Keeping a rare culture alive

Kate Weekes remembers reading about how John Lennon felt bad for Bob Dylan. He was sympathizing with the loneliness Dylan must have felt being a musician all on his own.

Kate Weekes remembers reading about how John Lennon felt bad for Bob Dylan.

He was sympathizing with the loneliness Dylan must have felt being a musician all on his own.

Lennon had Paul, Ringo and George to share the experience with.

Weekes is a young singer/songwriter who now knows how it feels from both sides.

She released her own CD, filled with original tunes inspired by the Yukon landscape and her experiences within it, in 2007.

This week, as the guitarist with the group Home Sweet Home, Weekes will be playing alongside bandmates Keitha Clark and Boyd Benjamin to release their self-titled album.

While some of Weekes’ originals make it on the track list, the focus of the group is the fiddles, and for a good reason.

The group has taken it upon themselves to keep Old Crow fiddling alive.

The Old Crow style is unique, said Clark, an experienced fiddler and instructor.

The reason for that is more than just its “crooked timing with extra beats.”

Old Crow fiddling developed in a distinctive way, she said.

The village’s fiddling style is a group thing. Fiddling generally only happens at dances and gatherings and, so, it stays in a lively, jigging genre.

But the learning process in the northern, fly-in community is a one-person job.

“Every fiddler in Old Crow has their own individual style,” said Clark. “They would’ve learned from going to dances then going home and trying to learn the tunes on their own.”

That self-taught approach is uncommon in mainstream fiddling culture, Clark said.

And the instrument is still fairly young in the remote community.

But while the fiddle was only introduced to Old Crow through Hudson’s Bay fur traders in Fort Yukon around 100 years ago, it has taken over the musical culture of the small Gwitch’in community.

“Fiddle music is much more than the music itself, it’s tied to a culture,” Clark said. “I think in Canada, especially the West Coast, we don’t have a lot of those cultural ties anymore. Whereas in Old Crow, that fiddle culture has been there for 100 years, or maybe a little bit more, and it’s still there and it’s thriving. It’s continued in an unbroken chain.

“To go to a square dance in Old Crow where people are dancing and know all the steps and no one has to teach them – it’s just there cause they’ve been around it all their life, it’s pretty special. That doesn’t happen in a lot of places anymore in Canada.

“Culture comes through in the rhythm of the music.”

That culture’s youthfulness has proven an interesting teaching guide for the fiddlers.

The reason being that every song and every version can still be traced back to its originator.

The group’s mentor, Allan Benjamin, has a very individual sound because he cross-tunes his fiddle, Clark explains.

“You can trace the direct tune genealogy,” said Clark. “Like, Allan will say, ‘You’re the fourth person ever to play this version of this tune.’ So you can trace the version of a tune back that far, directly to someone like Archie Linklater, which you can’t do in other areas that have become so convoluted with outside influences.”

The CD’s track listing pays homage to this distinct characteristic of the work.

After each track, in parenthesis, is the originator’s name.

At least two show the name Allan Benjamin.

The renowned Vuntut Gwitch’in fiddler, snowshoer and cartoonist was intrinsic to the group’s work.

“Allan was great,” Clark said. “I was really worried about how open the fiddlers were going to be in the Yukon with sharing their music with me, and Allan has been super generous with passing on the tradition and he’s just made it clear that he wants it to continue.”

But Home Sweet Home’s songs are not exact replicas of the originals.

The most drastic difference is that there are twin fiddles, unlike the traditional Old Crow style of a sole set of strings.

As well, the group tried to adapt some of the tunes, making them less dance-floor friendly, tweaking them to an audience-style performance.

But the disc’s overall goal is to keep the culture alive.

“Fiddle music, it’s a social instrument and if you can’t get together and have fun and play it, it loses its spirit,” said Clark. “It’s just been great to be able to share those tunes with Kate and Boyd and share them with whoever wants to listen. That’s what makes it fun and makes it relevant. “

Despite it’s remoteness, Old Crow is no different than any other community across the world. Older generations are finding it harder and harder to compete with television, computers and video games when trying to pass on traditional skills to their children.

Home Sweet Home is releasing the CD in Old Crow this Wednesday because they have received funding to visit the community’s school to teach the instrument.

“Keitha has a couple of kids songs that she’s written that talk about fiddling in the North, so when we work with the kids they learn that,” said Weekes. “It’s another way for them to connect to the fiddle history here.”

“It’s a celebration of Gwitch’in fiddle music,” Clark says of the group’s music at large. “It’s fun, it’s lively, you’ll go home feeling good after coming to one of our concerts.”

Home Sweet Home will be released at the Old Crow Community Centre today at 7:30 p.m. and in Whitehorse on Friday at the Copper Moon Gallery. The Whitehorse show starts at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $20 (Adults), $10 (students) and are available at Unitech, Dean’s Strings and the gallery.

The band will also be playing this year’s Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Whitehorse at 6 p.m. on June 11 and they will be at the Atlin Music Festival in BC from July 8 to 10.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

The now empty lot at 410 Cook Street in Whitehorse on Jan. 19. As developers move forward with plans for a housing development that would feature 16 micro-units, they are asking city council for a zoning change that would reduce the number of required parking spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Developer asks for zoning change

Would reduce the number of required parking spaces

The Liard First Nation is preparing to enter negotiations for self-governance with the territorial and federal governments. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
Liard First Nation preparing to enter self-governance negotiations with Yukon, federal governments

Chief Stephen Charlie seeking an agreement separate from “dead end” UFA

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Jan. 20, 2021

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Most Read