Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.
Many Celtic musicians and Celtic music fans are drawn to the Québécois tradition for its infectious beat and pulse, as well as some apparent commonalities with Irish, Scottish and other related music. In any case, it’s loads of fun to listen to, and BCMFest is happy to have Adrienne Howard, Eric Boodman and Max Newman give us a sampler of la musique de Canadia française.
Q: OK, the big question: Can Québécois music be considered “Celtic”?
ADRIENNE: The way I think about it, it can be considered Celtic as much as Appalachian can be considered Celtic. It is an amazing music that has grown out of some diverse roots. Similar to Appalachian music it has taken Irish and Scottish tunes to different places. But very unlike Appalachian it also grew from the diverse music traditions coming from France. Breton music is another Celtic root, but also the varied Gallic music traditions from the rest of France. In my mind, the form of the tunes most definitely shows the French sensibilities. Then of course there’s all the creative composers up in that part of the world that have really brought the music to its own place. Perhaps I should add that modern québécois fiddlers often do borrow ornamentations from Irish fiddle music. Does that make it more on the Celtic side of things? Maybe it is something for BCMFesters to debate about and decide just what sort of branch (or grafted branch) Québécois music fits in with Celtic.
MAX: With the big caveat that I’m not a Québécois music specialist nor from Quebec, I suspect you’d get as many different answers to that question as there are people to answer it. To the best of my knowledge, “Celtic music” is a modern invention without an agreed-upon definition or historical basis. I certainly couldn’t claim to know what “Celtic music” is! So it’s not something I get worked up over.
ERIC: It seems that there is some overlap between traditional Irish music and traditional Québécois music, so it doesn’t seem out of place to play these tunes at a Celtic festival. That said, I totally agree with Max.
Q: Give us a little info about your musical backgrounds.
ADRIENNE: On fiddle I alternate mostly these days between Québécois and old-time with an occasional touch of Breton and Irish traditions. As a hurdy-gurdy player, I’m particularly excited by the repertoire of central France, and by the integration of the hurdy-gurdy into other musical traditions, such as old-time and Breton.
MAX: Here’s something about me: I love dance music, primarily contra dancing. I’m lucky enough to play with the Stringrays, featuring the legendary New England fiddler Rodney Miller (New Hampshire Artist Laureate, National Endowment for the Arts Master Fiddler, etc.).
ERIC: I love all kinds of traditional music, and I’m pretty fortunate to have fallen in with some great contra dance musicians around New England with whom I get to fiddle and foot-tap.
Q: When and how did you get interested in playing Quebecois music — and what attracts you to the tradition?
ADRIENNE: I was lucky enough to first hear it as a teenager from an accordion player who was living in Indiana. I only got a chance to play with him once but I guess it got my head ready to explore it further when I had the chance. I learned some on my own from Laurie Hart’s fantastic Mel Bay book “Danse ce soir,” but my next real chance was the Northeast Heritage Music Camp where I learned from Daniel Lemieux. Once you really get to be in the same place as someone playing with such fun and joy I think you can’t help but to be hooked. But of course that’s just the way it happened for me. I just love the feel of the music (all the off-beats and changing pulses), and I think its variety is fantastic.
MAX: My specialty has become the dance music of New England, which enjoys friendship and trade with its neighbors to north. Although I’m primarily a guitar player, the piano-playing of Quebec is an important touchstone for my playing. As far as my interest in Québécois music, I’ll add that as an Alaskan, I have a natural affinity for peoples of northern climes.
ERIC: I grew up in Montreal, and as a kid took weekly group lessons from two amazing fiddlers there (Jonathan Moorman and Laura Risk). Then, towards the end of high school, I started going to the Tuesday night sessions at Vices&Versa, and the overpowering joyful energy got me hooked on Québécois music.
Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.