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John Arcand plays music to preserve culture

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Ross Kimble, Sage Writer, Saskatoon







Page 15

When a person dedicates their life to a given field, and excels in that field more than any other, an interesting thing sometimes happens-the person's name can become synonymous with their devotion, to the point where one really cannot be mentioned without the other. It is a sign of true mastery, and also of broad recognition and respect. Such is certainly the case for John Arcand, and his lifelong passion, traditional Metis fiddle music.

On March 28, Arcand will receive a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, a testament to the recognition he has gained through years of performing and song writing, and the respect he has earned for his ceaseless efforts to promote and preserve Metis music and culture. Arcand has repeatedly been hailed as the Master of the Metis Fiddle, although the performer himself shies away from such a title.

"I knew from childhood I would be a fiddler," he said. "I love the constant challenge because you cannot ever master the fiddle."

Arcand's path in life was set early on. Born in Big River, Sask. in 1942, he started playing the fiddle at age six, and he has been putting bow to strings ever since. Arcand learned the instrument from his father, Victor, who was himself carrying on musical traditions passed on by his father. In fact, the Arcand family's involvement with fiddle music can be traced back nine generations. With such a pedigree, and such a qualified instructor, Arcand took to the instrument quickly. By the time he was 12, he was already performing in public at school and community dances.

Now 60 years old, Arcand continues to perform regularly. With the steady passage of years, his interests have increasingly shifted from simply playing for enthralled audiences, to preserving the music and the culture of the Metis people for future generations. In 1988, he helped found the Emma Lake Fiddle Camp, which teaches the art of fiddling to a new generation of performers. He has been an instructor at the camp ever since. In 1998, he started his own music festival, the John Arcand Fiddle Fest, to share traditional music with a broader audience and further build interest in a musical genre that was at one time in danger of disappearing entirely. In 2001, he worked in partnership with the Gabriel Dumont Institute on the Drops of Brandy CD project. This four CD compilation features music from all of the best Metis fiddlers from across the country, in what is the most comprehensive collection of such music ever assembled.

"Fiddle Fest is John's passion," shared his wife, Vicki. "It is an entire representation of what John is trying to do for the preservation of the Metis culture."

Arcand's focus on rebuilding the popularity of Metis fiddle music, and on sharing his skills with future fiddlers, hasn't slowed down his own musical output. The prolific musician has written some 250 original tunes, many of which are available on his seven full-length recordings (which can be ordered from the performer's Web site at www.johnarcand.com).

Arcand's life has been dedicated to the music of his people, and he is well deserving of the recognition he now receives. Although he might argue otherwise, the title of Master of the Metis Fiddle is certainly fitting. What's more, he is also the fiddle's most dedicated, hard-working ambassador, and through his efforts, Metis music and culture is spreading steadily. For Arcand, that is the greatest reward he could ever receive.