In its 17 years of existence, the publishing department of Saskatoon's Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) has never had a year like this one. A preserver and chronicler of the history, stories, arts and crafts of Saskatchewan's Metis people, GDI's publishing unit this year put out four books, six videos, and a little CD project called Drops of Brandy, which is actually the most comprehensive collection of Metis fiddle music ever produced. Not bad, considering the department only employs four staff members.
"It was an extraordinary year for us. We usually only put out two or three resources a year," said Darren Prefontaine, curriculum development officer for GDI. "For one reason or another, everything gelled for us this year. We've been building towards this for quite a long time, though."
Drops of Brandy, and Other Traditional Metis Tunes is the most ambitious of GDI's recent publishing efforts. It is a four CD set, containing over 150 fiddle tunes performed by 12 master Metis fiddlers. An accompanying book has also been released, with sheet music for every song in the compilation, as well as biographies of the performers, and a detailed look at the history and cultural importance of Metis fiddling.
"The project originated with John Arcand, a well known fiddle player in the Metis community [and one of the project's featured performers]," explained Prefontaine. "John was working at the institute at the time, and approached us about developing a fiddle music compilation. He knew all the fiddle players, so we proposed it to the Privy Council Office of the federal government, and received support from the Metis Cultural Development Fund. Once the project started to develop, it took on a dynamic of its own."
The fiddlers taking part in the project were Gilbert Anderson, Trent Bruner, Richard Callihoo, Henry Gardipy, Emile Lavallee, Albert 'Hap' Boyer, Garry Lapine, John Arcand, Mel Bedard, Richard Lafferty, Homer Poitras and Ed Lafferty (sadly deceased before seeing the project's end results). The tracks were recorded by Lyndon Smith of Saskatoon's Righttracks Sound, the sheet music was done by Trent Brunner, and the interviews and research for the book was conducted by Herb Lafferty, who also passed away before the Drops of Brandy release (GDI staff have dedicated the project to his memory).
"A lot of the tunes on Drops of Brandy have never been recorded before," Prefontaine proudly noted. "Fiddle music has a very enduring connection with Metis people, and a lot of other Aboriginal people. It's a diverse body of music that's quite eclectic, but there's also a lot of commonality. There is a Metis style of fiddling that is different from Celtic, or Acadian."
The authenticity, attention to detail, and cultural significance of the Drops of Brandy project is something that characterizes all GDI publications. Building on their banner 2002, Prefontaine and his co-workers are now hard at work on a vast Metis oral history project, and preparations are continuing for the May 2003 launch of a Virtual Metis Museum. Working with the multimedia unit at the University of Saskatchewan, GDI staff intends to fill the online museum with hundreds of oral histories, interviews, sound and video clips.
"What we want to do is develop resources that can be used and appreciated within the community," said Prefontaine of his department's goals. "We really hope to give something back, something that will be enduring and long-lasting. We try to represent all communities, because we want to ensure everybody has their voices heard."
For more information about Drops of Brandy and other Gabriel Dumont projects, visit the GDI Web site at www.gdins.org. To get a catalogue or order material, call the institute at 934-4941.