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Fiddling the Northwest Passage

Pierre Cruzatte A Musical Journey Along the Lewis and Clark Trail With Daniel Slosberg

Native Ground Music
109 Bell Road
Ashville, NC 28805

Pierre Cruzatte, the one-eyed Metis (French-Indian) fiddler who accompanied Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, didn't leave behind a journal or list of tunes he played on the expedition. And no member of the Voyage of Discovery who could read and write knew anything of musical notation or of Cruzatte's fiddle repertoire. Hence, any attempt to reproduce the music played on the journey is, at best, speculative.

That said, Daniel Slosberg's Musical Journey Along the Lewis and Clark Trail is a valuable, entertaining, and instructive compilation of tunes, approximating what the explorers and their curious Native American hosts might have heard along the historic route.

Slosberg's provincial fiddle-style, rustic and free of the violinists polish, makes liberal use of cross-tunings, drones, and French shuffles. It's a style Cruzatte would have been familiar with, assuming, perhaps erroneously, that his repertoire had French, Scottish, and Irish antecedents. With the exception of "Amazing Grace," an inexplicable inclusion on this CD, the fifteen-plus tunes and songs on Pierre Cruzatte are from old-time fiddle and folksong traditions that Cruzatte could have drawn upon, though none of the featured selections were ever mentioned by name in the expedition journals. (The tune for "Amazing Grace" did not enter the fiddlers' repertoire with that title until 1831.)


Slosberg's renditions are accompanied by a variety of simple instruments bones, rattles, spoons, jaw harps, and hand drums , and the outdoor sound effects (crickets, campfires, and flowing water) further add to the aural experience of life on this imaginary trail. How Native Americans responded to Cruzatte's music Slosberg doesn't tell us, but the fiddle surely was a source of wonder and amazement to a culture devoid of stringed instruments, and undoubtedly inspired all manner of curious accompaniment.

In his liner notes, Slosberg relates each tune to a journal entry, adding a line of commentary to solidify the connection. Some work better than others. "Fisher's Hornpipe," a wonderful French-style version of this now standardized fiddle tune, gets this treatment: " [O[ur Captains...Gave them all Some Marchandize....

They received them very thankfully divided them out among themselves, & play on their juze harps.... Whitehouse, August 30, 1804. The expedition carried approximately 150 Jew's harps as presents for the Indians. The Metis also call this tune "La Double Gigue. The term "Double Gigue, like the generic "sonata," refers to a musical form rather than to a specific tune, and applies to hundreds of dance tunes.

For "Soldier's Joy," a venerable tune for which the fiddler contributed new verses, Slosberg's commentary is simply a justification for a harmless indulgence. "Members of the expedition would have probably made up verses to common melodies," Slosberg postulates. "Here are some standard verses, as well as two written for the occasion."

These are minor criticisms, given Slosberg's intent, which is to approximate a sound heard 200 years ago on a remarkable expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Pierre Cruzatte: A Musical Journey Along the Lewis and Clark Trail is itself a voyage of discovery, for which there were neither maps nor journals to guide the musicians. In that sense, this recording has an authenticity that would have delighted the explorers.

—William Furry

24 | Illinois Heritage

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