Donny Parenteau says music found him.
But when the country music performer was 14 years old he found a key piece of his future career – a broken fiddle that had been stuck underneath his bed for years.
“I was going through cleaning up some stuff in my room and stumbled across this fiddle,” Parenteau explained. “I opened it up and it’s just like a light bulb went on. I knew I had to play it. I knew there was a natural ability for me to play music.”
It took two weeks to get the fiddle fixed.
“As soon as I picked it up – day number one – by that night I was playing half of a fiddle tune that I had in my head,” the fiddle player exclaimed. “I rode on my bike the next day with the fiddle back to the old violin repair man and said, ‘What’s this fiddle tune called?’ and he told me it was Over the Waves. I said, ‘How does the second half go?’ He said, ‘It goes like this.’ I watched him, I went home and I learned it. So within basically 24 hours I knew one fiddle tune.”
The self-taught musician has been fiddling ever since – and it’s worked out well for him.
“I’ve done music since I was 19 professionally, and I haven’t looked back,” Parenteau said.
The Prince Albert native spent 12 years of his music career playing the fiddle, guitar and mandolin for country music singer Neal McCoy’s band. During his time touring with McCoy, he had the opportunity to open for many big-name country artists such as Merle Haggard, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Shania Twain. He even got to fulfill a childhood dream of performing on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
Parenteau is bringing his music and inspirational story to the stage at Briercrest College and Seminary on March 12 during the school’s Aboriginal Awareness Week.
The Prince Albert native is proud of his Metis heritage, but sometimes as a child it was difficult.
“When I was a kid going through school you were ridiculed for being different,” he explained. “You were either Indian or you were white. There was no middle. If you were middle they used to call you half-breed, so you tried to hide that fact. Metis heritage to me wasn’t really discovered until the Metis heritage exploded in the 90’s. So when the Metis explosion happened, the same people who used to call me half-breed as a kid now walk around wearing a Metis sash. So it’s funny how that worked. Now today, everybody’s proud to be Metis. It’s a different era.”
Kallie Wood, Briercrest’s First Nations and Metis Coordinator is excited about Parenteau coming to share his message.
“Donny is an extremely talented musician and speaker whose energy, enthusiasm and love of people is overwhelming,” she exclaimed. “I have had the privilege of working with Donny over the years through Saskatchewan’s very own TeleMiracle, and he is indeed a genuine and rare Saskatchewan boy whose love for his Aboriginal culture is very apparent. He is a multi-award winner in the music industry over the years and I am proud of his contributions to our Aboriginal people and the province of Saskatchewan. I am excited and honoured to have him involved with Aboriginal Awareness Week at Briercrest and I know that our staff and students are in for a real treat with his public speaking energy!”
Parenteau’s positive message that encourages self-acceptance and making a difference in the world has been shaped in part by the difficult issues he faced earlier in his life.
“Respect is a very big thing for me,” he said. “If you don’t like yourself, you don’t respect yourself and if you don’t respect yourself you’re not going to respect anything or anyone else once you leave home. That’s where it starts.”
That kind of self-respect gave Parenteau the courage to dream big for his life. He uses his music career as an example.
“In my presentation I have audio of myself playing when I was 14,” he said. “I say, ‘Now, you’re 14 and that’s the way you play and you’ve got this big dream. I want to play at the Grand Ole Opry. I want to live in Nashville. That was my dream. When people first heard me play when I was 14 they thought, ‘Are you out of your mind?’”
But the questions of others didn’t deter the young fiddler.
“Dream big,” he exclaimed. “If you dream big, big things will come. It was a matter of 10 years later . . . at 24 years old I walked onto the Grand Ole Opry stage. I felt great but also felt sad because my dad wasn’t there physically. He had passed away the year before.”
The Juno nominated artist made a promise to his father before he died.
“I said, ‘I’ll take the family name as far as I can,’” he explained. So now, while I’m here, I’ll still take it as far as I can.”
Thanks to the City of Regina, the Parenteau name will be remembered far into the future. The Metis artist’s newest album was chosen to be placed in the time capsule the city sealed last October. The capsule will be unsealed in 100 years.
“It’s the only music submitted outside of a symphony orchestra that put some written music in,” Parenteau said. “So there are no other CDs in there. One hundred years from now it’s pretty cool that they’re going to open that up and relive my name.”
The country artist hopes that his music and presentations help inspire others to find their gift, just like he did as a young teenager.
“We’re all here to do something,” he said. “We’re all blessed with a gift and it’s up to you to find that gift.”