Benjamin takes fiddle classics on a solo spin

Boyd Benjamin may be flying solo with his latest recording, but that doesn't mean the Gwitch'in fiddler has forgotten his roots. "It's sort of like a favourites-type of album," he said of the 11 songs on Flying Gwitch'in Fiddler.

Boyd Benjamin may be flying solo with his latest recording, but that doesn’t mean the Gwitch’in fiddler has forgotten his roots.

“It’s sort of like a favourites-type of album,” he said of the 11 songs on Flying Gwitch’in Fiddler. The songs, many Canadian fiddle standards in the public domain, were chosen based on how he’s seen audiences respond to them.

He’s had plenty of time to test the music. He plays with guitarist Kevin Barr across the country, and Benjamin regularly performs throughout Whitehorse. People have been encouraging him to record a solo album for years, he said.

“I didn’t want to record songs that nobody knew about and nobody had heard before. I wanted familiar songs that people could enjoy, and for ease of listening, and for the fun of it,” he said.

But recording was fairly stressful at times. The first challenge was finding time to make the album. Benjamin, 29, works full time as a pilot for Alkan Air Ltd. Between music and flying, he’s managing two very different careers, he said.

“I don’t know,” he laughed when asked how he found the time to record. “I’d like to know that myself.”

“You just put one foot in front of the other,” he said.

And recording presented specific challenges.

This wasn’t Benjamin’s first trip to the studio. In 2011, he released Home Sweet Home with Kate Weekes and Keitha Clark. Playing alone made him a little nervous, he said. In a group, members gain confidence by feeding off each other, but this time, all the responsibility was now on him, said Benjamin.

After the band recorded its parts, Benjamin would return to Bob Hamilton’s Whitehorse studio to record the fiddle portions. There, it was just him and the engineer. His only audience was a microphone.

“It’s hard to stay motivated in that instance. Because what you’re trying to do is capture the right moment in the studio, and to get those moments, you need that motivation, you need that drive inside you to allow that to flow through to your instrument, and then out. And that’s what we’re looking for in the studio, and you have to force yourself to feel that inside and somehow let that out,” he said.

To find that motivation, Benjamin relied on his formal music training and he’d picture people dancing to give the emotional inspiration he needed for the performances.

More than with any other instrument he plays, he has the strongest connection to the fiddle, he said. He’s been dreaming of making a solo album since his childhood, and he wanted to make sure he made a fiddle album before venturing on any other musical projects.

Benjamin began playing music in Grade 5 with band instruments: the trombone, horn and baritone. He didn’t pick up a fiddle until he was 14. But the instrument has always been very personal to him. He associates it with his home: Old Crow.

Born in Whitehorse, Benjamin grew up in British Columbia and Alberta, but returned to the Yukon for high school. He spent his summers in Old Crow, and he’s always considered the fly-in community his home, he said. His dad lives there, and it was on a summer trip back from British Columbia to visit his father that Benjamin first began playing the fiddle.

“I really just took a big, big interest in it,” he said.

He kept practising throughout the summer, aided by his uncle, fiddler Allan Benjamin.

When he returned to British Columbia, he took the fiddle with him.

“That was sort of my connection to my home, you know, in Old Crow,” he said. “And having left, it gave me hope. Not only, ‘Soon I’ll go back home,’ but that was a bit of my home that I brought with me when I was away.”

Old Crow has a unique fiddling culture, he said. “When you hear an Old Crow fiddler, you can almost tell it’s an Old Crow fiddler. It’s just unique.”

Fur traders introduced the instrument to the village, and brought Celtic-inspired songs with it, but the Old Crow musicians didn’t have any formal training, he said. They hadn’t learned proper tuning techniques, or even the correct way to hold the instrument. “You just sort of did it any old way and you made the melody sound, just a makeshift self-taught sort of thing.”

As a result, the music has a “crooked timing.” The number of beats in a bar can vary often throughout a song.

As a pilot, Benjamin has travelled to various northern communities, and he brings his fiddle with him. Finding a fiddler for dances in some locations in Alaska and the Northwest Territories can be difficult, but that’s not true in Old Crow, he said. “It’s an active part of the way of life up there,” said Benjamin, who has taught the fiddle to students in the fly-in community.

He doesn’t know when he’ll be heading back to teach, but this new project will keep him busy. Besides playing at Rendezvous in February, he’s also travelling to Ontario in April, British Columbia in July and Saskatchewan in August.

What will happen next with his music is still a mystery to him.

“I’m on a journey with my music as well, and my life and career. I’m just sort of taking it as it comes,” he said. “And I’m just here doing it. I’m living it. I’m actively pursuing it. It’s something I really want. Whatever comes of it, however it may be, I’ll be open to whatever. As long as I still get to play music and enjoy it and play for the people, I think that’s what it’s about for me.”

Flying Gwitch’in Fiddler will be released on Jan. 11. There will be a release party at the Yukon Arts Centre at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announce the first COVID-19 related death in a press conference announcement Friday morning. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
UPDATED: Yukon announces first COVID-19-related death

The person was an older Watson Lake resident with underlying health conditions, officials said

Wyatt's World for Oct. 30.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Oct. 30

Health Minister Pauline Frost insists no one who shows up at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter for dinner will go without a meal, despite no drop-in dinner service being offered starting on Nov. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Non-profits concerned as Whitehorse Emergency Shelter ends drop-in dinner service

Minister Pauline Frost insists everyone who needs one ‘will be provided with a meal.’

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29. Affordability challenges is being described as being among the most pressing issues facing housing markets throughout the north in a report released Oct. 29 by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Home, rent prices increasing in Whitehorse, northern housing report says

Affordability continues to be a major challenge, report says

Premier Sandy Silver talks to media in Whitehorse on March 19. According to the premier, who is also the finance minister, the Yukon government ran a $2.6 million deficit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, instead of the surplus it had originally predicted. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government ran a $2.6 million deficit in 2019-2020

Deficit attributed to lower-than-expected revenue, higher expenses on health and social side

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and management roundtable discussion Sept. 26, 2019. During an Oct. 29 meeting, Constable highlighted a number of potential changes to the City of Whitehorse procedures bylaw. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Work on City of Whitehorse procedures bylaw continues

Officials will look at procedures for other municipalities

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley at a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Aug. 26. Hanley said the source of the outbreak in Watson Lake may not ever be found, but contact tracing in the community continues. (Alistair Maitland Photography)
New Whitehorse COVID-19 case is unrelated to Watson Lake cluster, officials say

Chief medical officer of health says avoid indoor Halloween parties, monitor for symptoms

Joel Krahn/Yukon News file Whitehorse City Hall.
Whitehorse city council, briefly

Updates on matters before city council on Oct. 26

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
GoFundMe for Whitehorse boy hit by car on Range Road raises more than $62k in a day

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3 hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council passed first reading on a bylaw for the designation change at its Oct. 26 meeting, prompting an upcoming public hearing on Nov. 23 ahead of second reading on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Local contractors will be given an advantage on a contract for the design and construction services that will see a new reception building at Robert Service Campground decided city councillors during the Oct. 26 council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local firms will get advantage on contract for new Robert Service Campground building

Yukon-based companies competing for contract for new reception building will receive 20 extra points

Fallen trees due to strong winds are seen leaning on to power lines which caused some power outages around the territory on Oct. 26. (Courtesy of ATCO)
Wind knocks out power around the Yukon

High winds on Oct. 26 knocked out power to Faro, parts of Whitehorse and beyond

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

Most Read