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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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Quebecois Music

Festival du Bois 2016: Dara and I make noise!

This year was the third one that Dara and I have made it up to Festival du Bois in Coquitlam (previous visits having been in 2012 and 2014). We have grown rather fond of this cozy little festival and hopefully will get to start attending yearly rather than every other year!

Day 1: Saturday

This time around, we had a lovely lineup of acts I wanted to check out, two of which were familiar to me and one of which was not. My main point of interest was the power trio of Le bruit court dans la ville–who, of course, were the most excellent musicians who were my draw to Fiddle Tunes this past summer, Lisa Ornstein, André Marchand, and Normand Miron. But also quite noteworthy was Maz, who I’d already become aware of; I have both of their albums. I had not to date had a chance to see them live, though!

And last but not least was ReVeillons!, who came highly recommended by a few of the folks in our local session crowd. I wanted to check these guys out in no small part because they include Jean-François Berthiaume, who I’d already known about courtesy of his being the percussionist for Galant Tu Perds Ton Temps.

We did get to see all three of these acts, and I am pleased to report that they were all excellent. But as it turned out, this time around Dara and I actually got in some time getting to play ourselves!

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Quebecois Music

Andre Brunet Fiddle Workshop, February 2016!

This past weekend I had the very great pleasure of being able to attend a small fiddle workshop featuring André Brunet of De Temps Antan! The workshop was held on Qualicum Beach, at the home of the same wonderful couple who hosted the house concert I attended in August 2014. And I was overjoyed to be invited to come back up to Qualicum for this–because as I’d written in that post, for the chance to learn from André, I’d do that long drive again in a heartbeat.

You will notice that this was a fiddle workshop, and that I am still not a fiddle player. But I am a flute player, and moreover, just hanging out in a fiddle workshop was valuable to me as an exercise in hearing assorted tunes broken down into smaller phrases. Even after a few years of trying, I still struggle to keep up in a full session environment. So it’s hugely helpful to hear someone break a tune down into bits that I can then try to reproduce by ear. It works in my brain the same way that trying to read French does. I.e., it lets me better understand the overall structure and feel of a tune. So I will be leaping all over any tunes workshops I can get.

And you guys, this past weekend? Amazing.

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