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Quebecois Music

Quebec Trip 2017 Report, Part 2: Montreal

The one major thing I was sad about re: our trip to Quebec–other than the saga of Dara’s lost luggage, and I’ll get to that–was that I got to spend only a few hours in Montreal. And that was only because the travel plans meant I had a bit of buffer time between when I arrived at the hotel, and when I needed to rendezvous with the shuttle going to Camp Violon Trad.

Because, fortunately, there was in fact going to be a shuttle. The camp’s staffer in charge of communicating with campers, when she sent out a notice in June telling us what to expect, mentioned that they’d be running a shuttle from downtown Montreal up to where Camp Violon Trad actually happens. I was quite happy about this news, because this meant I didn’t have to try to rent a car and navigate my way northward through a French-speaking province.

(Note that the street signs at this point probably wouldn’t have given me a problem. I’m good enough with reading French at this point that I can figure out roughly where I am, if I need to. The tricky parts would just be not being familiar with any specific traffic laws in Quebec. Or if I had to pull over for directions, or got pulled over by a cop or something–because then I’d have to try to communicate and my conversational French is not up to speed yet. But that was also part of why I wanted to go to Camp Violon Trad. More on this to come, too.)

What amused the hell out of me about the camp shuttle was this: the designated pickup point was right by the Berri-UQAM Metro station. Which, as it turns out, was about the only part of Montreal I knew anything about, because when Dara and I had spent our weekend there in 2012, that very corner was right by the hotel we stayed at, the Lord Berri.

This meant that I also knew that there was an Archambault there, and I knew there were a lot of shops and restaurants and things within immediate walking distance. So, that gave me at least a bit of buffer time, long enough for running errands and having a brunch, between “leaving the hotel” and “rendezvousing with the shuttle”.

Getting out of the hotel

Getting out of the hotel was a bit of a challenge. I knew that in theory there was a bus I could take from the airport to the aforementioned Metro station, and I remembered that on the way in the night before, I’d walked past a kiosk that looked like it had information for the bus in question. But I got a little lost walking around with my luggage through the airport–which, now that it was a much saner morning hour, was a lot busier than when I’d arrived the night before.

Turned out I’d come down onto the wrong floor. I had to backtrack a bit, but ultimately, found that kiosk. And determined that I had to buy a pass that’d cost me ten bucks (Canadian). This struck me as expensive. But on the other hand, it was still significantly cheaper than paying for a taxi.

The bus in question, the 747 (not to be confused with the jet, lol), had a stop not far from the ticket kiosk. So I got out there and soon enough was on my way.

It was awfully bright that morning, so I had my sunglasses on. This impacted my ability to look at things en route, but I did notice that Montreal was undergoing a lot of construction. Rather like Seattle, in that respect.

Once I was off the bus

The bus route was very straightforward: get on the bus at the airport, and get off the bus at its very last stop. So there was no risk of confusion or anything in that regard.

There was a bit of confusion as I was turned around regarding what street I was on once I was off the bus, but that was easily corrected. I found the Archambault (and the Lord Berri right beside it) as landmarks quickly enough. And that let me orient myself on the plan I had for the morning: go to a pharmacy a couple blocks north of the Archambault, then go to the Archambault, then go find something to eat, and finally, rendezvous with the shuttle.

On the way to the pharmacy (and back again, for that matter) I got panhandled in French. Or at least, one active panhandle and one attempt to see if I spoke French, but which I suspected was a panhandle. I was rather amused by that, just because being panhandled in a different language was at least a bit of a switch.

I was also deeply amused by this, which was not something I expected to see in Montreal.

Apparently, at least one Elvis impersonator is a big deal there. Ha!

The Archambault was the major errand I wanted to run (the pharmacy was just for necessities). And what I wanted was Tolkien things in French! I nabbed a French translation of The Silmarillion: this one, to be specific. And I bought the Blu-ray set of The Lord of the Rings movies again, but this time because this set actually had French dubs of all three movies. The US releases we’ve already bought–both the DVDs and the Blu-rays–do not have French dubs, which baffles the hell out of me. Portuguese, yes. French, no. To this day I do not for the life of me understand that particular marketing decision!

I amused the clerk at the counter telling him I wanted to practice my French by doing the reading, and by watching the French dubs of the movies. He tried to warn me that The Silmarillion is not exactly an easy book to follow. I assured him that I had read it repeatedly in English, so yes, I was very, very aware. ;D

I’m pretty sure I provided at least a bit of amusement of my own to passersby on the street, just because I was dragging my suitcase around behind me, with my backpack on top of it so I wouldn’t have the weight of it on my back. And of course, I also had my fiddle, which was what I was carrying on my back instead, since it was lighter than the backpack. This led to multiple conversations with people about how I was in the middle of a lot of travel and was on my way north for the next leg of my journey.

Finally I did make it to Juliette et Chocolat, which had been recommended to me on Facebook as a good source of brunch. And which, in fact, I was pretty sure I’d remembered going to in 2012. The brunch was in fact excellent. So was the dessert, a thing called “petit pot fleur de sel”, which was all chocolate-mousse-y and salted-caramel-y and gracious that thing was tasty.

Eventually I wandered around as much as I felt I was up for wandering around. Half of me really wanted to go to the Café des chats, one of Montreal’s cat cafes, but it was just a bit too far of a walk when I was hauling luggage around with me. So I finally just parked for a bit at the corner, sat in the shade, and hung out playing Gummy Drop on my iPad; while I was doing that, I had another random conversation with a gent amused by my stack of luggage.

That didn’t kill enough time, so I got up and wandered off again to go into a nearby coffeeshop for a cold beverage and a visit to a ladies’ room. And that accomplished, I came back again and finally found some folks waiting in a little cluster with violin cases and other luggage.

I’d found the Camp Violon Trad crowd!

Waiting for the shuttle

I discovered to my surprise that I was not actually the only person from the extended Seattle-area session crowd. One of the other ladies waiting for the shuttle was another Seattle person. So that was awesome to discover. 😀 Turned out we had a bit of a wait on our hands, once we greeted one another and exchanged names and such. None of us were particularly sure which corner the shuttle would be showing up on, or even what kind of vehicle we were looking for.

It was a good thing for me that there was public municipal wifi available, though, because that let me check my mail–and find an update sent out by the camp coordinator, Ghislaine, warning us that there had been a bit of a mixup as to vehicle rentals, and that there would be two drivers coming, but one was running late. Which ultimately meant that there’d be two cars for about six passengers, so we had to divide up who would ride with which driver.

The driver I rode with was a fellow named Luc. Who, as it turned out, is André Brunet’s cousin! He was very nice, and told me and the other two ladies riding with him that he taught English. The route he chose to take northward was a bit random, since he wanted to avoid the tunnel that runs underneath the St. Lawrence river, which is often very crowded. None of us minded, as it was a pleasant drive. I amused myself practicing reading signs we went past, as well as keeping up with the bilingual conversation going on in the car.

Once we made it to St-Côme, I was able to observe that it is a) tiny, and b) kind of adorable. The same applied to Plein Air Lanaudia, the site of Camp Violon Trad. There was a lovely lake there, a bunch of trees, and assorted chalets that we were all staying in.

But more on this in Part 3 of the trip report!

Quebecois Music

Quebec Trip 2017 Report, Part 1: Getting there

My grand Camp Violon Trad + Memoire et Racines Quebec adventure is sadly now concluded, but now at least I can have the fun of telling you all about it! So now let us begin the blogging!

I can’t give you a day-by-day report of every single thing that happened, though I took a bunch of notes in various forms throughout the trip, and I’ll be relying on those to write these posts. I did have wifi access at Violon Trad–but it was erratic and, well, I was kinda busy, so I didn’t try to do constant reporting of what was going on. So I took a bunch of notes instead on my phone and some in hand-written form as well.

This post is intro and will be all about just organizing to go on the trip!

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Quebecois Music

Andre Brunet Fiddle Workshop, March 2017!

(This post is a little overdue, as all of this went down a couple of weekends ago, and I didn’t really have the chance to sit down and write this out in full until now! Plus, there was a session to go to as well as questionable mammogram results that, thank all the universe’s powers, turned out to not be a problem after all. So let’s return to this post in progress and get this written up, shall we?)

Y’all may remember that last year in February, I had the distinct pleasure of getting to attend a workshop in Qualicum Beach, at which André Brunet spent a glorious weekend teaching a bunch of us how to play several tunes. Well, we all had such fun doing that last year that our hosts, the Beatons–not to mention André himself–decided we had to do it again.

And when I learned from Joyce Beaton that this was happening, I leapt RIGHT ALL OVER THAT. Because last year’s workshop was a huge influence on my decision to start taking official fiddle lessons! Plus it’s just such great glorious fun to hang out with a house full of musicians for a weekend, learning things and jamming.

Better yet: this year I brought Dara. 😀 Not to mention a whole pile of instruments.

All! The! Instruments!

All! The! Instruments!

(For those keeping score, the instruments in this picture are the General, my guitar; my as of yet unnamed fiddle; Silver, my flute with keys; my carbon fiber and blackwood whistles; and my quartet of carbon fiber flutes, the little D, the G, the A, and the big D.)

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About Me, Quebecois Music

2017, are you TRYING to give me emotional whiplash?

This past Monday I had my annual mammogram.

This afternoon, Dara alerted me that Evergreen had left me a message on our home answering machine asking me to call them. This is not normal procedure when a mammogram goes well. I got through to them after a couple of tries, and was informed by their staffer that their radiologists want me to come in for an ultrasound of my left side.

Doublechecking my January 2013 posts, I am reminded that this is not the first time I’ve had a questionable mammogram. In 2013, they told me they saw teeny calcifications on the left side, and after they did a biopsy, they told me it was fine.

I am nervous now, four years later, to be informed that they want an ultrasound of that same side. So now I am scheduled to go back in for an ultrasound, on Wednesday of next week, and I get to be nervous about this until then.

I will now be doggedly focusing on trying to be the least amount of nervous I can manage, because goddammit, cancer, I do not have time for your shit. I have writing to do. I have tunes to learn. And I have a fiddle to learn how to play better.

Especially because goddammit I am going to Quebec this summer, for Camp Violon Trad, as I’ve been wanting to do for ages now. Dara and I are beginning a plan for her to meet up with me after the camp is done, for Memoire et Racines, which I’ve been wanting to go back to ever since the brief and awesome time we had there in 2012. We’re discussing the possibility of meeting up with Vicka there, even.

And I have a lot riding on this, you guys. Because not only is Violon Trad run by two of my favorite Quebec musicians–André Brunet and Éric Beaudry, along with their colleague Stéphanie Lépine–this is going to be the 10th anniversary of the camp, which is sure to make it extra epic this year.

Pretty much guaranteeing that it will be epic: ALL FOUR MEMBERS OF LE VENT DU NORD WILL BE GUEST TEACHERS.

Which means, Internets, that I’m going to be at a music camp that will contain André Brunet (from whom I have already had the pleasure of a couple of excellent workshops, now), Éric Beaudry (because BOY HOWDY do I want to spend multiple days learning guitar from this man, YES PLEASE), AND Olivier Demers (who, as y’all may recall, I dubbed the Best Fiddle Player Ever).

I am not remotely ready to tackle playing the fiddle in a full-bore week-long camp like Violon Trad–I’ll be going for the guitar classes, mostly. But I will also be bringing at least some flutes. And now that I actually do own the fiddle I’ve been renting (I bought it because woo! promotion and bonus!), along with a bow that doesn’t suck, I will ALSO be taking that fiddle to try to at least learn SOMETHING.

Because why yes an opportunity to learn tunes from Olivier Demers will make up for how I haven’t seen Le Vent perform in over a year, and I haven’t seen them perform with Olivier for over two years.

I AM DOING THIS AND NO OTHER OUTCOME IS ACCEPTABLE.

Han says NO.

Han says NO.

TAKE THAT, questionable mammogram results. >:|

Music, Quebecois Music

And now, a fiddle report!

I’ve mostly been talking about this on Facebook as of late, but for those of you who don’t follow me there, I wanted to do a post to get caught up on where I am with the fiddle lessons!

The biggest news here is that since I got promoted at work and got a lovely bonus to go with that, I went ahead and bought the 3/4-sized fiddle I’ve been renting for the past several months. Which of course means that I now need to update the official list of the Murkworks Household Instruments! And this fiddle also needs a name. I’ve been half-jokingly calling it “Rental” for a while, but now that I actually own it, not so much? I dunno yet. Unless I can come up with an amusing pseudo-French word for “Rental”. ;D

I also invested in a much better bow, a process which took rather less time than I anticipated–in no small part because Kenmore Violins had only four 3/4-sized bows immediately handy. (The rest of the ones they had in stock needed to be rehaired.) And the first one I picked up just sounded so very delightful, so I went YES PLEASE and bought that one.

Brought the new bow home and the jump in sound quality was immediately apparent to Dara–who, although she has hardly any fiddle experience either, does have an excellent ear. I am still very much a fiddle newbie myself, but oh my yes having a much better bow makes the experience of playing so much nicer.

Materials-wise, the new bow is a wooden one, vs. the carbon fiber one I’d been using. And I would not be surprised if it had better hair on it. Sound-wise, it produces a tone that’s much richer, smoother and… creamier, I guess. I don’t know if that’d make sense to people with more fiddle experience than me, but that’s what it sounds like to me!

I’m also much more able to just hold this bow. I’d expressed frustration to Lisa, and also to the owner of Kenmore Violins, that one of the issues I had with the CF bow was that when I tried to hold it properly, my pinky kept slipping out of place. So far this hasn’t happened with the new one.

I’ve used the new bow only a couple of times so far, but so far it seems like I don’t have to flail so much to find the proper amount to tighten it, either. Which I daresay will help with my consistency of general sound. The other frustration I’d had with the CF bow is that I was having a hard time determining exactly how much it should be tightened for play–because I was trying to go by what Lisa had advised during our lessons, except that it seemed like that bow wanted more tightening than that. I kept getting a scratchy, airy, overtone-laden sound, and I couldn’t tell whether this was because the bow was sub-par, my technique was sub-par, or a little bit of both.

But now I have a new lovely bow! So I can work more on my technique! 😀

As to what I’ve actually been learning: Lisa’s got me working on arpeggios at this point. I can more or less reliably produce the G, D, and A scales, and I’ve been working on the arpeggios in those keys as well, going through several simple exercises to practice the finger placements. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I also work on simple tunes. Mostly that’s still “Frere Jacque” and a bit of “Road to Lisdoonvarna” as well, just because I’m still not too good yet at doing string transitions at anything resembling proper speed. I’m still having to work on what Lisa has called “stop, drop, and roll”–the sequence of individual small motions necessary to jump from a note on one string to a note on another.

What’s made this more fun though is that Dara has started jumping in on practicing with me. Since I have specific exercises Lisa’s given me, Dara’s doing those with me, since she does have her own fiddle and a non-zero level of “whelp I might as well learn a bit more about this thing” interest. Dara’s also better than I am at string transitions–she can whip out a closer-to-credible “Lisdoonvarna” for example. But I’ve been sharing with her tidbits that Lisa’s been teaching me, such as the proper way to hold the bow, and what’s supposed to happen in terms of what angle you keep when you’re bowing. (You’re supposed to keep a straight angle. I don’t yet. I keep curving a lot and need to work on that.)

And yesterday when we practiced, we derped our way through the C and upper octave G scales. I wanted to do this in no small part because I wanted to see if I could pick out the opening notes of André Brunet’s lovely waltz “La fée des dents”. Which is in G–so I need C naturals in there. So I clearly need to expand the scope of my scales! But happily, C and second octave G use the exact same fingerings, just jump over a string. So that’ll be easy to practice.

I will also need to think about other keys suitable for session tunes. E minor, A minor, and B minor all come immediately to mind. If I can build up my list of scales, I can get closer to what I still do on the flutes to warm up to this day: i.e., work my way up through progressively higher scales. And I still have flute exercises ingrained into my subconscious that involve first doing a scale for a given key, and THEN doing the matching arpeggio. So I want to do that on the violin as well.

Relatedly, I’m finding that one of the very first exercises I remember playing in sixth grade band is popping out of the back of my brain again! That exercise works like this:

(Side note: WHOA there’s a WordPress plugin that does ABC notation! Which is how I did that bit of music up there! \0/)

The fun thing about that exercise is that I have a distinct memory of my sixth grade band playing through it like that, but then doing it again staccato. And boy howdy am I not prepared to do staccato on the violin yet. That’ll be for getting ambitious later!

ANYWAY… this is all exciting and I am now a fiddle owner as well as a fiddle student! I continue to have wonderful fun learning from Lisa Ornstein, and I do heartily recommend her for anybody in the Puget Sound region who wants to learn violin, particularly if you have an interest in Quebec trad or Old-Time music.

AND! Dara and I both will be heading up to Qualicum Beach this coming weekend for a fiddle workshop. Y’all may recall that last year I had an amazing time at the Andre Brunet workshop there. Well, all parties involved had such a lovely time that we’re doing it again this year. And this time I’m bringing Dara, because it’ll do us both good to hang out in a house full of musicians for a whole weekend. And this time?

This time I can come with a few more clues about the fiddle. Stand by for a full report, Internets. It’ll be AWESOME. 😀

Music, Quebecois Music

Fiddle geekery, October 2016 edition

This past weekend I had my latest lesson on the fiddle with Lisa Ornstein! We’ve more or less settled into a “once a month” kind of schedule, which is working out pretty well. And it’s a nice long lesson, too. Which is good, because if I’m going to drive all the way down to Olympia, a couple of hours of learning time makes that drive very, very worth it.

Lisa has told me some very gratifying things about how, since I have a bit of an analytical mind, this is standing me in good stead when it comes to understanding the various aspects of playing the instrument. And I certainly have to admit that coming at this as an adult student with a prior musical background is speeding things up a bit–Lisa only has to teach me the physical aspects of playing the instrument. She doesn’t have to teach me how scales work. We just have to focus on how to hold the instrument, how to hold the bow, and how to make noises that don’t suck.

I haven’t been practicing as often as I should, probably. (This is what happens when I have a full time day job AND I have writing to do!) But I do try to pick up the fiddle at least every few days and work my way through scales, and review how to hold the bow properly. We’ve wound up reviewing my bow grip at the beginning of the last couple of lessons, and this past weekend in particular Lisa had me move where I’m putting my thumb. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting it to settle properly on that notch between the grip and the frog–my thumb has a way of bending too much and coming in at a bad angle there. So Lisa had me move the thumb out to rest against the metal sleeve that holds the very bottom end of the bow hairs. She said this was often what Suzuki beginner students are taught, and during the lesson it certainly seemed to me like that gave me a more stable grip on the bow. Moving forward, I’ll be holding my bow like that and we’ll see where that takes me.

(More fiddle geekery behind the fold!)

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Photos, Quebecois Music

My very first fiddle lesson!

On Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting Lisa Ornstein for my very first lesson on the fiddle. And to my amused surprise, I didn’t play a single note on the instrument.

Yet I had a couple of hours of deeply satisfying conversation and instruction! So what did I do if I didn’t actually play anything?

A lot of exactly why I wanted to engage an experienced teacher: i.e., a lot of going over the overall anatomy of the instrument and the bow, to talk about what goes into making them and how they work. And a lot discussion of proper stance, both sitting and standing, and proper ways to hold both the instrument and the bow. I very much wanted to sit down with someone who knew what they were doing to go over this stuff, just because the violin does intimidate me a bit, and taking the time to examine it in detail helps address that problem. If I know something, it becomes less scary!

And as part of trying to make all that discussion stick in my brain, I’m writing it up now for all of you! There will also be pictures!

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