Canadian fiddling grand champ brings versatility to his performances
Daniel Gervais’s mother started teaching him piano at an early age. But one night, as his family gathered around a campfire in Lac La Biche, five-year-old Daniel became fascinated by an elder fiddle player. Not long after, he told his mother that he wanted to switch instruments.
“I was so mesmerized by the fiddle—it’s such a versatile instrument,” he says. “We say, the fiddle dances, the violin sings. I just felt compelled to play it.”
Now a faculty member in MacEwan University’s Music department, Daniel is soaring to new career heights, fiddle in hand. In October, he received the French Canadian Association of Alberta’s Eugene C. Trottier Award for his visibility and involvement in the province’s francophone community.
“My French Canadian ancestors were already in Western Canada over a hundred years ago—and they still speak French,” he says. “I’m really proud to keep my French Canadian culture alive.”
Practice makes perfect
Daniel describes himself as a professional fiddler with a master’s of music in classical violin. He grew up playing Old Time and French-Canadian fiddle music and later delved into jazz and classical music. His gypsy jazz ensemble, Hot Club Edmonton, won Instrumental Album of the Year at the 2010 Western Canadian Music Awards.
“At one point growing up, I didn’t think it was cool to play music,” he recalls. “I wanted to quit and play hockey. Then I decided that I’m either going to go for it or I’m going to just quit—and my mom wouldn’t allow me to quit.” He did a one-eighty, and soon would not stop practicing.
Daniel’s commitment to his craft has led to gigs at festivals, theatre concerts, weddings, funerals, corporate events, background music—even once for passengers on a WestJet flight. In his early days, he was hired to play Christmas music in a drug store, roaming up and down the aisles with his fiddle. But he says a true career highlight was representing Alberta as a cultural ambassador at the 2012 London Olympics.
“You just want to be in service,” he says. “It’s not like you practice, practice, practice and then you’ll have gigs. It’s an ongoing process.” One gig could lead to several more, or nothing at all, but he says not to discount any opportunity. A small gig may lead to something bigger. “It’s not just about the music—you have to be a creative businessperson.”
Other times though, it is about the music and pursuing a dream.
In 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2011, Daniel competed in the National Fiddle Competition of Canada. “I didn’t make it to the finals the first year. The second year, I got sixth place and in 2008, I got eighth—I had regressed.”
Daniel was discouraged, but wasn’t ready to give up. “I thought, I’ll go back one more time in 2011. I’ve got nothing to lose. If I can play my best, then I’ll be happy.”
At the 2011 competition, as he stood on stage after his final song, “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” he heard the crowd cheering and knew he had delivered his best performance. “I am the first and only Albertan to win this title to date.”
Now that he sports the title of 2011 Canadian Grand Master Fiddling Champion and winner of the Eugene C. Trottier award, he says the accolades have helped further solidify his career.
“I love playing music because it makes me happy and hopefully makes others happy as well,” he says. “To boot, I earn a living doing what I’m most passionate about. What’s better than that?”
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