Quebecois Music

Victoria/Cumberland 2014 trip, Day 1: Le Vent du Nord at the Royal Theater, Victoria BC, 3/8/2014

And now, to start documenting my and Dara’s recent excellent trip up to Victoria, to see Le Vent du Nord! Saturday the 8th was when the adventure got underway–when we headed up to Victoria in the morning, for the symphony show to take place that night!

This time, since we were driving instead of taking the train, we didn’t have to get up quite so crazytalk-early. Since we had the car, we could bring a few extra important things along with us–namely, Dara’s bouzouki and one of my guitars! And, since we were driving, we had the chance to get caught up on several episodes of The Doctor Who Podcast and Welcome to Night Vale. This made the drive up across the border go acceptably smoothly. And the border crossing itself, since we took the truck crossing rather than going through Peace Arch, went quite fast.

Our only real option for getting to Victoria by car, at this time of the year, was to take the ferry available once we crossed the border. This was a ferry line we hadn’t been on before, though it was quite the nice boat and we had a lovely buffet lunch on board. Which was good, because the weather for our crossing was gray and blustery, so I didn’t want to try to go up on the upper deck.

Lonely Little Lighthouse

Lonely Little Lighthouse

Soon enough, the Coastal Constellation delivered us to the other shore, and soon enough after that, we hit Victoria. It was a little weird coming in via a route we’d briefly covered on our bus tour to Butchart Gardens the year before, but definitely nice to return to the Chateau Victoria. I love the rooms in the place–they’re really tiny apartments. And I’ve since heard that the building in question in fact used to be an apartment building, so that makes a lot more sense now.

We had time enough to get our things unpacked, to get rested up and cleaned up, and then finally dressed up to head out for dinner at this place, and then to the show. (Because yes, Internets, I did in fact wear a dress to this venue!)

I should note at this juncture that I had, in fact, brought Jean-Claude the mammoth. But I elected to leave J-C in the hotel room, for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to minimize the amount of things I was carrying with me, and two, it was raining outside and I didn’t want to get the mammoth wet. Remember this, Internets, because it’ll be important later!

And at any rate, I figured I’d be weird enough as it was, being the blue-and-green-haired fangirl on the front row and all. A suspicion which proved correct, because the very first thing that happened to me when Dara and I went into the venue was that I was greeted by a couple of older ladies near the doors who blinked at me and asked if I’d been at the show at Hermann’s the year before. I promptly affirmed that I had indeed. The ladies asked me if I’d be singing and dancing this time, and while they sounded rather wry about it, I got the subtext: you’re not going to get weird on us, are you? Those of you who have followed my Le Vent du Nord fandom these past many months will be aware that I’d been cognizant all this time that La Danse Verticale is NOT something in which one engages, in a symphony venue. And so I assured them with all due gravity that I would be very well-behaved. With effort.

The crowd in general skewed significantly older than Dara and me, and furthermore seemed to skew conservative musically speaking, as well. We looked in the program book we were provided, and found that a lot of the pieces the symphony would be playing during the season were very, very standard Beethoven and Bach. Later that weekend, Dara told me she’d overheard a couple of older women in the ladies’ room telling each other bemusedly that “at least it’ll be different!”

Dara had also clearly forgotten that I’d nabbed us front-row seats, because when I took her into the performance hall and we went all the way down front, she was all “you’ve gotta be kidding me!” HA. This is what happens when you buy tickets in August for a show not due to take place until the following March. Once we got settled into our seats, I made a point of peeking around for our friends Ginny and Gary and Carol, since I knew they’d all be in attendance–and it didn’t take us long to spot each other, since they were only a row behind us and a little further stage left.

I can’t present you with pics of the show; we weren’t allowed to take pictures during the performance. Dara did however ask for and receive permission to take a couple of shots of the venue beforehand, and she got a very nice panorama shot with her phone!

And Le Vent du Nord themselves posted some awesome pics to their Facebook page. If you’re on Facebook, you can find them here. Close as we were to the stage, I can attest that yeah, this is pretty much what the show looked like from the front row!

Dara noticed pretty quickly as well that there was a trapdoor leading down under the stage. I had to strictly forbid her to jump over the railing and investigate it, no matter how tempting the prospect was. She claimed she wanted to sneak in under the stage and steal one of the standup basses, which led to a bout of hysterical giggling over how exactly we’d get THAT past customs, and I may have snickered out something about “this contrabass is contraband!”

Aaaaaaanyway, the program proved super-useful in that it did provide a full lineup of the pieces we’d be hearing that evening–so yay, I didn’t have to take set notes! Which was good, because I’m pretty sure some stern person would doubtless have frowned upon me tapping onto my phone, and I’d forgotten to bring my backup plan of a pen and my small journal. Here then is our lineup of pieces for the evening:

  • Molly on the Shore
  • The Lord of the Dance
  • L’heure blue
  • Rosette
  • Marguerite
  • Le cœur de ma mère
  • Le cœur en trois
  • Le retour du fils soldat
  • Octobre 1837
  • Lanlaire
  • Intermission
  • Le souhait
  • Petit rêve III
  • Elise
  • Les larmes aux yeux
  • Le vigneron
  • La fille et les dragons
  • Les amants du St-Laurent
  • Écris-moi

The first two pieces on the program were actually without Le Vent, which was a surprise. But a pleasant one, since it gave us all a chance to hear the orchestra by itself, and to give us an idea of what they could do. Well, those of us who weren’t already regular ticket-holders, I should say. It was nice to hear symphonic arrangements of Celtic material, and it set the mood for the evening nicely.

Then Le Vent came out, and I can report with deep satisfaction that it took only about two seconds for Olivier Demers to spot me from his position on the stage and flash me a big smile. This, of course, being entirely why I wanted front row seats. We were pretty much smack dab in front of Olivier, in the two far right seats in the center part of the front frow.) Olo however also shot Dara a big grin when he noticed what she’d brought with her–her tea-cozy-slash-frog-hat. Since SOMEBODY was less chicken than me when it came to making her very own individual stamp of impression upon this staid and sober audience.

And once the band was on stage, the business of the performance began in earnest. I was particularly excited that “L’heure blue” was the opening piece, since this is one of my favorites from the Symphonique album. However, my deep familarity with that album was almost a bit of a detriment! I kept expecting the mix of what I was hearing to match what I knew from the album, and it didn’t. I wasn’t sure whether this was due to our being so close to the stage, or whether the sound mix would have been different if we’d been in the true center of the room. From where I was sitting, I had a bit of trouble picking out some of the instruments from the very back of the orchestra, and there were times that the boys’ vocals seemed a bit overwhelmed by the sheer force of instrumentation on the stage.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t care in the slightest. It was way too fun to just be there to watch the boys perform, and to see how the musicians in the orchestra were reacting to them as well. I saw quite a few people in the violin section paying close, interested attention to what both Réjean and Olivier were doing. But everybody in the orchestra pretty much all had their game faces on–i.e., their “we’re on stage now, so we need to be serious and focused” expressions. It was a very interesting contrast to the boys being lively and easygoing up front, and a clear indicator of what having two disparate musical cultures meeting on the same stage might look like.

As the first half of the performance progressed, I sternly reminded myself not to sing any response lines out loud, though I made no promises even to myself that I wouldn’t be mouthing the lines. And I did start quietly foot-tapping–as did Dara, for that matter; I could feel the floor vibrating slightly when she did so.

I think too that this was the first time I’d heard Nicolas introduce “Le cœur de ma mère”, “Le cœur en trois”, and “Le retour du fils soldat” as a trilogy. This was one of the places I perked up harder during the performance, because this was also the first time I’d heard the symphonic arrangement for “Le cœur de ma mère”! Here was one of the few points during the show where I was a little sad about the overall acoustic mix, because I really, really wanted to hear what the back of the orchestra was doing, here. I had an impression that the deeper horns and percussion and deeper strings were back there doing something awesome, but it was only an impression.

As always, “Le retour du fils soldat” was beautiful and haunting. Though I have to admit that I felt slightly sorry for the orchestra having nothing to do during an entirely a cappella song.

Then, to my surprise and pleasure, the band went into their usual “get everybody to sing along with them” spiel for “Lanlaire”. I was not expecting that in a symphony venue, and I think the crowd wasn’t really expecting it either–but it did warm folks up considerably. I giggled at the boys wryly grading the enthusiasm of our responses against other shows, and, well, at that point all bets were off. I’d previously vowed to be good and not sing and dance, but hey, if the band was outright asking, well!

During the intermission, I found the swag table and determined that, as expected, I had every single album on that table already. However, on general I Ain’t Leaving This Venue Without Giving These Boys Some of My Money principles, I bought another shirt.

And in the second set, it was a distinct pleasure to hear “Petit rêve III”. I’d been waiting for that one, since I can actually play it, though I have yet to try to play along properly with the symphony album as opposed to the studio version. When I make jokes about wanting to see the flute parts for these arrangements, though, I am totally talking about this piece in particular, as well as “L’heure bleue”!

“Le vigneron” was another new arrangement, and another place where I had to listen harder and closer, since I wanted to hear what the orchestra was doing back there behind the boys. I really, really hope there will eventually be a recording of this available.

But ah yes, they ended with the other new arrangement I was very much looking forward to–“Écris-moi”. Y’all know this one, people. The lovely waltz whose title translates to “Write to me”, or if you happen to be me, “Gee thanks Simon I wasn’t using those knees anyway”. I was surprised and tickled to see Simon actually making jokes in his intro to this song. “In Quebec we do the last song last,” he told us, and proceeded to add how they’d tried to do the last song first in the second part once, and that hadn’t gone well at all, they’d had to give refunds and everything. But he also informed us that this song was a beautiful one–“written by me, so of course”. LOL. Nor did it disappoint in the slightest. Gracious, that was lovely.

Of course, there was an encore. And not surprisingly, the first of the two pieces they did for that encore turned out to be “La soirée du hockey”.

But then, then, they whipped out “Cré-mardi”. I went ZING! as soon as Nico started in on the by-now very familiar “Ohhhhhhhh j’avait un beau chapeau”, and I’m sure I must have gone incandescant right there in my seat. Because I’d gotten it into my head that while this, one of my very favorite Le Vent songs, does appear on the symphony album, it wouldn’t be appearing in this particular lineup of pieces–but it hadn’t occurred to me that they’d hold it in reserve for an encore.

Which means I have finally now gotten to hear Le Vent do this song live! The only way that could have been awesomer is if I’d heard them do it at a proper pub show. But make no mistake, there was no way I wasn’t going to sing back at them at this point. And I gladly listened for the flutes back there with their high accents over the turluttes, and the trumpets doing their echoing of what the boys were singing, and it was all entirely glorious. If I’d have been in an appropriate venue to do so, I’d have been on my feet and dancing. It goes without saying that as soon as we had the chance to do so, I was on my feet for the standing ovation. Because that was the entirely correct and appropriate way to end that entire delightful performance!

BUT. Stick with me, Internets, because the story of the evening doesn’t actually end here.

As everyone drifted out into the lobby, I did eventually find Ginny and Gary and Carol and say hi to them all. But I also found the band as they came out to say hello to everyone. I do believe I enthused at Olivier first, and then I started asking all the boys to sign my copy of Tromper le temps. AND, since I’d brought it along as well, I asked Simon to sign my copy of Le sort des amoureux as well, since his brother had signed it the week before.

I got hugged by Olivier, which at this point was not terribly surprising, but I also got hugged by Réjean, which was! But the story of the evening doesn’t end here, either.

Because Carol, Ginny, and Gary invited us to come to another pub with them to hang out after the show, and the band came with us. The pub we wound up in, just a short walk away from the venue, was awfully loud and so we eventually lost track of Simon and Réjean and François. But our group did keep Nicolas and Olivier. And Dara and I wound up sitting right next to Nico, and I alternated between trying to hold a conversation with him and with Carol, who was sitting right across from me. Likewise, Nico kept alternating between us and the other half of the group–but I was quite, quite amused at how fast we got his attention when Carol and I started getting into it over Star Trek, and at one point the table was urging us to have an arm-wrestle fight. And we also wound up having to tell Nicolas the story of my and Dara’s Great Spock’s Brain Drinking Contest.

The good M. Boulerice, once I told him I was trying to improve my French by reading Quebecois SF/F, also gave me a recommendation for an author I hadn’t heard of before: one Bryan Perro, who writes middle-grade level fantasy novels. (He’s apparently a big enough deal in the Quebecois publishing scene that he’s getting translated into English, which is both a good thing and a bad thing, at least for me–because the French editions of his books are more expensive, digitally, than the English ones! So if I’m going to read him, I’m probably going to have to find him in print. Or else see if the prices on his digital editions come down.)

Nico also told me that his own father, Jacques Boulerice, is a published writer and poet. Unsurprisingly, he recommended his father’s work too! And I’ll have to work a bit harder to find the elder M. Boulerice’s work, since he’s not available digitally to speak of. More things I’ll need to look for next time Dara and I go to Quebec and I make a raid on the nearest Renaud-Bray. Oh darn.

We wound up having quite the lovely conversation all around, though Dara determined that her luck at getting a decent kamikaze in BC was not, unfortunately, going to improve. Eventually, though, we did have to break up and go our separate ways–but before Dara and I finally returned to our hotel, tired and content, I made a point of making a final farewell to Olivier, and telling him we’d see them again soon in Cumberland!

But more on that, O Internets, as the saga of our Victoria and Cumberland trip continues in the next post!

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