In a piece that was first published in The Little House Sampler edited by William Anderson, Rose Wilder Lane wrote a story called “Grandpa’s Fiddle” where she talks about their last night in De Smet before beginning the trip to Mansfield. She has Laura saying that they’d never made it through everything while she was growing up without Pa’s fiddle and it is definitely an important part of family life as described in the “Little House” series.
Pa’s Fiddle and Fans
The music of Pa’s fiddle is also of great importance to fans of the series. When Barbara Brooks made a set of character dolls (the ones described in the only know recording of Laura’s voice) of the family, she chose to portray Pa playing his fiddle. Today Pa’s fiddle is one of the treasures on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri and it’s one of the most popular artifacts for Laura pilgrims. If you travel to Mansfield during Wilder Days in September, you are guaranteed a chance to hear someone play Pa’s fiddle in person. Lucky fans may also stumble over a performance at other times of year when the fiddle is played to keep it in shape.
Recordings of Pa’s Fiddle
If you can’t make it down to Mansfield, there are recordings available. There are two recordings of Pa’s real fiddle being played available for sale today. Laura Ingalls Wilder Speaks is available on cassette tape and CD. The first half features the only known recording of Laura’s voice and the second half features a soloist playing Pa’s fiddle. A Tribute to Charles Ingalls has Pa’s fiddle in what I can only assume is the world’s first Bluegrass symphony orchestra (there’s even a bagpipe in one song). It’s a wonderful CD I enjoy, but Pa’s fiddle does get a little lost in the crowd.
Pa’s Fiddle and Michael Landon
Pa’s fiddle playing is at the heart of the book series. However, that importance is not always carried on to adaptions of the series. They seem to find it difficult to find an actor who can even mime playing the fiddle well. In the Guthrie version of the Little House on the Prairie musical Pa’s fiddle remained on the wall and not in his hands during the music.
Michael Landon was much more convincing. I still get questions over whether or not he was really playing. Read a contemporary quote about Michael Landon’s efforts.
“As for Pa’s fiddle playing, it’s dubbed in. Landon even had trouble learning how to hold the fiddle but we can expect some fine acting….”
Find the quote in:
Van Horn, Gail. “Walnut Grove residents celebrate fall TV show go-ahead.” Messenger Independent. 5 June 1974: 3B.
UPDATE 2015: I did some editing and added the headings and the photo for the reblog.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.