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.)

Friday: André does another solo show

Last year André opened the weekend with his very first solo show, and he told us at the time that he was going to aim for putting out his very first solo CD as part of celebrating his 40th birthday. That CD has now come to fruition! It is called La grosse maison rouge (The Big Red House), and the workshop this year was the tail end of a tiny tour he did to promote the release.

(In fact, two days prior to this workshop, he even came to Seattle to do a house concert. Which I attended. Which meant that I got to see him do the same show twice in 48 hours, and I was ENTIRELY OKAY WITH THIS. Because why yes I will leap on any opportunity I can get to be in a session that contains André Brunet!)

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of his set list featured tracks off the new album! Many of which were André’s original compositions, and as is always the case, they were crackling good tunes. More on this below, as we did delve into several of these tunes as part of the workshop!

Here, though, I will say that unlike last year, André’s concert was at the Qualicum Beach Rotary House. And we did pack the place pretty well. Dara and I got there fairly late, as we’d spent most of the day traveling up from Seattle. By the time we showed up, there were only a few seats open in the back. BUT! We wound up sitting next to Stephanie–who I remembered from last year’s workshop as the nice young fiddler who told me all about how to not “crush the bird” when holding the bow. I said hi and introduced her to Dara.

Joyce, when she got up to introduce André, made jokes about indicating all the exits, while André made several jokes about how the workshop last year was full of women; it may be taken as an exercise for the reader as to whether this was why he wanted to do it again. 😉

There were two sets, and a nice break between, during which we were all encouraged to have tasty refreshments. There was cobbler and ice cream! Also tea. And there was no actual charge for these, so Dara and I made a point of dropping a donation in the tin. Meanwhile, we also got to say hi to our B&B hostess, who was helping staff the kitchen during these proceedings.

André was very lively as a storyteller in between the songs, as well as with the songs and tunes themselves. Among the tidbits of story he shared with us:

  • St-Sévère is small, with 308 residents in it–unless you count the pigs and the cows, in which case it’s more like 5,000.
  • Teeny-tiny three-year-old André always sat on the guitar amp between his father and uncle as they performed, and so from an early age, experienced the feedback loop of energy between musicians and performers. This was VERY influential on making him want to be a fiddler!
  • Slightly less teeny-tiny André got started doing music contests, in which participants were called upon to do a waltz, a jig, and a reel in four minutes.
  • Eric Favreau gave him a cassette tape full of tunes by André Alain, which was also very influential. (Also, there were many jokes for the younger members of the audience about what cassettes are!)
  • As a touring musician, André often has to get up at stupid hours of the morning, so he thought it would be a good idea to write his own wakeup call. He ruefully admitted that this has not actually worked.
  • He and his De Temps Antan compatriot Pierre-Luc Dupuis got to be extras in a recent movie, so André told us all about how that worked–and how they eventually wound up with only a bit of his fiddle and a glimpse of Pierre-Luc’s face actually showing up on camera! And how his friend who got him that part apologized profusely later, and André got him to make up for it by sharing rare Irish tunes with him.
  • André has often wished he could have a pub in his attic. To be possibly called The Big Dipper, or, as his tune on the album is called, “La grand ourse”. (Note: “ourse” is bear! But English speakers conflate the Big Dipper with Ursa Major all the damn time, so no reason Francophones shouldn’t either, eh?)
  • One of André’s stories was about an instrument called a bombard, of which he said that “for those who don’t know this, you don’t want to know! You cannot play this just a little bit!” It’s a double-reeded instrument, and, intriguingly, Dara thought she recognized the name.
  • André talked about Portland, and the Moon and Sixpence pub, and about how it was ever so convenient that a lot of his walks in Portland ended there.

Tidbits of my observations about his pieces and general performance:

  • Title tune “La grosse maison rouge” is very lively!
  • One of the songs that André actually sang was “La fille mort”, which he called his “Johnny Cash” part of the show, as well as the #4 song in the set of six songs he and his wife knew how to do together when they did a little CD of three songs to share as gifts.
  • “Parcelles de mémoire” was perhaps the standout tune for me during the performance, partly due to André’s story of how his uncle had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s–but also because the tune itself was achingly lovely.
  • This show was the first time I’d ever seen André sing and play fiddle at the same time, and by sing I mean “actually sing solo/lead on something, vs. singing backup”. Mind you, he was hitting long notes in simple patterns while he was singing, BUT STILL. This means I have now seen exactly two people pull this off to date–André, and Alexander James Adams.
  • Of the tune “A Walk in Portland”, André noted, “Sometimes you don’t need to go far for a title.”
  • And the tune “Ice Cream Soda” was in honor of his mom and how her family made their own ice cream. To wit: neat!

André even did an encore for us, to the great satisfaction of the room, and got us all singing along with him. Which was only the beginning of an evening of music making!

Let me note as well that I did have to make a point of approaching André after the show, just so that I could show him the mammoth and tell him “Jean-Claude says good show!” That got a burst of laughter out of him. <3

Post-show Friday

After the show ended a bunch of us decamped to Chez Beaton, since the rest of the evening’s agenda did pretty much amount to “let’s have a session, shall we?”

The session turned out to be pretty cozy and was in the central room of the Beatons’ home. We were cozy enough that we were able to introduce ourselves to one another, and that was all very amenable and awesome. Like last year I was pretty much the only guitar on hand, though a gent Dara and I ran into on the ferry (and who remembered me from the year before) had his banjo.

And of course André is also a guitarist! He borrowed a guitar from John Beaton for purposes of the concert that evening–but once we were all cozy-like at the Beatons afterward, he in fact borrowed my guitar at one point during the night. And LIKED it, about which, more later. 😀

But since we were a pretty tiny, cozy session, I spent some time just trying to play guitar accompaniment. The nice gent with the banjo (whose name I have dropped as I write this, sorry, nice gent with banjo!) sat nearby; he’d told me and Dara on the ferry that he sometimes needed to peek at what guitarists were doing to try to follow chords. Me, I’m not exactly a stunningly experienced session accompanist. But it was gratifying nonetheless to be able to figure out periodic places where chord progressions I know from Great Big Sea worked well. Notable in particular when I got to hit some tasty A minors.

The big deal for me on Friday night, as it turned out, was this: HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS I FIGURED OUT HOW TO PLAY A TUNE ON MY FIDDLE.

I mean, I’d kind of already started doing this in practicing, but those were simple children’s tunes. This time? This time I actually worked my way through “Maison de glace”, which is one of the tunes I know how to play on my wind instruments and which was one of the first tunes I learned in general. It’s a lovely little thing by Réjean Brunet–André’s brother, bass player for Le Vent du Nord. It’s in D, although I tend to play it a lot more slowly than I hear it done in session.

I’m not saying I played it WELL, mind you. But I figured out where my fingers go for the whole thing, and managed to stumble my way through it. This was extremely gratifying. <3 <3

Saturday workshop

The next morning, André started the workshop in earnest. And, unsurprisingly given that he had a whole shiny brand new album, his focus this time was on teaching us tunes from that album. He told us some about the process of creating the album as well, and how he liked to focus on how his compositions sound with a lot of fiddlers. Given that he is only one fiddler, this meant that he spent some time making a lot of different layers of himself playing!

This led, in fact, to André wryly remarking, “I had the chance to play with myself!” A great deal of “AHEM >;D” erupted in the room in reply. Muahaha.

Here are some notes about tunes we covered, and observations I made during each:

“Sillon d’automne”

My notes say this is an album tune, but it doesn’t appear in the track titles. Where it does appear is in the liner notes, which inform me that it’s the second tune on track 9. The title, as André told us, translates to “furrows of autumn”. And I did in fact recognize the word “sillon” from SuperMemo vocabulary practice, go me! \0/

This tune’s in G, and I wound up playing it on the blackwood whistle. But I did also note André talking about some of the same bow exercises Lisa Ornstein has told me about in lessons–and that André did this thing with a bit of rotation of his wrist, which let him get these nice swinging sounds on his strings.

La veillée chez Lucien Piché

This is the very first tune on the album–literally, as it’s the first tune in the set that makes up track 1. André told us this was a tune he wrote for an auction winner at a prior Camp Violon Trad, and, amusingly, one of the other workshop attendees had been at the camp that year and had lost the auction!

The key for this one was D, but I actually wound up playing it on the A carbon fiber, just because of the range on the tune requiring me to go lower than the bottom D.

Garde ton souffle

This is also part of the track 1 set on the album, and came with a lovely story as well. André told us this one was all about his watching one of his kids learning to walk, and running right into walls. The title translates to “hold your breath”, and there’s a good argument to be made here as to whether it refers to the kid on a crash course with the wall–or the proud father not wanting to see his child get too bruised on the quest to walk!

The key of this one was A. So I kept to the same carbon fiber.

Promenade à Monaco

This tune was the last one we went over on Saturday. We had just enough time for André to demonstrate it for us, before we finally had to call a halt. More on this below since we came back to this one on Sunday.

Saturday afternoon

It should be noted that during all this working on tunes, I kept to the back of the room next to the one other flute player who’d showed up–a guy named Gary who remembered me from last year, and who had a lovely, lovely Casey Burns flute with keys on it.

Dara, on the other hand, jumped in at the deep end–and tried to keep up with the tunes class on her fiddle. She found she had to actually step out of the room so that she could hear herself, which is much the same problem I have when trying to keep up with a session. She told me later though that to her surprise, she found it easier to pick up tunes on a fiddle, at least when trying to follow a room full of fiddle players–as opposed to, say, mandolin or flute. Her theory was that this might have been because for once, she was playing an instrument that sounded like everybody else in the room, which let her figure out what she should be doing faster.

Partway through the day, Dara also realized that her shoulder was starting to bug her, since she wasn’t used to playing fiddle for so long. So I asked Joyce if there was a shoulder rest around that Dara could borrow. To wit: yes! This made Dara’s life much easier, and led to her buying one for herself once we got home again.

Also, Dara achieved what we’re pretty sure is a fiddle newbie milestone: breaking a hair on her bow! We figure this is good for at least a couple of points on the character sheet.

Leveling Up in Fiddle

Leveling Up in Fiddle

It was a pretty intensive day for both of us, though, and a nice long break was welcome. We went out for a bit to run errands–to go to the local grocery store as well as the drugstore to get stuff. Then Dara decided she wanted to go back to the B&B for a quick power nap. Me, I wanted to go back and play around with my fiddle, so I opted to walk back to Joyce’s, which wasn’t too far of a walk from the store.

I’m glad I did, because on the way I found bunnies! Bunnies who were very clearly someone’s escaped pets, because they came right up to me as if expecting to be fed.

Most of the rest of the afternoon break went to me noodling around a bit on the fiddle–and then, once Dara came back from her nap, we worked on what we wanted to do for the Saturday night ceilidh. Namely, a doubleheader of “King of Elfland’s Daughter” and “Elf Glade”!

Dara has been doing “King of Elfland’s Daughter” with Leannan Sidhe when they perform together, and you can hear the recorded Leannan Sidhe version on Bandcamp.

Alexander James Adams sings with Shanti on this recording, and for our purposes, Dara was singing Alec’s part. Which meant I was on tap to sing Shanti’s! So I had to learn these lyrics, and figure out a fast way to play a coherent intro and a little bridge.

Since this song is in D minor, this meant I needed to bring an instrument to this workshop that I didn’t normally play–i.e., my silver flute!

“Elf Glade” I was more prepared to deal with. And was the main reason I wanted to make a real big point of having the General. And OH HEY LOOK I found the song on YouTube, check it out:

(If you can’t see that video, try this one.)

This? This right here? This is one of the very first songs I learned on guitar. And the General is perfect for it, because as it says in the songbook I have for that Meg Davis album, this song is to be played with “nasty intentions”. >:D

Speaking of the guitar, anyway, André actually came up to me at one point during this part of the pre-dinner proceedings, made a big ol’ hopeful face, and asked if he could use my guitar during the ceilidh. Naturally I told him he could. Because when one of your favorite fiddle players asks to borrow your guitar, you tell him YES!

Dinner was lively and convivial and, as planned, led right into the aforementioned ceilidh.

The ceilidh

This worked the same way it had done the year before–i.e., everybody put their names onto a signup sheet, and took their turns at doing one or two songs, or telling jokes, or reciting a poem, or whatever worked for them. As part of the setup for this, though, I asked around to see if anybody had a stand I could use to park my guitar up on the little stage so André could get at it, since he’d need it before I would.

Which resulted in a rather album-cover-ific photo by Dara!

Ready to Play

Ready to Play

There were some lovely tunes performed, and some lovely acoustic guitar–which particularly got Dara’s attention, when that gent showed off the battery-powered amp he had attached to the back of his instrument. We also got a repeat of last year’s spoonerized version of the Three Little Pigs, which was pretty freggin’ funny a second time around too. Dara and I doing the elf songs back to back went over VERY well.

But really, maddest props for the entire affair go to our host John, who recited a poem he’d composed for the occasion, featuring André. Who hammed it RIGHT UP acting out the verses while John recited them. There was a rain slicker involved. And a hula hoop. And flippers. Muahaha.




And after all THAT silliness, we had us a little dance, again like last year. Many calls were made to get André to call a dance for us as well, which he was perfectly willing to do.

Let us note for the record, however, that he was a lot more competent at calling the dance than all of us were at actually doing it. Still, I daresay we were all having fun anyway, and nobody took it too seriously, and it was all good.

As I write this, I’m pretty sure that it was at some point during Saturday evening that I was hanging out in the central living room, and André brought me some scotch. Which was good stuff!

As I write this #2, I cannot recall whether it was Friday night’s sessioning or Saturday’s when I caught “La promeneuse” being played–the song by Pascal Gemme and Yann Falquet which popped up during session at the last workshop. It was lovely to hear that again even if I didn’t quite react fast enough to jump in on it. I think this was Saturday, though?

Sunday workshop

The next morning we got back to business, and André got back to teaching us more tunes, and telling us a bunch of stories in the process. For example, teaching a guy to actually look like a fiddler on screen, in a movie about La Bolduc, who is arguably the first modern-era Quebecois singer/songwriter. As part of this, he had to record a tune playing specifically like Eduard Bolduc, La Bolduc’s husband.

And André spoke in glowing terms of how it’s his privilege to be a fiddler, and also how all the best musicians know 12-15 tunes at any given time–because those are the tunes they need at that time. The corollary here being, of course, that they’re able to change what set of tunes they’re actively working with, at need.

La coin du balcon

This tune’s name means “the corner of the balcony”, and it’s André’s “house renovations” tune. He told us specifically about how it took him like a day on each corner of his balcony, and how he finished on a Sunday, put a rocking chair in one corner, and composed a tune right then and there.

He discovered later that that tune carried very well at night, when the mayor of St. Sévère found him the next day and told him it was a good tune. 😉

André ALSO told us about touring with Le Vent du Nord, the SOLO tour, and how he wrote a tune for that. We did not go over THAT tune. But AUGH man now I totally want that joint Le Vent-De Temps Antan album I keep hearing rumors about. *^_^*;;

When asked, André told us that the pickup note of a tune is called “la lever” in French.

I played this one on the G flute, but actually got up the gumption to ask André a fiddle newbie question: do you follow the feel of the tune to figure out the bowing? He said yes, and advised singing it to yourself to get the overall ‘message that you want to give’ with the tune. That, in turn, will dictate the bowing.

It was in general rather gratifying to have him tell us he considered us an advanced class, woo!

Promenade à Monaco

Finally we swung back around to pick up on “Promenade à Monaco” again, and we wound up spending a LOT of time on this one. This is the final track on André’s album, and it’s a big showy tune, with a lot of his guest musicians joining him on it.

It’s in C, which proved tricky for me–because while I could play C on the G flute, the B part of the tune has a sneaky G# in it. And if I’m on a G flute without keys, if I want to play a G#, this requires me to half-hole the second hole from the bottom. Which is hard.

We worked on this one long enough that it totally songvirused Dara and me both, and we were whistling bits of it at one another for days after the workshop. There was even bonus chord work, as a couple of the fiddlers asked André to go over what he was doing with the chord ornamentations. This was not immediately useful to me as a fiddle newbie with a flute in my hands–but I DID take notes on what he was doing for later fun and investigation. And I was particularly amused by how the first two chords he hit on his fiddle sounded immediately to my ear like the opening chords of “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

In closing

Once the workshop was called to a halt and everybody broke for lunch, Dara and I couldn’t really hang around–we had to go catch our ferry to head home.

But I WILL note for reference that I made a point of asking André about Camp Violon Trad–reminding him that I’d asked him last year about coming, and how he’d said he could get me a loaner guitar if I showed up. I told him I had set money aside to come and wanted to sign up for this year’s camp, so would he still be able to get me a loaner guitar?

You guys. YOU GUYS. Not only is André going to get me a loaner, he’s going to loan me one of his own guitars. He told me he was willing to do that because he knows I’ll take good care of it. 😀

So once Dara and I finally got home, I pretty much instantly jumped onto Camp Violon Trad’s site to get signed up–at which point I discovered that all four members of Le Vent du Nord are going to be guest teachers this year. So not only am I going to a music camp where I get to borrow André Brunet’s guitar, two of my favorite fiddle players are teaching there. It will be an entire week of epic goodness that I WILL be chronicling for you.

This little workshop, though, still shines bright as a cozy yet epic experience of its own–in which both Dara and I accomplished fiddle goodness, and from which I’ve emerged more galvanized about learning this new instrument. It’s already rolled over into my lessons with Lisa Ornstein, and has kicked me up to a new level of learning.

I note with distinct pleasure that Joyce did emphasize to us that this will be an annual event. Which means more workshop goodness next year.

Dara and I will be there. <3

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