Legendary Musicians from Quebec to Perform in Harrisburg, PA March 27th

Legendary Quebec traditional musicians Lisa Ornstein, Normand Miron, and André Marchand, appearing together as Le Bruit Court dans la Ville (The Buzz Around Town), come to Harrisburg for a Susquehanna Folk Music Society concert on Friday, March 27, 2015, at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg. The 7:30 p.m. concert will be preceded by a free workshop on Quebec music at 5:30 and a 6 p.m. potluck dinner.

Ornstein and Marchand first met as bandmates in La Bottine Souriante, the iconoc trad super group that kickstarted Quebec’s folk music revival. Miron is a singer and button accordionist who grew up surrounded by family musicians in Lanaudière, the epicenter of Quebec’s folk music scene. As a trio, Le Bruit Court dans la Ville produces music that is at once deeply rooted, innovative, nuanced, and spontaneous.

Concert tickets are $20 General Admission, $16 for SFMS members, and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006.

Join us for a free potluck supper before the concert. Bring a covered dish to share. Drinks and place settings will be provided. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org

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Because these three legendary musicians were so important in the revival of traditional music and dance in Quebec some 40 years ago, I wanted to speak to the group’s fiddler LISA ORNSTEIN (who is a folklorist) about changes in Quebec’s cultural climate and also how she and her band mates were able to plant some of the seeds that have allowed Quebeoise music and dance to grow in popularity and flourish.

FOLKMAMA: Can you tell me some things about the members in your trio? I know that all three of you are considered legendary in Quebec’s trad music scene.

LISA: Well we’ll begin first with André Marchand. He’s from Jolliet, he’s lived here all his life. His father played violin but it was classical violin, a hobbyist. He got his start playing guitar in the early 1960s. He was listening to Bob Dylan because at that time there wasn’t really a “Quebecoise” tradition of guitar playing. He kind of invented an approach to backing up this music with the kind of guitar playing that you hear with the guitar tuned in standard tuning.

FOLKMAMA: I understand during the time when Andre was growing up that it was difficult to find traditional Quebecoise music because the French Canadian culture had been repressed. What were the politics in Quebec like at the time?

LISA: The 1960s in Quebec began what we call the Quiet Revolution. The Prime Minister who had been quite conservative died, and a liberal, Jean Lesage took his place and he had a completely different vision. The saying during that time was “Masters in Our own Country” because the Quebecoise since 1759 had really been second citizens here. All the administrators and the owners of industry in the province were Anglo-Canadians who had come from British forefathers. The Quebecoise were basically told that they were going to be water carriers.

So Jean Lesage came in and one of the first things that he did was to nationalize electricity. Which was huge in this province—there is hydro-electric power to sell to all of North America. That gave the government the capacity to create all kinds of social services, vocational training, and higher education opportunities. So by the 1970s there was a whole generation of Quebecoise who were beginning to be well educated.

FOLKMAMA: How did Quebecoise trad music and dance play a role in the Quiet Revolution?

LISA: The music got pulled into the equation very much in the same way that music got pulled in with the Civil Rights Movement. The folk and traditional music often had an ideological and political content –especially by some of the singer/ songwriters who became involved in the Quebec Sovereignty Movement. It was a time of Quebecoise pride when the Quebecoise were proud to be Quebecoise.

FOLKMAMA: Did Quebecoise Trad music start to become more widespread?

LISA: In Montreal a group of young university graduates organized a folk festival where they brought in elders. Nothing like this had ever happened– it changed the lives of a whole generation of young musicians who for the first time could hear and learn from the older generation of musicians. So you have this coming together of very traditional musicians who are being brought onto the stage, very much like the Newport Folk Festival, and you have these young urban Quebecoise who are just thirsty for music that looks and sounds like them.

FOLKMAMA: I know that the group La Bottine Souriante was one of most important groups to form during this era.

LISA: Yes, La Bottine Souriante formed as a direct result of this festival. The group was made up of all young musicians, including André Marchand who was an original member and now of course plays in Le Bruit Court dans la Ville. The group was so influential because it not only helped to increase the popularity of Quebecoise music in Quebec, but also brought it to France, the United States and around the world.

FOLKMAMA: So, I know that you are an American fiddler verse in both old-time and Quebecoise fiddling. I understand that you also played in La Bottine Souriante. How did that come about?

LISA: I had been playing fiddle from the time I was 13 or 14. I grew up in a musical family; my mother was a harpsichordist who played Renaissance music. My idea of what music was as a very small child was small ensembles who were improvising on dance melodies. I think that’s why I was attracted to traditional music rather than classical music; it was the social aspect of it and the way that music was made in these small groups. I appreciate orchestral music but I’ve always be interested in how much music can be made with the smallest, the most frugal means. And I think that traditional music is all about that. It’s about the frugality of the means with great creativity in the hands of exceptional artists with immense amount of virtuosity and depth of understanding.

Even though I really wanted to just play fiddle, my parents wanted me to go to college so I went to Oberlin.  In my last year the college asked me if I was interested in the Watson Scholarship which would allow me to study something outside of the country. By then I was so interested in Quebecoise music because of a friendship I had with a Franco-American fiddler Louis Beaudoin.

So I got this grant to come to Quebec and I didn’t know anybody. I went to Université Laval because I knew that they had a folklore archives, but the only Quebecoise musician I could find was a button accordion player names Albert who played on the streets for the tourists. So I played with him sometimes, and during the summer I went to this great summer festival and there he was on stage and he made me get up and play with him.

Afterwards we decided we’d go to this great bar that was right across from the stage that had an outdoor terrace and as we sat there I heard a tune that I thought I knew from my friend Louis Beaudoin, and then one of the members of the band who had heard me play approached me and he said, “Come join us.” And it was La Bottine Souriante. I couldn’t believe these young guys were there playing traditional music.

So we played together all night and then we lost track of each other but next night they invited me to play in their show in front of 20,000 people. Soon after they left for a tour in France, but on the way back some of the musicians couldn’t return because of an airline strike, so I filled in for their fiddler at the band’s next gig. Soon after they asked me to join the band. So I went to Jolliet and played in the band for about 8 years so.

FOLKMAMA: Was that what you were doing full time?

LISA: When I was in Quebec I worked for this traditional arts advocacy group and was really involved in promoting Quebecoise culture and heritage.

Although it’s taken 30 years, Quebec just this past year passed its law recognizing intangible traditional arts. We were working on that dossier in the 1980s. We had a center where there were classes for young people who didn’t come out of singing and playing families. These were young kids who loved the music and dance but didn’t have other chances to learn it. At the time there was no money available in the Quebec government to fund this kind of program. It’s changed now, although the law is in place and there is no budget to enact it. So our organization became more and more politically motivated because we realized that the traditional arts weren’t getting the government support that it should have gotten.

FOLKMAMA: It doesn’t seem like you are intimidated by working on the governmental level to promote traditional music.

LISA: I had worked at the Library of Congress. My mother in law was Bess Lomax Hawes. She created the National Endowment for the Arts Folk Arts program and was Curator of Folk Songs at the Library of Congress. She’s Alan Lomax’s sister.

So I had connections with Alan Jabbour at the Library of Congress and folks at the Smithsonian. We brought people from the Government of Quebec’s Minister of Cultural Affairs to visit in Washington to show them that there can be a different vision.  The United States government has acknowledged that not only is this worthy but it’s necessary to support the celebration and transmission of traditional cultural heritage.

FOLKMAMA: So what your third member?

LISA: Normand Miron is from a small village just outside of Joliette. He’s from a very traditional family of singers and instrumentalists. His uncle was an accordion player and his grandfather was apparently an extraordinary singer. The whole area around Jolliet is known in Quebec as being one of the strongholds of traditional singing and particularly especially song and response songs. Norman is the real stuff, he’s straight out of the tradition. Normand Miron was the go-to guy for many of the songs that La Bottine  Souriante was doing because his repertoire was so huge, although was never in the band.

FOLKMAMA: So I believe you have been playing with Andre and Norman informally for many years. Why have you chosen now to tour as a group?

LISA: My children are almost grown and Les Charbonniers de l’Enfer (the latest group that Andre and Norman performed in together) is on hiatus so the three of us just looked at each other and said, “This is our chance.”

 

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