the Smithers group will incorporate storytelling into their part of the show.

The concert will conclude with both fiddle groups on stage, performing together.

As both Clark and MacMillan said, planning for those final — with more than 80 fiddlers on stage at one time — is a challenge, but it’s one they’re excited for.

And it likely wouldn’t happen without the help of many volunteers.

“It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes organization,” Clark said.

Fiddle music enthusiasts in Watson Lake will also have a chance to take in the sounds of the Valley Youth Fiddlers with the group scheduled to stop there on the drive back to Smithers for a performance.

The group expects to be back in Smithers by May 7.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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