A music history of Métis song

By Lynn Whidden
October 2020
Print Version

What you need to know

The Métis have a rich legacy of old French song, notably in the songs of Réal Boucher, who was raised in St. Louis, Saskatchewan. Whidden’s initial research was a response to Réal’s request in 2015 to help preserve and share his wealth of song. After a visit to his retirement home in Morrisburg, Ontario, he handed her the songs, a lengthy family history, and other invaluable contextual materials such as photographs and a songbook assembled by his sister for a 1982 family reunion.

Why this research is important

While western music history is well studied, Métis and Aboriginal song contributes significantly to world music history, and it needs to be enfolded into the academic discussion. Further, Réal’s Métis songs enrich Canadian history as they were carried from Normandy, France, to New France, to Red River, and finally to the Northwest, now Saskatchewan. The Boucher family brought their songs to ‘Canada’ in 1634 and continue to sing them in the twenty-first century.

How this research was conducted

And, of course, songs need to be sung. So far, to fulfill Réal’s hopes, three performances have featured the songs of Prairie Métis. In 2016, Réal was able to attend the 14th Montréal Baroque Festival, Chapelle Nôtre-Dame de Bon Secours, where he heard several of his songs performed to a delighted audience. Sadly, Réal passed on before he could attend the 2018 performance of From Paris to the Prairies in Nine Métis Songs, sponsored by both Brandon University School of Music and the Manitoba Métis Federation. On September 20, 2020, Réal’s songs were again featured in a Cleveland, Ohio, show, Les Délices—an online program focused on early music called SalonEra. Artistic Director Debra Nagy featured a range of mostly early music performers (and ethnomusicologist Lynn Whidden) discussing their work and sharing pre-recorded performances.

What the researcher found

Considerable research is required to transcribe and analyze changing music styles from the seventeenth to twenty-first century and to contextualize the songs in their time and place.

Whidden has travelled across the three Prairie Provinces interviewing and recording Métis singers; she has found musical treasures in the St. Boniface, Manitoba (Henri Letourneau collection deserves special attention), Saskatchewan and Alberta Provincial Archives, and in a few libraries such as the one in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

For many of the songs, online resources provide remarkable detail; then there are previous studies of old French song: Ernest Gagnon, Conrad Laforte, and Marius Barbeau, to name only a few.

In addition, Whidden has made preliminary explorations of the holdings in the Bibliotèque National in Paris.

How this research can be used

The research, when published online and in print, will provide a wealth of song for singing and playing as well as historical material for musicologists.

Editor: Christiane Ramsey Ramseyc@brandonu.ca

About the Researcher

Lynn Whidden

Lynn Whidden, Ph.D.

Whiddenl@brandonu.ca

Lynn Whidden, now Professor Emerita, has a long career of teaching and research, most of it at Brandon University.

Keywords

  • electronic/popular music
  • France
  • Métis
  • Northwest
  • Quebec
  • Red River
  • song

Publications Based on the Research

Whidden., L. (2004). Métis songs: Visiting was the Métis way. Saskatchewan: Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research.

Whidden, L., Shore, P. (2019). Environment matters. Why song sounds the way it does. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Editor: Christiane Ramsey

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