We always knew that The Winter Bear had to include Athabascan fiddling, a tradition dating back to the late 1800s when trappers, gold seekers and traders brought their music to Alaska Native people living along the rivers. When he was a young man, Sidney Huntington made his own fiddle, right down to boiling a moose hoof to make the glue to hold it together. He and his brother Jimmy played that fiddle for many years.
For our 2010 shows at Cyrano’s, David Chanar (guitar and vocals) and Hans Halvorsen (fiddle) treated our Anchorage audience to lower, middle and upper Yukon old-time music.
Hans learned to play the fiddle by watching the old-timers. His mentors were the late Artie Joseph from Rampart and Louise Britton. He admires the musicianship of Bill Stevens, Sr. and Trimble Gilbert and will always give up the fiddle and play guitar when they’re around. At 33, Hans is one of the youngest of the old-time fiddlers and, sadly, he doesn’t see many his age eager to carry on the tradition.
Hans brought his own entourage to our shows, including his mother Rita, his girlfriend Betty and brother Frank. After the show, we’d follow the fiddlers to the Moose Lodge where we’d dance to their music and ate moose stew.
One night Rita told Brían Wescott, the actor playing Sidney Huntington, that he looked “familiar.” Although Brían grew up in Fairbanks, his mother’s family came from the McGrath area and had Yup’ik, Koyukon, Russian and Norwegian roots. Rita soon figured out that Brían’s grandmother was Han’s Auntie Evelyn, which makes Hans and Brían cousins.
We asked David and Hans back to open our 2011 shows at the Wildberry Theater. But we noticed right away that Hans’ ready smile was missing. We were all stunned to learn that his handsome brother Frank had committed suicide just a few months before. Hans, told us that The Winter Bear helped him cope by allowing him to “do something about suicide.” Then he stroked his fiddle. “Music is so soothing,” he said. “You can put your feelings into it. Pass the time. It gives you good energy.”