Quebecois Music

Quebec Trip 2017 Report, Part 4: Classes and activities at Violon Trad

And now, finally, back to my trip report about going to Quebec for Camp Violon Trad and Memoire et Racines! In the last post, I talked about the locale and scenery of where the camp was held. In this post, I’ll talk about what we actually did! Or at least some of what we did, because there was a lot, and that’ll stretch across multiple posts.

Sunday, July 23rd

Sunday the 23rd was mostly all about everybody showing up on site, getting settled in, and then gathering in La Grand Salle for the formal welcome of everyone and the introduction of the professors. This was the point at which I took some pics of a bunch of the banners hanging around the place, just to establish some mood!

I knew or at least knew of almost everyone on the teaching staff: André Brunet and Éric Beaudry, of course, the two main reasons I wanted to show up; Stéphanie Lépine, who I knew of via her prior connections to Éric and who has a small (and now growing) presence in my collection; David Boulanger, one of two current fiddlers in La Bottine Souriante and who will be André’s replacement when he leaves De Temps Antan for Le Vent du Nord; and, of course, the boys of Le Vent du Nord. \0/ The only one of them I didn’t have any prior experience with or knowledge of was Davi Simard.

During the welcome event it became very evident very fast that keeping up with things in French was going to be a challenge, but I was already prepared for that, so that was okay. I had trouble following the vast majority of things that were said, but I did periodically pick out scattered words and phrases. And, of course, that was a lot of the point of my going to a music camp in Quebec, to practice my French!

It should be noted as well though that André (who throughout the week usually acted as the main spokesperson for the teachers) at least made a point of translating the most important things for the benefit of the non-Francophones in the camp attendees. Mostly this involved important points of camp safety and such, but he also asked us to specifically avoid taking pics or video during the classes, to encourage us to focus on, well, the classes. And also because we’d all paid to be there, so it wouldn’t do to put pics or video of the actual lessons online.

I did, however, take pics of the teaching staff during that welcome event! Here are those:

One of the things I was able to pick up on during the welcome was that there were a lot of jokes being made about Éric and Simon Beaudry being mistaken for each other. Given that this, in fact, a joke that Dara and I have made while attending LVDN and DTA shows, I was charmed to see we aren’t the only ones who’d thought it!

We were introduced as well to the camp’s support staff as well as the professors, which meant I actually got to put a face to the name of the lady who’d been sending us the email updates about coming to camp and such: Ghislaine!

And, given that this was in fact a music camp, it was pretty much inevitable that a session would break out after the formal welcome was over. I was delighted to observe that I was not the only wind player. At the dinner prior to the welcome, I’d already met a young person with a bunch of whistles, and I saw another woman carrying a whistle around during the session. So all that was entirely awesome.

Monday, July 24th: First class with the Beaudrys

Classes began in earnest the following morning. And unlike my experiences with Fiddle Tunes, I clued in that it wasn’t going to be advisable for me to jump around between different people’s classes–because there was an overall point and plan to the structure of the classes. To wit, we’d all be working on a specific set of tunes, with the end game of playing them on stage at Memoire et Racines.

So, sadly, I didn’t get to crash any of Olivier Demers’ fiddle classes. *sniff* (Which of course means I will clearly have to arrange to come to another camp in Quebec so I can learn from Olo! Right? RIGHT.) But honestly, getting to learn from both Beaudrys turned out to be pretty freggin’ awesome, so I was only a tiny bit sad I didn’t get to learn from Olivier!

Éric and Simon set up a pretty clear structure to their classes all throughout the week, and I’m pretty sure there were enough guitarists as well that the most advanced players were off in another room while the rest of us were in the main class. Éric taught us in the main class for a bit each day, then swapped out with Simon, and then they’d both finish up with us for the day.

All of their instruction was of course in French. But it turned out that unlike the welcome event in La Grand Salle, or trying to follow conversation in general, I could keep up with musical instruction pretty well. It helped a lot that I’d already gotten a grounding in the musical terms I needed to know. Some of them translated over directly, maybe with only small differences in pronunciation. Others I’d made a point of looking up before.

One of the really major things I had already learned beforehand, and which made it easier for me to follow along, was the difference in how Quebecois musicians treat keys and scales.

As an English-speaking musician, I’m used to thinking of keys such as A, A flat, B, C, D, E flat, F, G, and such. French-speaking musicians, at least in Quebec (I do NOT know if this is also applicable in France and other French-speaking places!), refer to keys on a Do-Re-Mi basis, where Do maps specifically to C. Re is D, Mi is E, etc.

What I hadn’t known in advance was that they also use Do-Re-Mi to refer to positions on a scale as well as the key of whatever tune you’re working with. So for example, if you’re working with a tune in Re–i.e., D–you might also use ‘Re’ to refer to the second position on the scale. Which in this case would be E. Once I clued in on that, that helped too.

It was also super-helpful that a) both Éric and Simon had big flip pads that they used to write out a lot of chord charts and diagrams, b) that they were perfectly happy to let me ask questions in English when I needed to, and c) the folks sitting around me, once they realized I was an English speaker, did keep checking in with me through the week to make sure I was following along with what was getting taught.

And since we did a lot of listening to actual recordings, to practice following along on our own instruments, that really transcended the whole language barrier problem anyway. <3

And, it was kind of hysterical that even though the official camp materials had advised us to not expect sheet music to be handed out, this didn’t stop people from generating printouts of chord charts and sharing them with the class. Which turned out to be particularly useful for me, given that I was sitting in the back of the class and sometimes had a bit of trouble actually reading the diagrams and things that the Beaudry boys were drawing on their flip pads!

Anyway: on Monday, we focused specifically on two tunes that I didn’t recognize, called “Le step à Alexis” and “Nouveau née”. Both of which were pretty awesome tunes. I suspected, but still do not know for sure, that the latter was a composition of Olivier’s. (I am following up on this very question! More on this as events warrant!)

Now, this wasn’t quite my first experience with a guitar workshop, since I’d gone to André Marchand’s classes at Fiddle Tunes. This worked a lot the same way: i.e., recordings of the tunes we were working with got played for us, slowly and then at speed, while we played along.

Later on Monday: Nicolas Boulerice talks about turluttes

After the main classes were over for the day, and after we’d all had some lunch, it was a nice change of pace to go listen to Nicolas Boulerice give a talk about turluttes! Which, of course, are one of the big things I love so much about Quebecois trad.

This was definitely one of those times that I really wished I could follow French speakers more readily. Nico said a lot of things that sure sounded like they were probably very, very cool and informative, but I still had a devil of a time keeping up with him!

I did at least manage to glean that he was talking about the history of how turluttes developed, and about other kinds of mouth music, such as lilting. And the one other really intriguing thing was something I hadn’t known before: that there’s a correlation between what syllables get used in the mouth music, and what instruments they are meant to represent!

Notably, tur-a-lur syllables are meant to represent equivalent passages on a flute. Awesome. This adds a whole extra layer of usefulness to mouth music’s history, I feel; not only is it a substitute for instruments in situations where people didn’t have instruments, it also let them keep track of what instruments should be brought in later when they got them again!

But yeah. Boy howdy, I still wish I had been able to follow Nico better! He was a delightful speaker, very engaged and clearly passionate about the subject. He had a bunch of recordings on the tablet and laptop he had with him, which he played for us as examples. And pretty much inevitably, he got us all to do a turlutte with him at the end of the talk.

Monday night: Concert by the professors

Monday night, after dinner, they had a concert featuring all of the various professors! \0/ Which gave us all a chance to get to know all of these people as musicians, and at least in the case of the musicians I didn’t already know well, that was quite awesome.

AND, critically: this was the very first time I got to see André perform as part of Le Vent du Nord. It was the shortest Le Vent set ever–but they did “La marche des Iroquois” and “Papineau”, two of my very very favorite things from Têtu, as I have enthused before! And that night, getting to hear André throwing his vocal strength in there? Beautiful.

André sings tenor so he adds a bit to the upper reaches of Le Vent’s harmony. I cannot wait to hear how he’ll sound with them on their next album!

Monday night: End of the night

After the professors had their concert, another jam broke out to give all us campers a chance to make noises too. I did not, however, try to stay for this jam on general “I was tuckered out” grounds.

And back over in the Foyer building, I managed to pull off my personal goal of saying something in French at least once per day. As I was getting ready for bed, I talked to a lady mostly in French, and told her that I was tired and shy and needed time to myself. I didn’t know how to say that I am an introvert, but did manage to come up with “beaucoup de gens”!

And that’s how Monday ended! Next post: Tuesday and Wednesday!

Editing to add: I should also note on this post that it was Sunday night when I first caught up with André to ask him about the guitar he’d very kindly promised to loan me! I tried not to bug him too hard about that, just because the man was running the camp and all, and as it happened I did indeed get my hands on the guitar in time for the class on Monday morning. I spent the rest of the week not letting that thing out of my sight, let me tell you.

Also, I have indeed now confirmed that “Nouveau née” is a composition of Olivier Demers’, and does in fact show up on Têtu as the third tune in the set “Entre ciel et terre”! This is totally going on my practice list. <3

Also #2, let it be noted that while I didn’t get a chance to learn from Olivier, I did get to say hi to him, and at least once he did in fact spot me with my actual fiddle in my actual hands, as I practiced actual scales!

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