The Western Arctic School of Music (WASM) is looking to bring back an old fiddle and violin program that was a fan favourite for residents in Inuvik more than 20 years ago.
Glen Brake, the founder of WASM, said that he’s planning to resurrect the Strings Across the Sky (SATS) music program not just for nostalgia purposes, but to also to put more fiddles in the hands of Inuvikians.
“All I’ve heard in the last three-and-a-half years that I’ve been here is that there’s not much fiddling here. There’s cover bands and stuff, but not a whole lot of fiddling or cultural music,” Brake said. “There’s a few people doing it, but for me, I’m thinking if it’s in your culture and that’s your culture, you should have access to it.”
SATS is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1988 by Andrea Hansen, a former violinist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and Frank Hansen, an amateur fiddler and Inuvik businessman. The two set out to create a program that taught Indigenous youth living in Northern and rural communities across the country how to play the fiddle, as well as other string instruments.
The first SATS session to come to Inuvik was in August 1989, but it soon withered away as participants grew older.
“I don’t know the whole story, but people move on and things just slowly die. But this never died, it just never was for a long time,” Brake said.” “It’s still happening in other parts of Canada. If it’s still going, I’m going to resurrect it and bring it up here. I think the goal is to help bring cultural music back.”
He added that the plan is to host the program at WASM during the summer, and to avoid making any drastic changes to its original format.
“It’s one of those things where I can be someone else’s feet and eyeballs. All they need to do is tell me what they want me to do and I’ll do it,” he said. “I have a couple violinists, fiddle players I can pull from here, but they normally send up somebody and that’s their job.”
Students of all ages and skill levels will learn how to play songs together, and those who are confident will be invited to perform before a crowd of people, Brake said.
“Basically they try to keep everyone together and perform as a group. They start with really basic songs that people know and go from there,” he said.
The end result, he continued, is to regenerate that same feeling of excitement that residents had when the program was introduced to the town 30 years ago.
“The kids are going to see why the parents are so excited to hear a fiddler,” he said. “It’s because they were part of the group, but they couldn’t continue on because they’re working or they’re raising a family. But maybe their kids can pick it up, or they can pick it up again.”