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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 AndrĂ© Brunet’s lovely waltz “La fĂ©e 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, AndrĂ© 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 AndrĂ© 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 AndrĂ©, 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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Quebecois Music

Le Vent du Nord at the Rogue in Vancouver BC, 1/27/2016

As I’ve already written about several times on my blog, it’s always a pleasure to hear Le Vent du Nord perform–although this time, it was on a seriously rainy Wednesday night at the Rogue. Yet the loyal fans filled the place nonetheless!

This time too we actually were without Olivier Demers. If you’ve been following my posts and have seen my earlier Le Vent concert posts, you know Olo’s my favorite of all the members of the group! (And I’m not just saying that because he follows me on Facebook and therefore might actually read this. Auquel cas je dois dire SALUT OLO!)

But this time he had to stay home, due to having a death in his family. 🙁 He posted to his Facebook wall that his father had passed away just a couple of days before the show. (And I was simultaneously very sad to hear the news and a bit relieved to have been warned about it in advance, because if I’d shown up without knowing M. Demers wouldn’t be on hand, I would have been even sadder!)

So Le Vent had to pull in Jean-François Gagnon Branchaud as emergency backup fiddler. If you know Quebecois trad, you may well recognize his name as one of the two fiddlers currently playing with La Bottine Souriante, who also sings some lead on La Bottine’s last album. And if you know La Bottine, you know that anybody who plays for them is guaranteed to bring their A game to a stage. Jean-François did not disappoint, and so even though we all missed Olivier, it was still a delightful show!

Let’s get down to the details, shall we?

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Quebecois Music

Album review: Maison de bois, by Nicolas Boulerice

Maison de bois

Maison de bois

I have written upon many occasions about Le Vent du Nord, and in particular about how every single one of those boys ranks very high on my list of musicians for whom I’ll buy ANYTHING they produce. And I would do this no matter what was on those albums. Olivier Demers accorde son violon? I’d buy that! Quarante-cinq minutes de la basse de RĂ©jean Brunet? Gimme! Simon Beaudry chante dans le douche? Sign me the HELL up.

Given my documented partiality, therefore, it’ll surprise exactly none of you that I jumped all over Nicolas Boulerice’s new solo release, Maison de bois.

If you know Le Vent du Nord, you know that M. Boulerice is the lead singer, hurdy-gurdy player, and piano player. If you’ve seen my prior album and show reviews for this band, you know in particular that he is a master of the hurdy-gurdy, and provoked my Dara into using the phrase “bitchin’ metal hurdy-gurdy solo”. The rich character of his voice and his dynamic hurdy-gurdy playing are a huge part of Le Vent’s overall sound, and therefore a huge part of what cemented my fandom of them in the first place.

It is important to note straight up, though, that you should not expect Maison de bois to sound like a Le Vent du Nord album.

Prior Le Vent releases do hint at what you’ll find on this album, mind you. On Tromper le temps, there’s a track called “Dans les cachots” that gives you a very good preview of the overall flavor of Maison de bois: Nico’s vocals standing on their own, with a stark, emotive aspect to them that a singer of traditional music doesn’t necessarily always have a chance to display, especially if he’s in a band renowned for being upbeat and lively. I’m still enough of a beginner at French that I can’t follow his lyrics without seeing them written out (and I’m not seeing lyrics on Nico’s Bandcamp page, drat), but I can tell you that the songs we get in this release are introspective and thoughtful of tone. I can easily imagine them sung in a smoky nightclub in a noir film.

Instrumentally, we have no hurdy-gurdy here. But we do have plenty of piano, and like the vocals, the piano aims for an overall introspective timbre. Which is not to say it’s understated–because as with the singing, the piano covers a broad range of expression, from quiet, delicate accents to more powerful chords. Other instruments from the backup musicians make appearances as well: some light percussion, a bit of bass, even a nicely muted trumpet on “Avec toi” (which is I think the song that sounded most to me like it should be sung in a smoky nightclub).

The backup vocals are likewise lightly handled. Accustomed as they are to hearing Nico singing with the Le Vent boys, my ears found it a bit odd to hear him harmonizing with a woman–but Mia Lacroix’s voice blended beautifully with his, and so her presence on the album stood out the most for me among the backup musicians in the credits on the Bandcamp page.

Overall, if you’re a Le Vent fan, this album is definitely required listening, just so that you can get a true sense of what Nicolas Boulerice is capable of with his vocals. It’s a refreshing change of pace, albeit one best suited for when you want your music to be moody and quiet. Because as much as I love Le Vent du Nord’s skill at making me want to get up and dance (or play!), sometimes I just want to kick back and listen. And this release has much to reward a thoughtful listener.

Maison du bois is available on Bandcamp. (I will update this post if I find other places you can buy it!)