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Athabascan fiddle music is 'good for you,' Gwich’in musician says


In Interior Alaska, Athabascan fiddle music is a staple at social gatherings. At the 2019 Elders and Youth conference, elders taught young people how to dance the signature style – called jigging. Gwich'in fiddle player Jerry Frank originally learned to play the guitar, but when older fiddle players passed on – he took up the instrument that’s a signature of Athabascan jigging – a style of square-dancing folk music.

“Music is good for you it’s good for the village too,” Frank said. “Everybody gets together and they have fun. They all come together and enjoy meeting their friends, family, everyone.”

Frank, says the music is usually played at celebrations and holidays. Gwich’in musician is self-taught.

“I’ve never had music lessons, but I kind of learned it on my own. I composed all these musics on my own.”

Athabasan fiddle music gets its roots in the mid-19th century. That’s when the instrument was introduced to Interior Alaska by fur traders from Scotland, Ireland, French Canada and even the Metis.

A couple of young people swing each other Monday, October 14, 2019, during an Elders and Youth breakout session on Gwich'in music. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KNBA)

“I’m always into music that’s my life. It makes life easier for me. It’s good for your stress and everything too. So when your down and out, pick up your guitar. And play where ever that’s going to make you feel good. You’re friends like it. It’s good for you."

And by the looks on everyone's face, it must be.

Originally from the Midwest, Tripp Crouse (Ojibwe, a descendent of Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, pronouns: they/them) has 15-plus years in print, web and radio journalism. Tripp first moved to Alaska in 2016 to work with KTOO Public Media in Juneau. And later moved to Anchorage in 2018 to work with KNBA and Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.