About the Project

 In 2011, I created a website, www.michiganfiddle.com, for the promotion and preservation of traditional Michigan fiddle playing. I had grown up near the little muddy river the French named Riviere de Belle Chasse but which I grew up calling "The Belle." She was a beautiful river, if you had the eye to see it, and a few times a year she broke off her chains and raged through the rivervalley, a swollen water-queen that forbid enroachment on the winding wooded lowlands. Three miles to the east lay Ontario, Canada across the big river called St. Clair, the channel (or straight, termed a "detroit" in French) depicted on the map at the top of this page. I heard fiddling in Sanilac County, Michigan, north of my home, when I was seven years old. I told my parents, "I want to play that." As a boy I began traveling to Canada to meet fiddlers and learn the tunes. Many fiddlers influenced me there, and I learned styles from Ireland, Scotland, and across Canada.

     I drank it all in until I left to go to college in Illinois, in a suburb of Chicago, far from the muddy Belle. I grew homesick, and I told people about where I came from. It was then I began my search for Michigan fiddling. There were years of traveling and meeting people, of reading and research and late night jams in northern pubs, and people sending me recordings of old fiddlers and jams that came before my time. I had discussions with fiddlers, folklorists, and museums. Most of the adventures leading to this project occured in the geographical space that can be viewed in the 1755 Jacques Nicolas Bellin map that can be faintly seen in the background and from which the close up above of de Belle Chasse comes. Still, far to the south lies the mountains of Appalachia, where I have also spent considerable time studying the fiddle, without loosing my primary love of the styles I heard on the shores of Lake Huron. 

    Like any large place with diverse history of settlement and ethnicity, Michigan has varied styles of playing and sources of repetoire, from French to Finnish and Irish to Czech, along with the great wealth of classic pan-American and New England tunes. Canadian tunes also take their place. But I have run into the issue that often Michigan players refer to me as a Canadian fiddler, Canadian fiddlers think of me as a Michigan or American fiddler, and southern fiddlers refer to me as a Yankee fiddler. So, in this project I will select tunes from my collection and record myself playing them. In order to not paralyze myself, I'm going to try not to worry if the rendition is not perfect. If I had to try to make each tune its own recording-level performance, I doubt I could accomplish my vision for this project. I will treat them according to my own taste as someone who has crossed fiddling borders. And I will try not to care if it doesn't fit into a particular style, but instead play the tunes how I like and according to the ear that I developed along the Belle Chasse and the St. Clair and in my travels. 

     

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