A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

NEA Artworks Podcast Features Yvonne Walker Keshick

In June, we wrote about Michigan native artist Yvonne Walker Keshick's appointment as a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow. This month, the NEA podcast, Artworks, featured her work further. Keshick sat down to discuss her artistic origins, family history, and the logistics of quillwork.

To Our Sisters quillwork box, Yvonne Walker Keshick, 1994
Yvonne Walker Keshick is the first Michigan tradition-bearer to be recognized with the NEA National Heritage Fellowship since Nadim Dlaikan in 2002, Lebanese-American nye (reed flute) musician. Keshick, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, is one of the finest quillwork artists in North America. She is a 1992 recipient of a Michigan Heritage Award (MHA) from the MSU Museum, the state’s highest honor for tradition-bearers who sustain cultural practices with excellence and authenticity.

The podcast is available for streaming on the NEA website here, or download the podcast by clicking here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program

It's that time of year again! The Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP) of the MSU Museum is accepting applications for the 2015 Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

If you, or someone you know, are interested in receiving a $2000 grant to learn a traditional art form, consider applying! The includes, but is not limited to, traditional dance, music, foodways, arts (ceramics, basket weaving, carving, textiles, etc.), storytelling, and more of any culture represented in the state of Michigan. Masters artists, if you have student that you are already working with ,this is a great way to subsidize that partnership and share your art form. Apprentices, if you have been meaning to pair with a master artist of your choosing to learn a traditional art, now is the time!

The requirements are as follows:
  1. Must be available from February-August of 2015 to meet with your master artist/apprentice
  2. The master artist must be a current resident of the state of Michigan
  3. The master artist must be recognized by their community as a master of their art form
  4. Application must be completed and submitted by December 1, 2014.
There are no requirements as to the frequency of your meetings or the number of hours spent. The aim is to have the time spent be equivalent to meeting approximately once per week.

All you need to apply is a completed application, letters of recommendation in support of the partnership, and a few samples of work. Some examples of this could include audio CDs, photographs, or YouTube videos.

For examples of past apprenticeships, click here.
For more information, view our press release here.

Here is a short video from 2013 and 2014 master artist Patricia Shackleton:

For more information, email Micah Ling, MTAP Assistant,
(micah.j.ling@gmail.com) or Marsha MacDowell, Program Director (macdowel@msu.edu).

We look forward to receiving your applications!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Suzanne Cross "Healing Through Culture and Art" Exhibition, Nov. 4, 2014- Feb. 28, 2015.

An upcoming exhibit at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishnabe Culture & Lifeways highlights the work of shawls created by a Michigan artist and scholar. Dr. Suzanne Cross, a retired MSU College of Social Science faculty member and a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Indian, is an artist who was a master artist of beadwork and other components of traditional dance regalia. As a survivor of a heart attack (cardiac incident) and open heart surgery, Cross created 13 shawls in recognition of the 13 moons from the Creation Story. Her "Healing Through Culture and Art Shawl" Collection is in support of American Indian Women’s Heart Health Awareness. The shawls were "created with a cultural approach to increase awareness and emphasize cardiac health and care." Cross is hopeful the collection will inform, support, and encourage mindfulness of self-care to increase heart health, and thus improve overall health.

Dr. Cross was also a 2011 master artist in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program (MTAAP) led by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the Michigan State University Museum. The MTAAP program is funded by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Tale of Two (Michigan) Fiddlers

When I first met Trae McMaken a year ago, I hadn’t interviewed a Michigan fiddler in fifteen years. The fiddler whose career and repertoire I knew best, Beaver Island’s Patrick Bonner, was a man I had never met. Bonner died in 1973, well before I began to explore the richness of Michigan’s cultural landscape as a folklorist and ethnomusicologist. Later I came to know Bonner through a remarkable body of field recordings by twentieth-century folklorists Ivan Walton (University of Michigan) and Alan Lomax, who, when he came to Beaver Island in 1938, was a young Assistant in Charge for the Archive of Folk-Song at the Library of Congress.

Beaver Island fiddler Patrick Bonner, pictured here in the 1950s, was first recorded by folklorists Ivan Walton and Alan Lomax in 1938. Photo courtesy of Beaver Island Historical Society.
Michigan, of course, has its share of living fiddlers who play in many styles. Lately, I just hadn’t had the good fortune to work with them. This changed when I met Trae McMaken―a gifted young musician in his twenties who is passionate about playing and documenting Michigan fiddling, with a goal of inspiring younger generations to embrace and continue the state’s fiddling heritage. (See Trae’s website, michiganfiddle.com.)

Trae McMaken plays a few tunes.
Photo by Laurie Sommers.
Trae was raised in rural China Township, in St. Clair County along the St. Clair River, and grew up a musical family that specialized in gospel music. He was first exposed to fiddle at age 7 or 8 through family friends and was immediately captivated by the instrument. But unlike Bonner—who grew up on a close-knit island of fiddlers playing community dances, picnics, weddings, and house parties—Trae had no local fiddlers as mentors. He learned the fundamentals of violin through private teachers. His real introduction to the fiddling community came at age 13 when he first attended Celtic College in Goderich, Ontario. There he participated in workshops by prominent Celtic fiddlers from Ireland, Scotland, France, and Canada. While the workshops were instructive, it was the after-hours jam sessions in local pubs—where fiddlers informally shared tunes and techniques―that were the best teachers.

Meet and Hear Fiddler Trae McMaken


Patrick Bonner, by contrast, didn’t have to travel very far to hear his own community’s “Celtic” tradition. The son of an Irish immigrant, he was born in 1882 on “America’s Arranmore,” the nickname for Beaver Island that references the small island off the coast of Donegal, Ireland, that was home for most of Beaver Island’s early Irish settlers. Pat got his first fiddle at age 12, but he already knew many tunes by listening to the island's older generation of Irish-born fiddlers. In his youth, Pat only needed to hear a tune once to learn it. On Beaver Island during Bonner's boyhood, house parties and community gatherings featured dancing, fiddling, ballad singing, and storytelling, all liberally laced with drink.

Click here to listen to Pat Bonner performing “Black Tar on a Stick” (Blackthorn Stick) and “Up and Down the Broom,” two Irish reels recorded by Alan Lomax on Beaver Island, 1938, courtesy of the American Folklife Center/Library of Congress.

My initial impression upon meeting Trae was how far removed his story seemed from Bonner’s and those of other elderly fiddlers I had researched throughout my career. Like others of his generation, Trae’s musical world is profoundly shaped by the Internet—a global jukebox at his fingertips. The marketing, networking, and tune sharing reach of the Web would have exceeded Pat Bonner’s wildest dreams.

Trae has described himself as “multilingual on fiddle early on.” Pat remained a Beaver Islander all his life, but his musical influences were far more diverse than the house parties of home. Although geographically isolated, the island was linked culturally to mainstream tradition through records, radio, sheet music, and the comings and goings of islanders and visitors. Pat’s record collection was an eclectic mix of Irish music hall tunes, Yiddish theater, gypsy melodies, Stephen Foster, Tin Pan Alley, and more. Pat didn’t play all these tunes, but his repertoire included far more than the Irish jigs and reels of his forebears. He learned a number of tunes and ballads first-hand during his time working as a lumberjack and schoonerman, where men from varied ethnic backgrounds entertained each another.

Click here to listen to the well-known American fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveler,” with fiddler Patrick Bonner. Recorded by Ivan Walton on Beaver Island in 1952, part of the Ivan Walton Collection at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, and included on the CD accompanying Beaver Island House Party (Michigan State University Press, 1996).

The tale of these two fiddlers merges through the work of folklorists. Patrick Bonner would likely be largely forgotten, save for the recordings made by Ivan Walton and Alan Lomax, the earliest dating to August 1938. Walton made the music and lore of Great Lakes sailors his life's work, and continued to record Bonner through 1960. His remarkable collection is housed at the Bentley Historical Library (University of Michigan), with a copy at the Cultural Collections of the Michigan State University Museum. Lomax ensured that his 1938 recordings of Bonner were preserved in the Library of Congress. Decades later, a few of Bonner’s tunes were included in folklorist Alan Jabbour's 1976 documentary recording, American Fiddle Tunes. Enter Trae McMaken, who was beginning to explore the fiddle traditions of his home state. Jabbour's inclusion of Bonner on American Fiddle Tunes led Trae to Beaver Island, where Trae is becoming part of Beaver Island tradition himself. In addition to performing with musicians currently active on the island, Trae just this month completed his third season as artist in residence teaching Irish fiddle workshops to youngsters at the Eve Glen McDonough Folk School on Beaver Island. Included in the student play-list was one of Pat Bonner’s Irish-origin tunes.

The tale of two fiddlers comes full circle.

Written by Laurie Kay Sommers in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Earthwork Harvest Gathering

 This coming weekend, musicians and laypeople alike will gather at the beautiful Earthwork Farm in Lake City, Michigan, for the Earthwork Harvest Gathering. This festival attracts around 2000 people and is put on by the Earthwork Music Collective, a name some of you may recognize from their involvement with the Alan Lomax QUEST project and the Great Lakes Folk Festival.

This festival, September 19-21, boasts over 100 bands, 4 stages, food vendors, craft vendors, a school bus converted into a vintage clothing store, wandering peacocks, and much more. There will be square dancing (hosted by 2013 GLFF performers Bowhunter), a waltz hour (led by 2014 GLFF performer Bob Bernard and his waltz posse), a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, kids' activities, and plenty of fun to be had.

Here is a little piece I wrote last year on the Earthwork blog in preparation for the 2013 festival. some of the dates and times are now invalid, but the main ideas still hold up!
The festival can always use more volunteers! Signup here to be a part of the team and reduce your ticket price!

See you there!

Friday, August 22, 2014

2014 Fall Barn Tour

From the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, information about their Fall Barn Tour:

Fall Barn Tour
The Michigan Thumb Area

Saturday, October 11, 2014

This year we are highlighting Michigan's thumb area - especially Tuscola County. We currently have five barns set to tour. This year we will have a self-drive tour, as the barns all have unique specialties, and participants may want to linger at a particular site because of personal interests. We will begin the day at the Mayville Historical Museum. There will be light refreshments, and a chance to look at the museum while folks come in to register. The cost will be $15/adult and $5/child, 12 years of age and under.  After a brief discussion about Michigan's thumb area and rules of the day, maps will be handed out as well as information about each barn and a registration sign for your car, identifying you as part of the tour.  Points of interest will also be highlighted. Lunch will be on your own.  We hope for a beautiful day - the fall colors should be at their peak!

If these outstanding barns aren't enough to whet your appetite, October 11th is also the kick-off for the Thumb Quilt Trail. Structures with large quilt block patterns painted on them will be identified on a map given out that day. These are to be enjoyed from your vehicle, as a drive-by part of the tour. This year's Fall Tour will be a full day of beautiful barns, unique stops and country driving. For those of you coming from urban areas, the biggest traffic jams we have up here is the occasional combine on the road! We hope to have a full sign-up, so register early. See you on October 11th

For questions contact Kathy Thomas at 248-881-4086.  For complete details and registration visit the MBPN website.

Gagetown, Michigan, Octagon Barn

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fiddlers and Collectors: Jim McKinney and Glenn Hendrix

Jim McKinney and Glenn Hendrix have a lot in common. Both are accomplished fiddlers. Both were born in Southern Michigan in the 1950s. Both have been involved with musical organizations like the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association or the Original Dulcimer Players Club. Both have known many fiddlers from  previous generations. Both enjoy playing for dances. No doubt, both play many of the same fiddle tunes. Yet, one of the most unique commonalities between the two soft-spoken fiddlers is the fact that they have been involved in the collection, transcription, publication, and general preservation of Michigan fiddling.

In February, I interviewed both of these remarkable fiddlers. I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes region – especially Michigan, one of my primary research interests. This led to the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

Jim McKinney
photo by A. Trae McMaken, Feb. 2014
Besides the six recordings on his discography with the Golden Griffon Stringtet, his wife Loretta McKinney, or solo, and besides the awards won for original fiddle tunes compositions, his competition laurels, his induction into the Michigan Fiddlers Hall of Fame, or his work running the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest at the Huron Applefest, Jim McKinney has transcribed and compiled a remarkable collection of fiddle tunes. Beyond that, Jim played a major part in the production of a book of tunes and stories from the life and repertoire of Michigan Heritage Award Winner Les Raber entitled Come Dance With Me: Original Fiddle Compositions and Favorite Tunes of Les Raber. Jim also produced the CD, Come Dance With Me. . . Again that, along with other recordings, shares Les Raber’s fiddling with the public. More information about this work can be found at the Golden Griffon Stringtet website. Jim’s transcription and publication projects continue with other fiddlers, and it is likely that before long the public will get the chance to benefit from Jim’s work again.

Jim is unusually precise when it comes to his descriptions of what he believes comprises Michigan style fiddling, at least among the players he knew. At the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest he hopes to encourage more players to pursue this style through requiring the playing of particular dances – a waltz, a schottische, a jig, and a reel. Jim began requiring these tunes after he took oversight of the pre-existing contest. In addition, Jim identifies a very structured phrasing, danceable tempos, and staying close to the melody as an aspect of Michigan style.

Jim continues to perform with the Golden Griffon Stringtet and also calls dances.


The above video is one of many found of YouTube of the Golden Griffon Stringtet. In this selection, they can be seen playing for a dance in Holland, Michigan.

Glenn Hendrix
photo by A. Trae McMaken, Feb. 2014
It’s an honor to play a fiddle that has a long history. If you ever have the pleasure to listen to Glenn Hendrix fiddle, he may be playing the fiddle of a notable late fiddler from Beaver Island by the name of Patrick Bonner. The fiddle is on loan to Glenn from Bonner’s family. Though residing downstate, Glenn can regularly be found on Beaver Island in the summertime with Bonner’s fiddle, playing tunes for the islanders and visitors. It makes sense for the fiddle to be in Glenn’s possession. Glenn made the tunes of Bonner a special interest and undertook the painstaking process of transcribing recordings of Bonner made by Great Lakes folksong and music collector Ivan Walton. This work became the book An Island of Fiddlers: Fiddle Tunes of Patrick Bonner, Beaver Island, Michigan. In it, Glenn examines Bonner’s life and shares a significant repertoire of tunes. To learn more about Patrick Bonner from Glenn’s own research, visit the Patrick Bonner Page at MichiganFiddle. This information was generously made available to the public by Glenn.

Glenn worked with Pattie Greenman to produce Michigan Jamboree: Fiddle Tunes for Round and Square Dances. This is an important and so far one-of-a-kind publication of Michigan tunes from a variety of different fiddlers and regions in Michigan. Glenn has collected much music around the state and his transcription efforts continue. He currently performs actively on the fiddle, and over the years his travels around the state have equipped him with a wide repertoire that includes the Finnish traditions of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw juts far into Lake Superior at the top of the state. Glenn is a member of the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association and currently produces the regular OMFA newsletter which always includes history and a tune transcription.

Click here to hear a recording of Glenn Hendrix sharing about the history of the Patrick Bonner tune “Beaver Island Schottische,” followed by a performance of that tune.

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The 2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival: A Visit in Highlights

This year's Great Lakes Folk Festival is fast approaching. From August 8-10, the streets of downtown East Lansing, Michigan, will be flooded with music, people, food, art, and traditional cultural activities of all kinds. While donations are happily accepted and encouraged, this festival is free and open the the public!

The festival opens Friday at 6pm with recycled and traditional art vendors, music, food and more. Performances will take place on two stages, ranging from Klezmer to Celtic, Buck Dance to Blues.

Saturday starts early with an advanced fiddle workshop taught by Celtic/French Canadian fiddler Pierre Schryer. This will take place at 10:00am in the Marriott Hotel, and costs $25 for adults and $15 with a valid student ID. If fiddling isn't your forte, try out the Pete Seeger community sing led by Sally Potter, Seth Bernard, and May Erlewine. Looking to move your body? Try out swing dancing or waltzing, happening at the Dance Stage. Whatever your favorite traditional genre, we are sure to have something to catch your ears, with acts like Detour Bluegrass, Girsa, Thomas Maupin, and Ruby John.

Kicking things off with a second opportunity to learn the fiddle, Trae McMaken teaches an intermediate old time fiddling workshop at 10:00am Sunday in the Marriott Hotel for the same price as the workshop on Saturday. Not to be missed, the Michigan Heritage Awards (3:00pm, Campus and Community Stage) will honor the work of Karl Byarski, Danny Johnston, and Alan Lomax, individuals nominated by their communities due to their dedication to preserving and disseminating traditional culture. Many of the acts to see on Saturday will be performing again on Sunday, so don't fret if you missed something!

Unsure of when you'll be stopping by? There will be ongoing activities throughout the weekend for your enjoyment, including an International Games Tent, Tibetan monks creating sand mandalas, an artisan marketplace, and various activities for children centered around the traditional arts. One of our main themes this year is fiddling, specifically that which happens in Michigan. Regardless of when you arrive, be sure to listening for the lilting tones of the fiddle.

See you there!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Across Generations: Ruby John and Her Musical Influences

On February 23, 2014 I had arranged to meet fiddler Ruby John. Though I had been hearing about Ruby for years on my musical travels through northern Michigan, I had not yet met her. We shared a community of friends and musicians in the region, and I had heard of her skill as a fiddler. She is not hard to find online, either – she has YouTube videos of herself fiddling along with Lee Sloan and others, such as renowned fiddler Rene Cote. Here is Ruby playing Mouth of the Tobique with Jack chambers at the Peshawbestown Art Market in 2008.

I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

After a bit of dicey snow in Gaylord, I made it through to Charlevoix, which presented a snowy northern scene that day. Danny Gillespie, son of Michigan Heritage Award winner Jewell Gillespie, kindly offered to let us conduct the interview in his home. At the same time, Danny Gillespie notified 2014 Michigan Heritage Award Recipient Danny Johnston  who began the even more treacherous trip down to Charlevoix from Goodhart, Michigan. Things were shaping up for a nice jam.

Ruby John and Danny Johnston fiddle together
Photo by Trae McMaken, Feb.23, 2014

But before that, I had some questions rolling around in my mind, taking space amidst concerns about the snow-covered roads. I knew that Ruby was a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. I also knew that she had fiddled with Métis fiddlers. “Métis” is a term sometimes used to refer to a style of fiddling among First Nations peoples in Canada and the United States. What I did not know and what I hoped to find out, among other things, was if the identifier "Métis" was an idea or term used in Ruby’s home region or in Michigan in general, or if it was a term that more recently entered the scene.

When Ruby arrived and we were introduced, I set up my sound recorder for an interview. My first impression of Ruby was shown to be true throughout the day; she is a friendly person, and she has all the social graces of a fiddler raised among older local fiddlers. There is something I find noticeable about such fiddlers – they have an ease of bearing across generations. They also show respect to their fellow musicians; local heroes and friends from childhood are not supplanted in respect even when travels far and wide bring the young people into contact with musicians of greater skill and renown. I think this respect has to do with the level of mentoring from older generations that such fiddlers receive. After skill is acquired, relationships still matter.

Born in 1990 in Traverse City, Michigan, Ruby is the daughter of commercial fishermen and is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Ruby is the great-granddaughter of a fiddler, and recorded fiddle music was a staple in her home growing up. At the age of around five, Ruby told her mother that she wanted to play the fiddle, but it was not till the age of ten when her mother was able to secure a grant that allowed Ruby to get an instrument and lessons. Ruby was initially part of a group of young violin players, including her brothers Alex and Cameron, that were enabled to learn through the grant. She studied violin from Jan Ostrowski and became active in the OMFA and has continued with the fiddle to the present.

In our interview, Ruby attributed much of her musical development to a wide array of fiddle activities in her mid to late teens, including trips to Canada, mentorship by older players, and the attendance of many OMFA Jamborees. Ruby and her mother even managed to attend every OMFA jamboree during Ruby’s senior year of high school and perhaps the following year as well. OMFA fiddler Lee Sloan mentored Ruby. Others, such as Danny Johnston, were important figures in her musical upbringing. While attending AlgomaTrad, a fiddle camp on St. Joseph Island in Ontario, Ruby met Anne Lederman, a Canadian fiddler and practitioner of Métis music. Lederman invited Ruby to participate in a trip to Toronto to learn from Métis master fiddlers such as James Cheechoo of Moose Factory, Ontario and John Arcand from Saskatchewan. After a second trip to Toronto to learn from “Teddy Boy” Houle, Ruby performed and taught with the group of students at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention. Ruby has actively been attending fiddle events around Michigan and further afield, such as Jerusalem Ridge in Kentucky. Of late, Ruby has teamed up with George Trudeau, a Canadian traditional piano accompanist. Ruby currently lives in Northport, Leelanau County, Michigan.

Though Ruby has learned from Métis fiddlers, she does not identify as a Métis fiddler and has a diverse range of influences that include Bluegrass, Canadian styles, and Michigan fiddling. Ruby especially loves to play for dancing but performs at a variety of other venues from tribal events to festivals. There were excellent Native American fiddlers in Michigan, such as Pete Keller who Ruby got to hear before his death. Yet they seemed to have referred to themselves just as “fiddlers” and there is little evidence so far to support a common style between them different from their non-Native American compatriots. Ruby was certainly brought up with a deep attachment to traditional Michigan fiddling and does identify herself as a Michigan fiddler.

Eventually, we migrated to the living room and I started another track on my recorder as the jam began. Formality was left behind as old and new friends began to play tunes together. Old, local repertoire was played that harkened far back beyond Ruby's time and my time, back to the youthful days of Danny Johnston and beyond. In addition, repertoire from other eras and regions was mixed in, and discussion ranged from local anecdote to foreign travels. “Big John McNeil,” “Miller’s Reel,’ “Monymusk,” “Mouth of the Tobique,” “The Clarinet Polka,” and others rang out. It was a good jam. Danny Johnston decided to leave fairly early to attempt to get back to Goodhart before the snow made the roads too dangerous.

It was then that an internet-age small-town phenomenon showed itself alive and well. Some local Beaver Islanders had seen a photo on Facebook of the jam happening at Danny Gillespie's home. They soon arrived with refreshments, and after Tammy Gillespie provided us dinner, the jam started again for some time to appease the desires of winter appetites for music and entertainment.

Click here to listen to a recording of Ruby John, Danny Johnston, Trae McMaken, Danny Gillespie, and Bradley Winkler playing “Big John McNeil” and “Miller’s Reel.”

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program of the MSU Museum.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Indian Country Today Article Highlights Marsha MacDowell's Research

An article in Indian Country Today written by Tish Leizens features research from Michigan Traditional Arts Program Director Marsha MacDowell. The article, entitled, "4 Way Pow Wow Regalia Has Changed Over the Years," discusses shifts in regalia materials an styles.

MacDowell, also Curator of Folk Arts at the MSU Museum, has published extensively on this topic and helped to compile The Great Lakes Indian Dance Regalia Project Collection.

Here is a selection from the Indian Country Today article:

"3. Let it shine
Traditional elements of bead and floral designs continue to be done by master beading makers and regalias are still passed on to the new generation, but Marsha MacDowell, professor and museum curator at the Michigan State University, said she has seen new materials and different techniques used in embellishing the clothing.

Fancy Dance Regalia drawing by Kathryn Darnell, in the book Contemporary Great Lakes Pow Wow Regalia, co-edited by Marsha MacDowell, 1997. (Photo courtesy of MacDowell)

 MacDowell, who co-edited a book on Contemporary Great Lakes Pow Wow Regalia: Nda Maamawigaami (Together We Dance), 1997, cited painting on the fabric and the use of materials to make the regalia shine or show off a metallic effect. "

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/12/4-ways-pow-wow-regalia-has-changed-throughout-years-155805?page=0%2C0

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Waltzes with Bob Bernard

Bob Bernard
Photo by Trae McMaken
I sat and played waltzes with Bob Bernard on a blustery day. I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, even making Michigan fiddlers the topic of a master’s project some time ago, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

Snowdrift in Lake City, Michigan
Photo by Trae McMaken
 It was February near Lake City. The snow drifts were high and jagged at the edge of the lake, and the cottage wore a heavy stole of snow. It was the first time I had ever met this white haired man, but he reminded me of melodies that were like long lost acquaintances. I found that I had never appreciated them enough – especially not on a snowy day. “Simple Things,” “Midnight on the Water,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” and “The Ash Grove” were just a few. Bob was the only fiddler I interviewed on that trip who suggested that instead of talking first, we should play music together first. It set the tone for our discussions.

We finished fiddling the waltz on a high-low harmony, and I immediately laughed.
          “You know it’s good when you laugh after,” Bob said.

 Bob is a native of the U.P. – Marquette to be specific. His parents were both fiddlers, as was a grandfather. Other musicians filled the family with music, as well, like an Irish aunt who arranged an annual St. Patrick’s day concert. He still has a set list, written on old paper, of the tunes his parents used to play.

Bob is an eloquent man. As we sat in the living room with a cat curled up on my lap, he told me of his decision to move to his farm, Earthwork Farm. He had suffered from partial paralysis that caused him to eventually give up his job as a wildlife field biologist. Bob wanted to create a beautiful environment, to live simply and ecologically. He wanted to raise bees and cattle. The farm was his solution. He wanted to live life at a slower pace. It is hard not to draw a connection between his farm and his music. Bob has become known for the waltz.
Bob Bernard with a concert poster
Photo by Trae Mcmaken
Bob and his son Seth host The Earthwork Harvest Gathering at his farm. One of the premier events of the festival, The Waltz Hour, has become something of a musical revival of the waltz. Dancers pack the dance floor to the strains of Bob’s ad hoc waltz bands. Bob’s album with Chinese virtuoso Kailin Yong is another exploration of the waltz where Bob’s self-taught musicality meets Kailin’s classical expertise and desire for musical freedom. Bob loves harmony. Like the house parties of his childhood where he says the strictures of life could fall away and the drama of the music be expressed, Bob feels that music allows him to exercise his emotions. I felt the reality of that, as we sat and played waltzes together while the wind blew the snow over the frozen lake and the drifts reached towards the windows.

Click the link to listen to Bob and Trae play and improvise to the waltz “Midnight On the Water.”

Catch Bob and his waltz posse on Saturday, August 9th, at the 2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival in East Lansing, MI.

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beth Donaldson's Quilts Spark Inspiration

Exciting news!
Two of Quilt Index Coordinator Beth Donaldson's quilts have sparked entries in this year's Quilt Alliance Inspired By Contest. Chosen out of 55,000 quilts available for viewing on the Quilt Index, this is quite an honor. We are so happy to see one of our own recognized in this way!

The first is a quilt made by Donaldson in 2011, entitled Cruz's Quilt. Julie Dugas of Asheville, North Carolina created her rendering using a modified pattern and a similar palette. This version is entitled, Mod.

Cruz's Quilt
Beth Donaldson, 2011

Julie Dugas, 2014

The second quilt entry we are highlighting is based on Donaldson's Clams Incognito from 1996. Deb Hathaway Hunter of Ocean, New Jersey, created a more literal interpretation of this pattern with her quilt, Raw Clams at the Shore.

Clams Incognito
Beth Donaldson, 1996

Raw Clams at the Shore
Deb Hathaway Hunter, 2014

Be on the look out to see which entry wins this year's contest!

Friday, June 27, 2014

All From the Heart: The Fiddling of Rene Coté

Rene Coté
photo by Trae McMaken
 I had never met Rene Coté before, but I believe I owe my opportunity to the friendly connection that fiddler Danny Johnston provided. He called a couple times on my behalf, letting the Cotés know who I was. Yet despite having never met Rene personally before, I had heard stories about him on both sides of the Michigan – Ontario border, seen him on the film Medicine Fiddle, and listened to his tape recordings. In every case, I was impressed. His music had been impeccable – that was obvious from the recordings. He was a fiddler that I openly admired and whose playing I deemed worthy of emulation. He had earned a seemingly legendary status. I had heard, though, that he had struggled with health of late, and many years had passed since the music I had heard was recorded. I did not know what to expect, but in any case, of all the interviews I was conducting on my trip, Rene Coté was one that really captivated my interest. It was also the interview I was most nervous about.

 I was on a fieldwork trip interviewing Michigan’s fiddlers as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant project administered through the Michigan State University Museum. I make my living as a fiddler and storyteller. I am a native of Michigan who has made the fiddle playing of the Great Lakes – especially Michigan and Ontario – one of my primary topics of interest, even making Michigan fiddlers the topic of a master’s project some time ago, coupled with the founding of a website dedicated to Michigan Fiddlers.

If I had been expecting a quiet, slow, elderly scene when I arrived at Rene’s home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, I was mistaken. Rene and his wife PJ, plus their daughter and son-in-law, were all present and the chit-chat was lively. They invited me in and offered me refreshments and immediately the conversation began to flow. In the midst of the friendly atmosphere, I had to try to get release forms signed. As we chatted, Rene looked up at me and proudly and decisively stated,
         “Well, I have been playing the fiddle for 75 years.” He was ready to start the interview.
          I had to stop him.
          “Sorry, Rene,” I said. “Let me get my recorder and everything ready.”
In another minute, I was set up and we were ready to go. For an hour, I sat and learned about this man, born into a Francophone family in the Soo, in a community saturated with dance and old time music, French chansons and house parties. The names and places flowed as Rene reminisced. Yet again I was impressed by the sheer stamina of the previous generations who could work all day and fiddle all night day after day and week after week and go on with what seemed to me a catastrophic lack of sleep. I sat and listened. His family members occasionally jumped in to add bits of information. Outside, lake effect snow fell slowly, not yet ready to fully engage in the February fray.
Rene and PJ Coté
Photo by Trae McMacken
 As the interview progressed, I began to realize that I was in the presence of someone far more influential and impressive than I initially thought. Behind me, there was a nook off to the side of the open kitchen and living room. A desk sat there, with a CD player and racks of well-organized CDs. Fiddles hung on the wall with a guitar, and a drawing of Rene wearing a cowboy hat hung in a wooden frame. It had been his portrait for the Northern Ontario Hall of Fame. I listened as Rene recounted representing all of Canada’s fiddlers at the World’s Fair in Montreal, of playing on the Francophone television show Village et Visage for years. Story after story rolled until it was obvious that Rene had tired of talking. It was time to get down to the music.

 This is a selection from Village et Visage that includes a younger Rene’s fiddling.

Rene is a slender, bald man with a very memorable face, but his most startling and captivating aspect besides his beautiful music are his eyes. Rene’s brown eyes lock on to his audience as he plays, somehow both absent and intensely observant. Gradations of smiles and grins play around his mouth as he watches the reactions of his audience as he pulls off licks and double stops up the fiddle’s neck. I realized that Rene was not just a fiddler. He was an entertainer at heart. His musical skills at the age of 83 left me deeply impressed. I was aware that I was in the presence of a true master. After finding out that his skill had been honed through ceaseless performance and practice, I found myself humbled. More impressive than raw virtuosic talent ever could be are hard work and passion.

To this day, Rene practices around two hours a day, preferably in the morning which he calls his “clear mind.” In the nook are recordings and lists of tunes that he is still learning. He learns more tunes in a week than I probably have in the past six months. His appetite for music is still strong. He really loves it. And that’s what he said when I asked what kept him playing so much for so long, keeping such a tough schedule. 
          “Everything from here,” he said. Everything from the heart.

 For quite a while we traded tunes and licks as snow continued to fall outside the living room windows. Rene would watch me as he slid up into high positions, playing double stops. He seemed to relish my reactions, that grin flickering at the corner of his mouth. Though I sometimes consider myself grown up, like so many adolescent times throughout my life when I had sat with master fiddlers, I had an urge to show off what I could do. There was a Scott Skinner hornpipe that for years I had been working on. It was called “The Mathematician,” and rightly so. I was just getting to the place where I could attempt it for an audience. Technically challenging, it involved lots of those high positions and some fast bow work. It’s a show piece.

I played it for Rene, and as I did, I saw a unique expression in his eyes. As he watched my fingers slide up the fingerboard, he recognized the showiness of the tune, the virtuosic elements, and rather than have an expression of admiration and pleasure, I saw something else. I saw hunger. He wanted to learn the tune. I felt like his expression said, “I could learn that tune. I want to learn that tune.” I felt that he desired the challenge.

The snow was falling, and I wanted to spend the night in Gaylord, Michigan to be able to get to my next interview the following morning. With an open invitation to play more music together from Rene and well-wishes around, I headed out on the snowy roads. I was getting ready to leave the hotel the next morning when my phone rang.
           “Hey Trae, this is Rene,” I heard when I answered.
           “Hey! How’s it going?,” I said. 
           “Good, good. Hey that was real good, what we did yesterday.”
           “Yeah, I had fun. I think it turned out well.”
           “Yeah. Hey, uh, d’you think I could get a copy of the recording?” he asked.
           “Oh yeah, no problem,” I said.
 I immediately suspected it. He was after “The Mathematician.”
Rene Coté playing from the heart
Photo by Trae McMaken

Written by Trae McMaken in conjunction with the Michigan Traditional Arts Program

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Michigan’s Yvonne Walker Keshick named NEA National Heritage Fellow

Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Doug Elbinger
The nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional arts has been awarded to Yvonne Walker Keshick, a porcupine quillworker from Northern Michigan, who is among the 2014 honorees joining the ranks of the prestigious National Heritage Fellowships, a lifetime honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.

Keshick at work
Photo by Doug Elbinger

Keshick, a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa, is one of the finest quillwork artists in North America. She is a 1992 recipient of a Michigan Heritage Award (MHA) from the MSU Museum, the state’s highest honor for tradition-bearers who sustain cultural practices with excellence and authenticity.

Quill box by Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong,  MSU Museum

Quill box by Yvonne Walker Keshick
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong,  MSU Museum

 Keshick’s nomination for NEA Heritage Fellow was led by the MSU Museum, the home of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program. In addition to her MHA honor, Keshick and her work have been featured at the MSU Museum’s Great Lakes Folk Festival, as well as at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s 2006 “Carriers of Culture: Living Native Basket Traditions” program. Examples of Keshick’s basketry are also included in the MSU Museum’s cultural collections.

Yvonne Walker Keshick is the first Michigan tradition-bearer to be recognized with the NEA National Heritage Fellowship since Nadim Dlaikan in 2002, Lebanese-American nye (reed flute) musician.

Read Keshick’s bio here.

The NEA National Heritage Fellowships honor the importance of traditions to our nation's cultural heritage. Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp, June 16-20

campers at Earful of Fiddle 2013, photo by Barb Beyer
Summer is nearing full swing, and in the traditional music world, that means camps! One fine example in the state of Michigan is the Earful of Fiddle Music and Dance Camp, June 16-20. This camp was started in 2009 by members of the Wheatland Music Organization community, chiefly Nic Gareiss and Bruce Bauman.

From their website:
"Situated lakeside, at the friendly confines of the School Section Lake Family Camp in Mecosta, Michigan, Earful of Fiddle offers three days of classes in all levels of traditional fiddling, percussive dance, banjo, guitar and ukulele. Four nights of jam sessions and called dances allow students to hone their skills, encouraging participation and preservation within the traditional arts heritage of the Great Lakes region.

Our mission is the passing on of traditional dancing and fiddling, hand-in-hand with related instrumental traditions. We encourage learning to play and dance by ear, knee to knee, foot to foot, from the tradition bearers in a non-competitive environment. The result is the perpetuation of community-based, entertainment, and creative traditional arts practice."

a multigenerational jam session at Earful 2013, photo by Barb Beyer

This year's instructors include:

Nic Gareiss- percussive dance
Sheila Graziano- percussive dance (3 time MTAAP awardee)
Dan Gorno- percussive dance
Joe Duffey- percussive dance
David Bowen- guitar
John Warstler- guitar
John Nicholson- guitar
Budd Greeman- fiddle
Ruby John- fiddle (2014 Great Lakes Folk Festival Performer)
Susan Nicholson- fiddle
Cleek Schrey- fiddle
Bruce Bauman- fiddle
Frank Youngman- ukulele

Don't miss this excellent opportunity to expand your skills and make new connections. Follow this link to register: