The accordion: an instrument many people love to hate. I decided to take on learning the instrument in the summer of 2014 after the chance of playing one at a European cultural festival. As a piano player growing up, I hated the lack of portability of the instrument. The accordion offered a lot of freedom in this respect. Contestants applying to Polar are asked what their unique contribution is to raising team spirits when times get tough. I thought of my accordion and wondered how it would survive an outdoor adventure in snow.
That was how I discovered a tidbit of Canadian culture, unique to the north. Traditional Inuit music features drums and throat singing, but the area also boasts a disproportionately large number of accordion and fiddle players. Jim Hiskott calls this, in his essay, “probably a better kept secret than any other Canadian tradition”.
A remnant of contact with Scottish whalers, this musical tradition is a beautiful illustration of a marriage of cultures. Over the centuries, the music has developed a distinct style that is uniquely Inuit: Hiskott writes,
“Many of us would have serious problems with the goals and methods of the missionaries in promoting accordion playing to replace non-Christian practices; but the fact is that the Inuit now regard square dancing and the button accordion as their own tradition.”
Music moves. It inspires and unites. This music is testament to a time, before residential schools and forced settlements, when European-Indigenous contact meant a sharing of culture and expertise. It shows us a way forward as it continues to be a gateway for us to begin to understand an under-represented and often misunderstood culture. As an accordion student, it’s a personal and surprising discovery that ignited my interest in learning more about our northern compatriots.