Tune of the Month: The Old Man and the Old Woman
The Old Man and The Old Woman
The Old Man and the Old Woman is a widely played, widely loved and widely recorded old time fiddle tune of French Canadian origins. I first learned it from Wayne Holmes (Evergreen Fiddler II) in Eugene, Oregon, way back in the early '70's when I was scratching out my first tunes. Since then, I have often put it into service for either square or contra dancing. Glenn Berry plays it as well, very well in fact. This one comes to us from Joe Broncheau (accent on the first syllable - Bron show) of the Nez Perce tribe in Clarkston, Idaho. See 'Romeo's Last Chance' in February, 2012 of this column.
Back tracking a bit - in 1841, James Sinclair, Métis son of Hudson Bay Company Chief Factor William Sinclair, led 121 Red River Métis (people of mixed Native and French or English Canadian ancestry - see 'Road to Batoche' December 2010 of this column) on a 1700 mile journey to the Oregon territory. This was at the behest of then Governor Simpson to establish farming communities in support of the forts and fur trading centers of the Hudson Bay Company. Nisqually, in what is now Washington and French Prairie, south of Portland, were two such settlements. The fiddle was already firmly ensconced as the instrument of choice for dance music among the Métis and I'll bet there was soon some good fiddling to be had. John C. Jackson writes about this migration and the broader Métis community in 'Children of the Fur Trade - Forgotten Métis of the Pacific Northwest.' While he doesn't focus on fiddling per sé, there is a sketch of a "grand Ball" at Fort Victoria in 1845 with a fiddler comfortably wailing away in the corner and also a photograph of a John Mounts and Frank St. Germain with banjo and button accordion at a house in a Métis community at Muck Creek near the Nisqually. Assuredly that was a pleasant musical mix. Over the years, the Métis identification diminished and the descendants were absorbed into either the white communitities or local Native American communities. I don't have the Bronchaud family tree; but, with a French Canadian surname, some of Joe's people may well have come from this background.
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Stuart Williams, Music Editor
Updated November 7, 2012