By Stan Peterson – Cabri, Sask.
We used to have good dances at Venlo School. Venlo is near to the town of Abbey in southwestern Saskatchewan.
I can remember these times, the good crowds we used to get and the admission was usually just a silver collection. Needless to say, the music makers didn’t get much pay – 50¢ or a dollar was the usual pay.
It was the Dirty ‘30s and no one had too many dimes or even nickels a lot of the time, yet I don’t think anyone was ever turned away if they didn’t have the money.
Everyone had a dance or two while some danced every dance. Many a time, it went on until early morning.
Everyone else used to think the music was very good. My father was on the violin (fiddle) and he was accompanied by a young lady chording on the piano. Her name was Dora Mashke, who later became Dora Watson. They did make very good music and kept on until all were ready to go home.
My dad brought this violin from Minnesota when his parents and several brothers and sisters and some other relatives moved to Saskatchewan in 1910.
He had started playing down in the States and was playing for dances when he was quite young. They used to tell the story of him playing for a dance one time when he was about 15 years old. He didn’t have a good instrument.
A total stranger gave him a very good violin in a nice case and said: “If you can play that well, you should have a good fiddle.” My dad finished up the evening enjoying this fine instrument. The guy left and they never saw him again.
Dad played it for the next few years and brought it with him to Canada when he was 18 years old. It’s the same fiddle I played after a lot of awful noises and squawks until I finally was able to play some tunes. I’ve played it all these years since.
There were eight of us in the family. Dad has been gone since 1941 and no one else has ever even tried to play it.
I played with some fun groups from Abbey, Cabri, Gull Lake, and the special group of all, the Swift Current Old Time Fiddlers, and that was the thrill of my lifetime. They played all the good old dance tunes and prided themselves by playing all the tunes just like they were written.
Harvey Peacock was one of the leaders and he was a genius at that. He seemed to know every tune you could mention, the right key, and none of us read any music. We had lots of enjoyment out of playing and seemed to leave some happy dancers.
Fiddles can be played badly and they sound terrible, but if they’re played right, and you like fiddle music, it can sound so good.