2017 Montana Folklife Area - Making Music Under the Big Sky

Celebrating Instrument Makers in Montana and the West.


Where would Lewis and Clark have been without a one-eyed boatman named Pierre Cruzatte? He was an expert boatman who because of his diminished sight accidentally shot Meriwether Lewis in the willows along the Missouri River on their return voyage to St. Louis.

All was forgiven, however. He was a valued member of the Corps of Discovery who had been indispensable to the journey. Why? He was an accomplished fiddler who brought along a violin. Cruzatte played the fiddle "extremely well" according to Lewis on June 25, 1805. Cruzatte's music served not only as a salve for the soul after a long brutal day of travel and recreation not only for the members but for the many they encountered on the expedition -- His playing was a critical diplomatic tool. He played--and the men danced and sang--for many of the Indian nations that the expedition met along the way.

The journals of the expedition describe him playing numerous times, and no doubt played many more times than the journalists recounted

Even more to the point, he knew how to repair and keep the instrument in working condition for the better part of the expedition despite the harsh conditions they endured in their travels across the continent and back again.

He carried the music with him.

Long before that, however, Native Americans across Turtle Island knew the power of music and the instrument makers who could fashion flutes and drums for a variety of celebrations and sacred ceremonies. Drums and flutes of various designs and fabrication were in every Native village across the continent. They provided entertainment but often were an essential component of sacred ceremonies in sweat lodges and annual gatherings that brought the people together as one around a drum that emulated a collective heartbeat or transported a spirit with the melodies of a flute.

This year, we have invited and here host ten instrument makers from throughout Montana and the West to demonstrate stringed, wind and percussion instruments that they make. They represent the art and the craft of making a variety of instruments from luthiers of banjos, mandolins, violins and guitars who know how to, as the famous master luthier from Virginia Wayne Henderson says "pick up a piece of wood and cut away everything that doesn't look like a guitar." to flute makers, to drum makers, to a hurdy-gurdy maker. The hurdy-gurdy is an ancient European instrument that has a special place in Montana and Western history with mining camps because the portable instrument was inseparably associated with dancing girls who traveled to early mining camps to work as dance partners for lonely miners.

In past years we have used our themes to celebrate occupations associated with major industries and lifeways that have helped to shape Montana

In 2017, while this niche industry is not a huge driver for Montana's economy, the occupation in Montana pays an average salary of $25 an hour for professional instrument makers, it is an occupation that it is close to our hearts and very important to the balance between art and science where we seek to live.

It takes a person who is a creative artist and a tenacious mechanic, an innovator and an accountant with a penchant to solve puzzles and with tedious attention to detail.

Bruce D. Weber, master luthier, who has been making world class mandolins for his entire career explains it with a quote from Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work to describe his profession:

‘I Believe the mechanical arts have a special significance for our time because they cultivate not creativity, but the less glamorous virtue of attentiveness. Things need fixing and tending no less than creating.’

This is especially true of instruments and those who make them and possess the skills and patience to repair them.

The occupation requires skills with woodworking and other tools, but also requires an artist's eye -- not only to the quality of materials and form but to the quality of sound as well as they set the stage for musicians to communicate to the world in the truly universal language.

Yet when they are done with the intense attention to details, and solved the many obstacles along the way, put together the puzzle pieces, the resulting product nine times out of ten is a unique work of art.

Please enter and examine the area yourself and meet and question the instrument makers assembled here who have graced us by joining us in the Montana Folklife Area.

Decide for yourself if it is mechanical science or creative art, or a beautiful blend of both or maybe as these instrument makers will recount, a rewarding and fulfilling way to spend their work days, giving life, beauty, and music to otherwise separate and silent materials.

Visit Our Relatives