‘Little House on the Prairie’: Could Michael Landon Really Play the Fiddle?

by Clayton Edwards
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Music was a big part of life for the Ingalls family on “Lille House on the Prairie.” The same was true for the real Ingalls family. On the show and in real life, Charles’ fiddle playing entertained the family. It helped them get through tough times and celebrate good times. In fact, that fiddle played such a big part in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life that she ended her Little House series of novels by referencing it.

In “Little House on the Prairie” Michael Landon does a great job stepping into the role of a frontier dad. Like the real Charles Ingalls, he frequently saws his old fiddle.

Landon couldn’t actually play the fiddle, though. He definitely nailed the movements well enough to look convincing on-screen… But that was about it. He may not have been a musician, but he was a good enough actor to appear to play the fiddle tunes that were the soundtrack to the Ingalls’ lives.

Pa’s Fiddle Played a Big Part in “Little House on the Prairie”

In both the novels and television show, Charles Ingalls’ fiddle played a large role in “Little House on the Prairie.” Sometimes it underscored the mood. Other times, it helped move the plot along. Whatever the occasion, that old fiddle could add to it.

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For instance, in the novel “The Long Winter,” Charles Ingalls plays his fiddle while the kids step in time to keep warm during a blizzard. As the winter pressed on, and the wind blew and snow fell, his music mimicked the weather. “The fiddle moaned a deep, rushing undertone and wild notes flickered high above it, rising until they thinned away in nothingness, only to come wailing back, the same notes but not quite the same, as if they had been changed while out of hearing.”

By the end of the long, harsh, frontier winter his fiddle was silent. The cold had made his fingers too stiff to play. The bitter cold and lack of music pushed the family further into desperation.

It wasn’t just the Ingalls family that experienced this. The frontier was full of musicians who would take up their instruments at the end of the day. They would play to shake off their sorrows, to unwind after a day’s work, or to entertain their loved ones. What we look back on as old-time music today was the soundtrack of day to day life for those who lived the life of the characters in “Little House on the Prairie.”

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