From Paris to the Prairies: A Concert of Métis Song

Photo: Brandon University

BRANDON – Few Prairie music lovers know that they live amid a rich repertoire of songs from medieval France, from Parisian dance halls, from Quebec, and some created right here in the Northwest Territories.

On October 29, 2017, you will have opportunity to hear Ray St. Germain, Brandon University students, Garry Lepine, Conlin Delbaere-Sawchuk (of Métis Fiddler Quartet), and Indigenous drummer Debbie Huntinghawk join their musical talents to recreate the songs—a musical experiment. The concert will begin at 3 p.m., at the Lorne Watson Recital Hall.

The concert is being arranged by Brandon University Professor Emerita Dr. Lynn Whidden, an ethnomusicologist whose teaching has helped to maintain use of local Indigenous traditions. She has also produced academic work on the music of Indigenous communities that has been referenced in Canada, the United States and Europe and received the Alumni Award for Career Achievement at this past weekend’s BU Homecoming 2017.

This month Whidden was also in Innsbruck, Austria, presenting a sound history of this area and on the Plains during the lifetime of Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, 1837 to 1906.

“During that time, the bison disappeared, the passenger pigeons went extinct, reserves were created,” she said.

“Dumont saw drastic changes right here on the Prairies. This is what I have documented — and some of those (Prairie Métis) songs live on.”

Many of the songs come from Real Boucher, a Métis who grew up in St. Louis, Saskatchewan. Several years ago, he sent Whidden 55 of his songs (there are many more) asking that they be preserved and performed—singing the songs is the best way to keep them alive.

“Songs and music are such a rich part of Métis culture and history, and there is such a vibrant Métis population in Brandon, this is going to be a fantastic concert,” said Chris Lagimodiere, Director of the Indigenous Peoples’ Centre at BU. Brandon University will also be hosting the 2018 Louis Riel Day celebrations.

Definitely on the concert program is Real’s song Francoeur, also sent just a year earlier to Whidden from an elderly woman in the Netherlands asking that it be preserved.

In addition to unforgettable melodies the songs are rich in history. The show begins with Real’s song in Cree. It is followed by “Glou, glou, glou” (guess what it’s about!); a medieval pastoral, a love song to mountain life; then a popular Parisian song about the jailbreak of a Catholic cardinal; a funny “big bird” song—beware parading in plumage because hunters lurk; next a song about a popular Northwest policeman named Capitaine Huot; and finally Monsieur Palisse who, if he hadn’t died a few hours ago, would still be alive!

The concert finishes with “The Singing Tracks” the story of Manitoba told in local song, with the cart tracks represented by the Red River Jig. Joe Venne, of Birtle, Manitoba contributed an ancient boat song (women: beware running off with a mysterious sailor); you will hear “Turkey in the Straw” in Michif and a “table song” to celebrate a wedding; and Susan Ducharme’s song, “Marie Rouvin,” the liveliest tune anywhere. We thank Edgar Desjarlais for contributing his father’s song and Ray St. Germain who will sing his much-loved “The Métis”.

“This will present a wonderful variety of very fun songs, I think you will enjoy them,” Whidden said.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling 204-727-9631, 204-725-7520 or 1-888-627-9663.