In which I react to the possibility of what might happen if Le Vent du Nord were to actually come to Seattle for a concert, and ideally, to do the same block of workshops, concert, and after party that so splendidly happened here with Genticorum before!
Me: Because JESUS SKIPPING JUMP ROPE CHRIST if she can get them here and do the workshop and then after party thing and if I could wind up with my actual instruments in my actual hands in a room occupied by Olivier goddamn Demers eeeeeee XD ahem. Yes, that would be PLEASANT.
Taliesin chuckles. …. and get invited to sit in… 🙂
Me: Dude I am NOT good enough to actually seriously play along with Olivier. But in a session context, everybody‘s playing, so that’s OKAY. And I will absolutely happily park in any workshop he does for an opportunity to slurp tunes out of his brain. 😀 😀
Taliesin: Zombie Anna? Eat musician brains?
Me: I don’t wanna eat his brain! He needs it! No no I just wanna slurp ALL THE TUNES out of it! And okay yeah fine I could swipe some of Dara’s knowledge transfer equipment but that’s no fun, because then I couldn’t hear him PLAY. 😉
Dara: You’d think ‘copy’ would be easier than ‘move,’ wouldn’t you? And yet.
Me: Yeah working out all the pesky bugs out of the non-destructive copy functionality, that’s the tricky part.
Dara: Also, wildcards don’t work in brainOS like they do in Linux. That discovery was… interesting.
And now I gotta work on that “this isn’t a flute, this is a stringless fiddle with holes” perception filter so I can crash workshops full of fiddlers…
So yes, it should surprise absolutely none of you that if you ask me “So Anna, I want to check out Quebec trad music, who should I listen to first?”, my instant answer is going to be “Le Vent du Nord”!
And I could write entire dissertations on the theme of JesusjumpingChrist, Olivier Demers can play him some fiddle. That guy? That guy right there? That’s the guy who’s making my fingers itch to pick up my flutes and try to cram as many Quebec tunes into my brain as possible. The guy who inspired me to transcribe “Manteau d’hiver” just because I love that tune so much I had to figure out how to play it. The guy who, because he is just that awesome, gave me his permission to ask him musical questions. BEST. FIDDLE. PLAYER. EVER.
It should also surprise none of you that my unequivocal recommendation for “which Le Vent du Nord album should you get first?” is Tromper le temps. For the love of all that’s holy, get that album. In no small part because it’s got the aforementioned “Manteau d’hiver” on it, but it’s also got “Le dragon de Chimay”, and I’ve written before about how I’m obliged to love the hell out of that song because it involves a knight being transformed into a dragon. A DRAGON, YOU GUYS. Why yes, I DO love a little bit of fantasy in my trad, thank you. 😀
If you can find it, I also cannot recommend Symphonique passionately enough. It’s the only Le Vent album not available digitally to US customers, though, so if you want it, you’ll have to order it–or maybe show up at a Le Vent du Nord concert and buy it from them directly. (Which you should do. And tell them Anna the Piper sent you!) For one thing, it’s an excellent live album. For another, the juxtaposition of Le Vent and an orchestral backup is lush and gorgeous and it’s got three of the top repeat tracks on my Le Vent du Nord playlist. As a former student of symphonic band and wind ensemble in my school days, I adore the orchestral backup. I adore it like kittens, and have to sternly remind myself that next March, when I get to see Le Vent do a live symphony show, that no it is not socially acceptable to use stealth technology to hide in the flute section so I can make off with the sheet music. (But I digress.)
If you go poking further through Le Vent’s discography, it’s important to note that they did go through two prior membership changes before settling on their current lineup. Here are my notable tracks on the various previous albums!
Their very first album, Maudite moisson !, is worth listening to just because that one features vocals by Bernard Simard, who does have a gorgeous champagne-like tenor voice. And it’s got the original versions of “Vive l’amour” and “Au bord de la fontaine”, which have survived as concert staples for the group.
Album #2, Les amants du Saint-Laurent, drops M. Simard but gains Simon Beaudry, and I’ve already gushed enthusiastically about M. Beaudry’s vocal skills. This album’s worth a look for “Cré-mardi”, one of my all-time favorites, but it’s also got “Le retour du fils soldat” and the title track as well, both of which show up in current Le Vent concerts.
As of album #3, Dans les airs, they drop Benoit Bourque but gain Réjean Brunet. So anything in the discography as of Dans les airs or later gets you the current membership of the group, and that’s the point at which their vocals really kick into high gear for me. On Dans les airs, look for “Rosette” and “La piastre des États” as standout vocals performances by Nicolas and Réjean, but also look for “Le vieux cheval” for more KILL ANNA DED WITH HARMONY loveliness. Instrumental-wise, look for “Petit rêve III” (which I can play, woo!) and “L’heure bleue”.
Album #4, La part du feu, adds “Lanlaire” to the Le Vent arsenal and that’s hands down one of my favorites of theirs. But this album also unleashes “Octobre 1837” (c.f. previous GODDAMN Olivier can play him some fiddle commentary), “Les métiers” (ridiculously bawdy fun, this one), and especially “Rossignolet”, which is haunting and beautiful and one of my top repeat Le Vent tracks.
For live Le Vent you do actually have two options–the aforementioned Symphonique, but also Mesdames et messieurs, which is their live concert from the Memoires et Racines festival in 2008. Kickass version of “Au bord de la fontaine” on there, and there’s guest support from Bernard Simard on “Vive l’amour” as well.
Ultimately, though, I stand by my rec of Tromper le temps for which album you should get first!
Internets, as you all know, I’ve been happily fangirling Quebec traditional music for a couple of years now, and quite a few of you have started to ask me questions about it. And because I like you, Internets, and I want to share with you the musical goodness, I’d like to present for you a Guide to Quebecois Traditional Music for English Speakers!
Q: What is Quebecois traditional music?
A: A very close cousin of Irish/Celtic trad. If you’re a fan of Irish or Scottish music, you’ll probably find Quebec trad very compatible to your tastes; there’s a lot of overlap between the two genres.
Q: What makes Quebec trad differ from Irish/Celtic/Scottish/etc.?
A: Three main differences, which are:
Podorythmie. With most Celtic bands the percussion will usually be handled by a bodhran player, who may double up on shakers or bones. There may or may not be an actual drumkit depending on how far into rock the band in question slants. With a Quebec trad band, though, the percussion is almost always handled by someone who does podorythmie, the rhythmic footwork that’s a big signature sound for the genre.
Call and response. Quebec trad is very heavily structured around call and response, where you’ll have whoever’s singing lead echoed by the rest of the band. Relatedly, you’ll find a great number of Quebec trad songs structured in such a way that the first line of a verse will be called, then responded, and then the verse will finish up with a chorus and then a second line which will then roll over into being the first line of the next verse. (This is a very helpful song structure when you’re a newbie to French and you’re trying to figure out how to sing the words!)
Now, sure, call and response isn’t unknown in Celtic trad in general–but I’ve seen it be a LOT more common in Quebec trad. It makes the songs highly participatory and that’s one of the big reasons I love singing along to the songs so much.
Turluttes. You’ll find a lot of Quebec trad songs will have a turlutte section, sometimes small, sometimes dominant, and sometimes as the entire song. Turluttes are when you get a singer or group of singers vocalizing a melody that in other traditions might be played with instruments. You’ll also hear this referred to as mouth music or mouth reels, similar to puirt à beul or lilting.
As the Wikipedia link I’ve pointed at in the previous paragraph calls out, turluttes are built out of a set of specific phonemes–a lot of t and d and l and m sounds. They’re almost always up-tempo and joyous and great, great fun.
A truly splendid example of turluttes in action can be found sung by Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer right over here, with bonus podorythmie solo in the middle.
Q: How is Quebec music similar to Irish/Scottish/Celtic music?
A: Lots of Quebec trad will be familiar to Celtic music fans just because there’s a rich heritage of tunes, jigs/gigues, reels, etc. There are some fun musical and stylistic differences that instrumentalists will notice–particularly how many Quebec tunes are often played “crooked”, doing interesting things to time signatures and varying up the rhythm. If you’re an instrumentalist you’ll want to listen for that.
Likewise, a lot of the topics of the songs will be familiar to Celtic music fans. Alexander James Adams has been often quoted (in particular by me!) as saying that the three main categories of Celtic music are Whiskey, Sex, and Death. This is also true of Quebec music, although from what I’ve seen in Quebec music, it’s more like Wine, Sex, and Death, with a side helping of Religion. (I’ve noticed quite a few songs involving shenanigans that involve priests, for example. 😉 )
Q: Do I need to be able to speak French to appreciate Quebec trad?
A: No! Certainly no more than you need to be a Irish or Scots Gaelic speaker to appreciate Celtic music, anyway. I find that studying a little bit of French enough to let me get an idea of how Quebec trad lyrics go enhances my appreciation of the songs considerably, but you don’t have to go to the lengths I’m going. A lot of the most active bands in the genre post lyrics to their websites, often in both French and English, and even if they only post the French lyrics that’s enough for you to throw the words through a translation engine.
And there’s fun stuff to be found in the lyrics, too. Plus if you do that, you get to be one of the Anglophones in a Quebec trad concert who can start snickering at all the best bawdy bits of songs!
Also, turluttes are language-agnostic!
Q: Enough overview! Who are some bands or artists I can check out?
And if you have trouble telling all those names apart, I can direct to you to this handy flowchart I made for that exact problem!
Quebec Band Flowchart
For a nice crossover of Celtic and Quebec fiddle styles, I also highly recommend Celtic Fiddle Festival, who feature André Brunet of De Temps Antan. There are also a couple of excellent albums done by André Marchand and Grey Larsen, specifically on the theme of crossover between Irish and Quebec music, and I recommend those too. You can find them here.
I will update this FAQ with new data as I think of it. I did overviews on my favorite bands a while back but I’ll be posting new ones as well, since several of the bands in question dropped new albums since I originally wrote those posts.
Any questions I haven’t covered here? Shoot ’em at me!
I have identified the next Quebec tunes set I wish to learn: the recording “Gigue à trois”, which appears on the Le Vent du Nord album Les amants du Saint-Laurent!
The first tune in this set is locatable in sheet music form right over here. However, checking it out, I note a problem in that very last measure: i.e., it’s going down to low B and G, and those are notes below the bottom end of my range on ANY of my flutes, really. My silver goes down to middle C. My piccolo goes down to D just above middle C.
(And I can’t really play the piece on any of my keyless flutes either–the first tune I linked to is in G, but the other two are in F and A minor, and you know what I’m not doing on a D or A flute? Playing stuff in F and A minor. I DO still suck at half-holing!)
So in order to play that tune I’m going to have to do one of two things: either a) I will need to kick the whole thing up an octave, or b) doink around with that measure and play notes instead that’ll work okay as chords with that B and G. Option B is more likely, and this is why!
The latter two tunes of that set, according to my initial explorations (aided by an Extremely Awesome Person Who Shall Remain Nameless, but Merci Beaucoup, Awesome Person!), have a part that goes up to the C that’s two octaves over middle C.
And that is a problem. Because if I try to kick the piece up an octave, that means I’d need to play the C that’s THREE octaves over middle C, and that is not happening on my piccolo. It’s barely going to happen on my flute. Hell, I don’t even remember successfully hitting that note on my piccolo in school, although I got up there a few times on the flute.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about re: middle C and octaves and such–an octave is scale in music, basically. Think of the “Do, a deer, a female deer” song in The Sound of Music. Go all the way through do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, and that’s an octave.
Middle C is the C that’s right smack in the middle of a piano. It’s kind of the landmark note around which most standard musical notation is centered. Wikipedia has a good description of it over here, including some midi files of what various octaves of C sound like.
If you look at their “Designation by octave” chart, middle C is C4. That’s the low C I can hit on my flute. The lowest C I can hit on my piccolo, on the other hand, is C5. I can do C6 easily enough too. C7 is the problem.
And here’s the really fun part. A piccolo is pitched an octave above a flute–meaning that if I use the same fingering to produce a note on both my instruments, the flute will have the low “do” note, and the piccolo will have the high one. And if that wasn’t complicated enough, piccolo music is actually written an octave down, on purpose. So a piccolo C5 looks like a flute C5, when written out in music. But the piccolo C5 is going to SOUND like a C6.
Which means that that C7 I’m trying to hit on my piccolo is actually a C8. I get woozy just THINKING about trying to hit that note. ;D
(The reason piccolo music is written an octave down on purpose is because if you’re writing notes that go too high to fit on the staff, you have to use extra lines called ledger lines to notate them. And there are only so many ledger lines you can comfortably use in a given piece of sheet music before you pretty much have to ctrl-alt-fuckit, write everything an octave down, and mark it 8va, which translates to ‘kick this up an octave because SERIOUSLY, I’m not sticking 15 extra lines over the staff, are you NUTS?’)
In any event, this is going to be quite, quite fun and I look forward to playing with this piece more. BUT FIRST, I gotta finish pulling Vengeance of the Hunter out of my head, and then work on Bone Walker soundtrack stuff! More bulletins as events warrant!
Those of you who’ve read my writeup of the amazing time Dara and I had seeing Le Vent du Nord in Victoria this past April may have noticed how one of my very favorite parts of the entire show was when les gars started belting out “Le Retour du Fils Soldat”. Four-part harmony, right in front of me and Dara, YUM.
I’d said at the time that you should all find this song ASAP, though I couldn’t find a video of it on YouTube. A kind soul has now CORRECTED this little problem, and my friend and fellow devoted Le Vent fan Susan pointed me at this delightful thing.
BEHOLD! “Le Retour du Fils Soldat”, now joining “General Taylor” and “River Driver” on the list of Songs That Have Killed Me Ded of Harmony:
Well, for a small number of bands, anyway! Because apparently this is the week for people to hit my site trying to find out about the instruments played by my favorite groups.
Yesterday somebody came by with the search term ‘what mouth instruments do le vent du nord play?’ Answer: just one! Réjean Brunet plays the mouth harp. You can hear it all over a lot of their songs and you can see it in various live videos. Like this one! The mouth harp shows up in the second song in this vid, “Au bord de la fontaine”, which kicks in around the 6:57 mark. Though I heartily endorse watching the first song, “Lanlaire”, too!
And today’s search term is ‘what flutes do great big sea use’. Answer: none! Séan McCann and Bob Hallett play whistles–Séan plays a small tin whistle but only on “Run Run Away”, and Bob breaks out the big low whistle for things like “Boston and St. John’s”. Behold the whistle in action!
To those of you who came by looking, in case you see this post, I hope this is helpful!
My belovedest of Daras is at a bit of a loss when it comes to comprehending my rampageous affection for Quebecois traditional music. She doesn’t speak a lick of French, and so I could mention any one of the various bands I’m following, only to have their names just parse to her as “French sounds”. And it didn’t help matters much either when we went up to Harrison Hot Springs this past weekend–because two of the guys in De Temps Antan ARE brothers of guys in Le Vent du Nord, and the sets of brothers in question do look rather alike!
Several of you who read me on a regular basis won’t be having these problem, but in case you’re in the same boat Dara is and find yourself trying to figure out who all these people are I keep enthusiastically babbling about, here. I present for you this handy flowchart for how to tell apart my seven favorite Quebecois traditional bands!