Welcome to the Michigan Fiddle . Com project. The goal is to study, make accessible, and promote Michigan Fiddling. Currently, there is a good variety of materials already posted, but there is far more that is still waiting to be put on the website, so check back as we continue to move collections onto the website.
This may be one of the most exciting things I've stumbled upon in a long time!
I enjoyed reading the information on your site regarding Patrick Bonner: http://www.michiganfiddle.com/patrick-bonner-history-and-interviews. I had the distinct pleasure of watching him play his fiddle shortly before he died. My mother's sister was married to Robert Bonner, Patrick's son. I traveled with the Bonner family on a trip to the old Bonner farm on Beaver Island during one summer in the mid-1970's (76 or 77). At that time, Patrick would have been in his 90's, and I remember him being a frail old man that couldn't hear and didn't speak. He was also blind in one eye, I believe from a chip off of a railroad spike (one of the odd jobs he had during his life).
Watching him play was something I will never forget, and a story I have repeated many times in my life. On one of the evenings after dinner, my uncle helped his Dad from the kitchen to the front screened-in porch. He yelled into Patrick’s ear “Dad! Do you want to play the fiddle?!?” And a slight nod of the head by Patrick was the only thing that indicated there was still life in his frail old shell. My uncle physically placed the neck of the fiddle into his left hand, nestled the chin cup under his chin and then positioned the bow in his right hand. There sat this old man … motionless … with a fiddle positioned at the ready. My uncle then yelled “Dad! How about you play … (some tune name)”?!? Suddenly … without warning … Patrick’s foot started stomping and this statue came to life. His bow hand was flailing left and right, the foot kept stomping and his fingers were dancing on the strings. He would play until the song was over, and then just as suddenly as he started, return to his motionless but poised position. Then, my uncle would yell another tune name, and the whole thing would start over again. This was repeated many times until they felt he was tired, and they removed the fiddle and put him to bed. I believe Patrick died later that year and was buried on the island. I again accompanied my Aunt the following summer to Beaver Island to help get things prepared for moving Partick's wife from the island to a senior care center in (I believe) Grand Rapids. Even though I was in my early teens, I remember this being a sad somber occasion. This woman had lived her entire life on the island, and she was leaving now to never return. The old farm is long gone, only the foundation remains. But the memories remain. The real question is this: What ever happened to the fiddle? Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.
Note from Trae: the Bonner fiddle is currently in possession of Glenn Hendrix, on loan from the family, and often travels back to Beaver Island. For more information about the fiddle, see Hendrix' book of Beaver Island tune transcriptions.
Thanks to fellow fiddler James LaForest for sending this link to me a while ago. It is an obituary of Elmer Askwith, an interesting fiddler and person from the Soo.
Biography of Anne Lederman:
Originally from Manitoba, Anne Lederman is a fiddler, singer and mutli-instrumentalist, composer and researcher. She has performed and recorded under her own name and with many artists and groups such as Muddy York, The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, Njacko Backo, her own group, Fiddlesong, and, most recently, Eh?!. A former Associate Professor of Music at York, she is known especially for her research on Aboriginal fiddle traditions in Canada. In 1986, she produced a 4-album archival set (now a double CD), Old Native and Métis Fiddling in Manitoba. She has also published the first two parts of a 3-part Teaching series: Tamarack’er Down: A Guide to Celtic-Canadian Fiddling Through Rhythm. Anne is also the founding Artistic Director of Worlds of Music Toronto and currently teaches Canadian Fiddling at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, as well as at camps and Festivals throughout the country.
It is interesting that Elliot considers the radio and jazz to be "nasty" (although he is perhaps referring to Ford). Up here, the radio was an incredibly important disseminator of old time music across the country for a long time. Yes, it possibly hastened the demise of some older regional styles, but those were choices that musicians made, i.e., to try to copy what they were hearing. In my view, it is really no different than the influence of one player traveling to a remote community in the 19th century and inspiring others to play, or to change the way they played. We know for a fact that whole fiddle traditions in remote communities in Canada can be attributed to the initial influence of one traveling trader. Then they evolved along their own lines, in keeping with the culture they became part of.
On another note, our best-known form of "Old TIme" music, that of Don Messer, was a completely new hybrid of the 1930s - 1950s, incorporating (I hear some of you shudder) swing music. It is often not to my personal taste (I tend to go for older styles, as do many more recent urban converts to traditional fiddling.) But in a kind of ironic turn, Don Messer style is now, itself, considered somewhat "old-fashioned" even amongst "Old TIme" players, those who perceive themselves to be carrying on that tradition. Further, many of the more recent takes on traditional fiddling up here - contemporary Irish, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, French-Canadian or other Canadian bands, are building on those much older, pre-Messer traditions, and doing things that the elders probably do not like, without apology. I think everyone makes their own decisions about where the "respect" line actually is. It's not always about pleasing the elders, in my experience (often an impossible task). It is about acknowledging them. The fiddlers who don't, always seem a bit ungrounded and off-kilter to me, personally and professionally.
Also interesting that Elliot feels he did the wrong things to preserve the traditions, even though, by his own admission, there are elders now who did learn the old style who are still with us. I would join Elliot in urging Trae and younger players to learn and pass on the old tunes along with their own personal statements. I think that both can be managed and that both are richer for it. It seems to me that this is exactly what Trae is doing, both through this site, and through his research, writing, playing and teaching. Making the music available is what matters. Then those who are inspired by it can take up the torch and run with it any way they want to. Which, of course, they will, whether anyone approves or not.