Parenteau to perform at Briercrests Aboriginal Awareness Week
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 â a broken fiddle that had been stuck underneath his bed for years.
âI was going through cleaning up some stuff in my room and stumbled across this fiddle,â Parenteau explained. âI opened it up and itâs 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.â
It took two weeks to get the fiddle fixed.
âAs soon as I picked it up â day number one â by that night I was playing half of a fiddle tune that I had in my head,â the fiddle player exclaimed. âI rode on my bike the next day with the fiddle back to the old violin repair man and said, âWhatâs this fiddle tune called?â and he told me it was Over the Waves. I said, âHow does the second half go?â He said, âIt goes like this.â I watched him, I went home and I learned it. So within basically 24 hours I knew one fiddle tune.â
The self-taught musician has been fiddling ever since â and itâs worked out well for him.
âIâve done music since I was 19 professionally, and I havenât looked back,â Parenteau said.
The Prince Albert native spent 12 years of his music career playing the fiddle, guitar and mandolin for country music singer Neal McCoyâs 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 schoolâs Aboriginal Awareness Week.
The Prince Albert native is proud of his Metis heritage, but sometimes as a child it was difficult.
âWhen I was a kid going through school you were ridiculed for being different,â he explained. âYou 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 wasnât really discovered until the Metis heritage exploded in the 90âs. 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 itâs funny how that worked. Now today, everybodyâs proud to be Metis. Itâs a different era.â
Kallie Wood, Briercrestâs First Nations and Metis Coordinator is excited about Parenteau coming to share his message.
âDonny is an extremely talented musician and speaker whose energy, enthusiasm and love of people is overwhelming,â she exclaimed. âI have had the privilege of working with Donny over the years through Saskatchewanâs 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!â
Parenteauâs 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.
âRespect is a very big thing for me,â he said. âIf you donât like yourself, you donât respect yourself and if you donât respect yourself youâre not going to respect anything or anyone else once you leave home. Thatâs where it starts.â
That kind of self-respect gave Parenteau the courage to dream big for his life. He uses his music career as an example.
âIn my presentation I have audio of myself playing when I was 14,â he said. âI say, âNow, youâre 14 and thatâs the way you play and youâve 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, âAre you out of your mind?ââ
But the questions of others didnât deter the young fiddler.
âDream big,â he exclaimed. âIf 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 wasnât there physically. He had passed away the year before.â
The Juno nominated artist made a promise to his father before he died.
âI said, âIâll take the family name as far as I can,ââ he explained. So now, while Iâm here, Iâll still take it as far as I can.â
Thanks to the City of Regina, the Parenteau name will be remembered far into the future. The Metis artistâs newest album was chosen to be placed in the time capsule the city sealed last October. The capsule will be unsealed in 100 years.
âItâs the only music submitted outside of a symphony orchestra that put some written music in,â Parenteau said. âSo there are no other CDs in there. One hundred years from now itâs pretty cool that theyâre going to open that up and relive my name.â
The country artist hopes that his music and presentations help inspire others to find their gift, just like he did as a young teenager.
âWeâre all here to do something,â he said. âWeâre all blessed with a gift and itâs up to you to find that gift.â