MB hosts competition recognizing Canada’s best fiddlers
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For the first time since its inception in 1990, the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition is coming to Manitoba.
The national competition, which started in Ottawa 32 years ago, has been hosted by other provinces including Quebec, New Brunswick and Alberta.
“We (the province) were supposed to host it in 2020 but it got delayed for two years in the pandemic,” says Patti Kusturok, chairwoman of the Manitoba Canadian Grand Masters (CGM) committee.
The event kicks off tonight with a dance at the Norwood Hotel before the competition proper gets underway on Saturday at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. Competitors have to be invited to participate.
“We have people across the country listen to and scour for fiddlers we think are top-notch and we invite them to come and take part. We look at competition results and see who’s on there on lot.
“We get recommendations, there are fiddle associations we ask, and we also usually find fiddlers on YouTube,” Kusturok says. “Historically, it’s been a bit tough to get contestants, but I think now that it’s in Winnipeg this year, which is more central, we have 37 fiddlers, a record-breaker for the whole competition.”
The musicians will play before three judges from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, before being whittled down to 10 for the finals.
The three judges — Brian Hebert, Rodney Krip and Mark Sullivan — have at least 75 years fiddling experience among them and will be charged with the task of crowning one person the CGM champion.
“Brian is a legendary Canadian fiddler who has composed many fiddle tunes that are considered to be standards across Canada’s fiddling scene,” Kusturok says. “Mark is a former three-time CGM champion and is considered to be one of the best players in the country. And Rodney was a multiple winner of the Saskatchewan provincial championships. They have all competed at the CGM before.”
Kusturok is herself an accomplished fiddler who started playing at the age of four and was the first female to win the competition in three consecutive years.
“I used to compete in it since it started, and I won it in 1994, 1995 and 1996. I was the very first woman, and the first western Canadian to win it,” she says.
“I think fiddle music important in all areas of Canada. There is a fiddle tradition no matter where you go. It’s been around since the settlers came to Canada and it’s really important to preserve this,” she says.
As well as the competition on Saturday, the audience will also be treated a variety of programs, including a performance from the three judges, a junior showcase, and music from some of Manitoba’s fiddling legends. The penultimate event will be a presentation to the 2022 CGMFA Hall of Honour Inductees before the champion is crowned.
“As part of the evening show there is the junior showcase performance presented by the Frontier School Divisions featuring four young fiddlers; two from Manitoba, one from Saskatchewan and one from Ontario,” Kusturok says.
The fiddling legends include four of the province’s best musicians: Garry Lepine from Portage la Prairie; Shawn Mousseau from Lake Manitoba First Nation; Oliver Boulette from Manigotagan; and Kusturok herself.
“There will be a Métis flavour for that show with lots of talking and playing,” she continues.
“The Hall of Honour awards are for people who have made a big difference in the fiddle world, who are recognized for their contribution to fiddle music and for the people who have built a fiddle community.”
Tickets for the event are available online from www.cgmmanitoba2022.com. Prices vary for each event: tickets to the Friday dance cost $20, and a day pass for Saturday costs $50. Under 12s get in free. Log on to the website to purchase tickets.
“We have sold almost 300 tickets for Saturday already,” Kusturok says. “We weren’t sure how people were going to feel so close after the pandemic — we were hesitant — but we thought we’d go for it, and it’s turned out so well.”
“We want as many people to buy tickets online, especially for the Friday dance as we are serving a late lunch and need to know the numbers.”
AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.