Despite the sometimes painful screech emanating from instruments played by less-than-expert fiddlers, the sound that characterized the 11th annual Kole Crook Fiddle Camp was that of kids having fun.
“When we started out, it was just fiddling,” Gerda Hazenberg, president of the Kole Crook Fiddling Association, told The Hub. “Then we added other options and three years ago we added art. It’s very important that the camp be about all kinds of expression.”
Just more than 50 students of all ages, though mostly children, participated in this year’s camp from July 2-5, back on the Hay River Reserve for the first time since 2009. They came from Yellowknife, Gameti, Fort Providence, Fort Smith and Behchoko, and were joined by kids from Hay River and the Hay River Reserve. While the number of participants has been decreasing in recent years – down from 106 in 2009 – Hazenberg said finding willing chaperones from non-hosting communities is the biggest impediment to growing the camp’s attendance.
“I don’t think too many kids from Hay River signed up this year and I’m not sure why,” she said. “But mainly the problem has been finding chaperones who are willing to give almost a week of their time to come here with groups from smaller communities.”
Hazenberg said the association, founded in memory of Hay River fiddler Kole Crook who died in a plane crash in 2001, is working as hard as ever to promote fiddling across the territory. It has bought fiddles for 17 different communities and continues to take instructors on tours. Just as important, noted Hazenberg, it also provides repair kits for those fiddles.
“Someone said to me that they had heard interest in fiddling was waning,” she said. “I say, once you start fiddling, it doesn’t wane.”
That has certainly been the case for 19-year-old Wesley Hardisty from Fort Simpson, who made musical waves at home in the North before making the move to British Columbia. Back at the camp as a teacher for the first time, Hardisty said passing on what he knows is all part of his process for making music.
“I can’t even tell you how nervous I was coming into my first class,” he said. “I’ve always felt the need to work in steps, and teaching is definitely part of that process.”
Hardisty said that, beyond the music itself, he is grateful for the opportunities playing the fiddle has brought his way. He explained that a camp he attended in B.C. wasn’t only a fiddle camp; it was a stepping stone to a wider world.
“I was curious and I wanted to see more than just the camp itself,” he said. “I wanted to see what else was out there.”
But studying music doesn’t only represent a greater chance to travel; it can also lead to strengthening ties at home.
“What I love about camps like this is that you have a bunch of students who want to learn, and it may be a fiddle camp, but it’s a community-building thing, as well,” Hardisty said.
Whether they felt the ties that bound them to each other strengthening or not, the students professed their enjoyment for all things about the fiddle camp, naming ‘Rubber Dolly’ and ‘Liza Jane’ as the camp’s signature tunes.
Hay River’s Ethan Hayne, aged seven, said his favourite was ‘Cripple Creek’, but that he liked the other songs just fine.
“I pretty much liked the whole thing,” he said.
When asked if they would return for next year’s camp, both Hayne and Hardisty replied with a definite yes.
— Sarah Ladik