BENOIT BOURQUE dance calling & step dance
SABIN JACQUES accordion
RACHEL AUCOIN piano
Benoit Bourque, a versatile artist overflowing with energy and a contagious joie de vivre, which has been winning over audiences for more than 25 years. He has been described as “charismatic”, “exuberant”, “warm”, “cranky”, and “limber”, and he has also been termed the band’s “sparkplug”. A musician, dancer, singer and caller, he has been a member of numerous bands with whom he has toured extensively in North America and in Europe: Éritage, Ad vielle que pourra, Hommage à Alfred Montmarquette, Bourque et Bernard, Matapat, and Le Vent du Nord are all bands that enjoyed his talents and his exceptional charisma. A specialist of Québec traditional dances, Benoit has presented lectures and workshops at many camps and festivals, showing his skill in step dancing and bones playing (which is a family tradition: his dad and granddad were both bones players). A founding member of Le Carrefour mondial de l’Accordéon, in Montmagny (Québec), he has emceed both the outdoor concerts at Parc de la Mairie and the night concerts at the concert hall for 15 years. Selected artist for the “Artists in School” Program, a partnership between the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications and the Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec, this program provides access to culture and the arts provides to pre-elementary, elementary and high school students.
Some of Benoit’s awards include: “Best Traditional Artist”, at the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance (with Le Vent du Nord) (2006); “Best Traditional Album” at the Canadian Folk Music Awards (with Le Vent du Nord) (2005); Nomination for “Best Traditional Album” for a Félix at the ADISQ (with Le Vent du Nord) (2005); “Best concert of the year” from Bound for Glory, a live radio show in Ithaca, NY (with Le Vent du Nord) (2005); Nomination for “Best Traditional Album” for a Félix at the ADISQ (with Le Vent du Nord) (2004); JUNO Award for “Best Traditional Album/group” (with Le Vent du Nord) (2004); Nomination for a JUNO Award for “Best Traditional Album/group” (with Matapat) (2001); Nomination for a JUNO Award for “Best Traditional Album/Group” (with Matapat) (1999). Selected Traditional Arts Master by the Maine Arts Commission four times (1997-present); Gazetta Newspaper’s Award from Poland for his “Charm, smile and spontaneity” (1993); Public’s Choice at the Moscow International Folklore Festival (1988). Benoit has been a jury member for the JUNO Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards, and for the Canadian Arts Council and the Conseil des Arts et des lettres du Québec.
Sabin Jacques began playing the accordion at age 14, and since then his reputation has grown non-stop: his multiple and diverse musical engagements have made him a versatile and accomplished artist. Though eeply influenced by such musicians as Simard, Bruneau, Labbé, Messervier and Montmarquette, he developed his unique sound through his unusual technique – one that gives him, as a lefty, a recognizable signature.
Sabin was soon invited to play for traditional dance troupes; these collaborations offered him many opportunities to travel worldwide. Since the age of 20, he has accompanied the ensembles les Gens de mon Pays, les Danseurs de la Vallée Saint Jean and les Eclusiers de Lachine in Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, France, England, Spain, and Madagascar, where he took part in Les jeux de la Francophonie (1997), receiving a bronze medal. In 1995, he was featured as the Québécois artist at the Montmagny Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordéon.
Originally from the beautiful Gaspé peninsula, Sabin came to Montréal in 1992 in order to find work in the field of electronics. This greater musical community allowed him to make significant acquaintances among musicians in the popular and commercial music domains. His work with the Acadian icon, singer Edith Butler, remains his most prolific; between 1993 and 2001 he played on two of her recordings and accompanied her on many tours. He also played alongside the celebrated Hugues Aufray, as well as on recordings of Jean-Pierre Ferland, Ann-Victor, and rap band Kid Fléo.
Despite these various musical adventures including prime time television appearances (Gregory Charles’ Mélomaniaques (2005) and Droit au coeur (2006), Sabin remains profoundly attached to his traditional roots. He regularly shares his heritage through teaching in his hometown at l’Ecole des Arts de la Veillée, at summer camps in the U.S. such as Ashokan (NY), Pinewoods (MA), and Augusta (WV), and at other venues abroad. His teaching is said to be practical, uplifting, and always inspiring.
Some of his more traditional recordings include Les pieds qui parlent (1994), Hommage à Alfred Montmarquette (1994), Domino I (1998), Michèle Choinière (2002), Domino Pris au Jeu (2004) and his latest: Raz-de-marée/Tidal Wave (2007), all of which highlight his stunning dexterity and musicianship while confirming his status as one of Quebec’s leading master accordionists.
Despite having a strictly classical background that includes two Master’s degrees (performance, University of Montréal 2001 and piano instruction, Laval University 2003), two first prizes at the prestigious Canadian Music Competition (1997 and 1998) and a solo performance of Beethoven’s Second Symphony with the Orchestre Symphonique de la Montérégie (1997), Rachel Aucoin today specializes in folk music accompaniment. This new chapter began with her first appearance at the Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordéon in 1999.She never imagined that this apparently innocent performance would change her musical destiny. A window on the world had just opened and had shown her the way to her heart’s music, where she would meet with the spirits of her Acadian ancestors, bringing out a family tradition rich with singing, dancing, and fiddling, kitchen style. She even discovered recently that her great-grandfather was certainly one of the first accordion players on Cape Breton Island!
She first appeared at numerous festivals in Canada, the U.S.A., and abroad as the pianist in Domino, giving her solid experience as a dance back-up musician. In addition, Rachel has recorded with many artists such as American fiddler Laura Risk and Vermont-based signer-songwriter Michèle Choinière, as well as many other Québécois masters (Claude Méthé, Francine Desjardins, Réjean Simard, Jean Duval, and Frank Sears, to name a few). Last year, she recorded on Raz-de-marée/Tidal Wave’s debut recording on the Great Meadows label, showing her percussive, rich, and sensible improvised accompaniment. More recently, Rachel formed a duo with accordionist Christian Laurence, with whom she performed again at the world-renowned Carrefour Mondial de l’Accordéon in 2005. The duot, now known as Duo Christel, play, through original compositions, a beautiful symbiosis of meditative flow, folk-inspired celtic colors, and European accents, which naturally led to the recording of their first production entitled Sur un air d’aller.
Nevertheless, Rachel’s greatest interest and passion lies in teaching. Approached by the University of Montréal’s preparatory school in 2005 to create an innovative program for piano students, she is now busy building a bridge between the spontaneity and immersive musicianship of her folk experience and the aesthetic beauty and refinement of the artistry within her classical music education.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE QUÉBÉCOIS DANCE TRADITION by Camille Brochu
«Jamais je n’ai connu nation aimant plus à danser que les Canadiens ; ils ont encore les contre-danses françoises et les menuets, qu’ils entre-mêlent de danses angloises. Les nuits, durant l’hiver, qui dure huit mois, se passent en fricots, soupers, dîners et bals.»
«Never I have known a nation so enamored with dancing; they still have the French contredanses and menuets which they intersperse with English dances. During winter, which lasts eight months, evenings are spent in fricassees, dinners, suppers and balls.»
(Pierre de Sales Laterriere who sojourned in Canada around 1870)
The repertoire of traditional dances of Québec is deeply rooted in the European way of life of our ancestors before their arrival in New France, and shares common ties with a broader North American dance tradition, as it exists in different social and geographical loci. Indeed, the early immigrants who settled in New France drew from a common repertoire that they adapted and transformed more or less consciously to suit their new identity and lifestyle.
For the most part, these dances originated in the courts of England and France in the early eighteenth century; they were then popularized and circulated among the social elite and nobility by a professional corps of dancing masters. From early on the dances represented a blend of both cultures and a merging of traditional forms with balletic embellishments, thus making them suitable for aristocratic consumption.
An authority on the origins and history of Québécois dance, Simone Voyer has retraced its distant roots to the British tradition of “country dances” or contra dance. From their rural setting, the dances were collected, remodeled and introduced to the courts of England and, eventually, to that of France where their “longways” formation (indefinite numbers of men and women facing in long columns) was modified to that of the quadrille (four couples in a square), and where they were renamed contredanses françaises or cotillons; these cotillons, in turn, were adopted by the English court where they underwent further transformations through the incorporation of Scottish elements, thus giving birth to the lancers and caledonias. From these quadrilles or cotillons, dancing masters later extracted and strung together the most popular figures in a variety of suites or pot-pourris of five or more parts. These suites or sets are considered by many to be the ancestors of the Québécois quadrille and American square dance traditions.
Although hardly any records exist documenting dance occurrences during the first years of Canadian settlement, some mentions of balls can be found in travel logs and in people’s correspondence. As scanty and brief as these references may be, they allow us, nonetheless, to ascertain the practice of dance in Canada under the French Regime, and the maintenance of a French Parisian repertoire even in the earliest years of colonization.
Dance, it would appear, travels well. Indeed, the long distances separating the colonizing nations from the New World seem to have had little mitigating effect on people’s determination to transport and replicate almost simultaneously the latest dances en vogue in European courts and salons. By the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds, dancing schools were surfacing in Québec and Montréal along with an elite corps of instructors versed in the fine art of the quadrille, menuet and gavotte, as well as Scottish Strathspeys and Irish reels.
For the first generations of rural peasants, the laborious tasks of deforestation and cultivation may have inhibited the pursuit of an active and elaborate social life. However, once these initial hardships were overcome, many settlers or habitants were able to enjoy a relatively comfortable if not luxurious lifestyle as witness historical chronicles of the era. It would appear, in fact, that early farming families of New France had little to envy their seigniorial landlords, even rivaling them in matters of fashion, culinary fare and social refinement; moreover, their spacious stone-built homes and immense kitchens were fitting venues for hosting lively social gatherings and balls.
Contrary to the hierarchical divisions that characterized the French feudal system, the seigniorial regime of New France tended toward the homogeneity and blurring of social and class distinctions. William Parker Greenough, an American businessman and somewhat of an anthropologist who traveled extensively throughout Canada in the latter part of the nineteenth century, confirms this:
The seigniors as a rule lived among their tenants, and shared both good and evil fortunes with them...That there were great mutual attachment and good will between them is certain (1897:102).
Historian, Robert-Lionel Séguin, presents a similar picture of inter-class mingling between the habitants and members of the French military billeted on their homesteads; an advantageous situation for both parties, but perhaps more so for the military, given the opportunities it afforded to broaden their social circle, partake in gay divertissements and keep company with the fair sex.
Thus, the narrowing of ties between the classes in the New World setting, along with the increased prosperity of the peasantry, may have favored the integration of choreographic practices, or contributed to a blurring of their differences. The mingling of classes might also account for the persistence of courtly dance elements in some segments of Québec society to this day, although now considerably simplified and lacking the formality and theatricality of European performances.
That a choreographic tradition prevailed and became such a locus of social life is astonishing given the hegemonic hold of the Catholic Church on every aspect of Québec life and its relentless opposition to dance right up to the 1950s. Historical documents abound with recollections of Sunday morning sermons condemning balls and other gatherings where «lewd and damning activities» were said to take place.
The parish priest pronounced all social gatherings, balls and country parties to be outrageous. Mothers who took their daughters on these occasions were adulterous, profiting from the veil of darkness to hide their indecency and fornication. Imitating the movement of dance he declared that these were lascivious gestures, leading to shameful pleasures (Trudel quoting from Madame Elisabeth Bégon’s diary 1975:56).
Dancing was equally suspicious in the eyes of civil authorities who saw it as potentially generating a climate of indolence and insubordination among the population. The ruling elite was thus encouraged to set a good example by vigorously opposing dance occurrences within their own jurisdiction (Trudel 1975:56). Working together with the Church in the service of public morality, French authorities would go as far as conducting patrolling rounds to ensure that women and young girls were retired and out of sight by nine o’clock each night (Séguin 1986:43, 48). This form of reprobation was maintained even more forcibly after the British Conquest, and remained within the purview of people’s memory well into this century. Séguin reports that several informants remembered times when they were refused absolution for taking part in festivities where dancing took place, or for sanctioning this form of entertainment in their own home (1986:54). Not surprisingly, dancing and music making figure prominently in Québec’s legendry, invariably associated with occult, devilish forces and esoteric occurrences. While such tales may have provided a temporary deterrent, they seem to have had little restraining effect on people’s long-term fervor for dancing.
One instance in which the Catholic Church may have profited indirectly from dance activities was in the addition of new souls to its flock. As more daring dances such as the waltz, polka and volta became fashionable, encouraging increased physical intimacy between partners, quadrilles and contredanses began to appear more acceptable in the eyes of the clergy. And so with the Church’s silent blessing, set dancing was allowed to thrive and to continue playing a key role in courtships, eventually leading to nuptials and newborns (Trudel 1977:189).
Although extremely religious, it seems the people of Québec intuitively saw no harm in the innocent pleasures of socializing and creative expression afforded them through dance. Rather, they perceived dance and music as means to counter the realities and hardships of everyday life, and as ways to re-energize in anticipation of labors ahead (Trudel 1977:190). As one of my elder informants put it: “It never occurred to us that we were doing anything wrong. Our parents were there to watch over us, it was just good clean fun.”
By the early twentieth century, dance fashions continued to travel, this time, between both sides of the American border, as a result of Loyalists immigration to Québec and French-Canadian migration to the U.S. during the Great Depression. According to Voyer, the American quadrille, born of the French pot-pourri, gained in popularity and enjoyed the favor of dance enthusiasts well into the twentieth century both here and abroad. More dynamic than its French counterpart, it engaged the greater participation of all dancers, reduced the number and length of pauses, and eliminated the repetitiveness of choruses between figures (Voyer 1986:122). The quadrille croisé, a variant of the quadrille américain and a more recent innovation, had dancers performing the figures almost simultaneously. Several folklorists concur that the dance traditions of the Eastern Townships and Beauce county are derivatives of these daring American quadrilles, becoming sets callés, danses carrées, sets américains or sets canadiens.
Several generic terms are used in the Québécois vernacular to designate a type of danced percussion or step dancing: stepper or giguer (to step dance); steppette or gigue (a step dance); and frotter (literally, to brush). The noun frotté is also employed as an equivalent to “shuffle”, a term denoting a brush step commonly used in tap dancing.
Both musically and choreographically, the tradition of step dancing has its roots in the Irish and English countryside of the sixteenth century. It became popular in Québec around the eighteenth century, and was well established by the 1900s when it appeared both as a freestyle form for one or several dancers (gigue à deux, gigue à quatre), or as an integral part of set dances (Trudel 1977:184). When more than one performer is involved, solo dancing may take on the form of a friendly competition in which each dancer tries to imitate or outdo the other in intricacy or endurance (Doyon-Ferland 1950:174). The most commonly used time signature for freestyle step dancing is the 2/4 reel, although a triple meter called gigue simple or brandy is preferred in some locales. In the Outaouais region bordering on
the province of Ontario, step dancers also perform to clogs (2/4) and jigs (6/8).
As a complement to quadrilles and contredanses, gigue steps may be used to keep time throughout the dance, to accentuate certain parts of figures, or to act as a transition between dance sections. This practice of ornamenting set dances with step dancing is especially prevalent in the Lotbinière /Invernes and Saguenay /Lac-St-Jean areas of Québec, as well as among certain Canadian communities--French Newfoundlanders, Cape-Bretoners and the Métis nation of Manitoba, to name a few.
Although sung traditions of Québec are clearly derived from a French repertoire, dance music, as we have seen, is largely inspired by a British-Isles tradition (Joyal 1980:53). The reasons for this are not clear. An authority on traditional Québécois music, Jean Pierre Joyal speculates that courtly music and instrumentation of the Baroque era may have been too intricate and challenging to transplant into the New World; he suggests moreover that Anglo-Celtic music more adequately captured the original spirit of the country dances prior to their integration into noble society, and was better suited to the rustic lifestyle of early Canadians. Thus, in the early days of the French colony, the fiddle was king, and no social gathering was complete without its appointed fiddler whose simultaneous playing and foot stomping would become legendary. Indeed, this practice of stomping out rhythmic patterns while playing, or tapper du pied, to help dancers keep time with the music, has lived on and become a hallmark of Québécois fiddling, even though this rhythmic function is increasingly assumed by a variety of percussion instruments. Around the eighteen thirties, newer, more sturdy and portable instruments were making their way into some Québécois regions; melodic instruments such as the melodeon, harmonica and Jews harp, as well as spoons, bones and bodhran to provide accompaniment. By the mid-twentieth century, orchestral formations began to appear in order to accommodate larger dance venues, incorporating a vast array of new instruments like the piano, guitar, double bass, horns and winds.
Like its danced counterpart, Québécois traditional music underwent significant modifications following its adoption into Québec society. Although undeniably inspired by its Irish and Scottish antecedents, Québécois musical styles and renditions have tended to reflect the caprice and personality of individual performers, and the influences of a variety of musical trends. Over the years, these processes of personal interpretation, composition and hybridization have resulted in the appearance of distinctive regional genres. In addition to the more familiar reels (2/4 meter) and jigs (6/8 meter), a slower, more lyrical binary genre (the galope) emerged in and around Québec City where older forms of the quadrille were extant; in the Saguenay /Lac-St-Jean area, clogged contredanses called brandy frotté are still danced to fast-paced tunes in a 3/4 measure or grande gigue simple. While these distinctive styles have been maintained in some pockets of Québec, others are increasingly fuzzy as a result of mass media dissemination, the facilitation of travel and increased contact between localities (Joyal 1980:49).
In contemporary Québec, traditional dance and music no longer figure prominently among cultural practices except in some rural areas and among restricted segments of society. In response to changing socio-economic circumstances, having to do with the erosion of the family and traditional ways and urban migration, spontaneous dancing has gradually disappeared from the village and urban scenes, supplanted by new forms of amusements. Although many families continue to mark important life cycles and calendrical holidays with dance and music celebrations, the impromptu nature of gatherings and the intimate home setting have given way to the formality of public venues such as community halls and hotel lounges.
Since the 1960s, a number of revivalist groups, some scholarly, some avocational, have done much to reignite people's interest in traditional dance and music through research, documentation, archival preservation and teaching. Most are non-profit organizations existing through volunteerism and minimal governmental support. In Québec and Montréal, for example, heritage groups have been sponsoring monthly dance veillées for several decades, featuring callers and musicians from the various regions of the province.
Because a social context no longer exists for the organic transmission of traditional repertoires through imitation, dances are now learned in formal classroom environments at province-wide symposia. In urban settings, traditional dancing has become the almost exclusive domain of amateur performing ensembles whose main purpose is to represent Québec at international folk dance festivals.
In rural localities, music and dance competitions are by far the most popular and well-attended events, drawing audiences of several thousands and as many as one hundred participants of all ages and from the four corners of Québec, Ontario and the United States. These weekend affairs are commonly held in small town arenas and sponsored by local community organizations and service clubs. The competitive setting seems to favor a less spontaneous though polished performance ideal leading away from the freer, impassioned aspect of the older tradition. However, while contestants vie for cash prizes and trophies, the central focus of these events appears to be the opportunity they afford for making contact with fellow dancers and musicians, and for jamming and partying in the after hours.
To a large extent we owe this renewed interest in things Québécois to the combined poetic and musical production of the chansonniers or singer/songwriters. During the seventies, these socio-political balladeers were responsible for sensitizing the population to the inherent richness of traditional music by infusing it with the new preoccupations and aspirations of Québec society. In response to the perceived threat of assimilation and the mass depletion of Québec’s countryside through urban migration, their songs harkened back to a romantic, pastoral era still present in our psyche but from which they felt we had become estranged (Trudel 1977:194-95). Their lyrics also struck a note with the younger generation of Québécois, then in search of a cultural and political identity.
This kind of valorizing of folk traditions through academic scholarship, urban revival and media exposure has had a significant impact on people’s awareness of the value of their folk traditions which, until recently, were more or less taken for granted or shunned. Concurrently, the unprecedented influx of scholars, amateur enthusiasts and wide acclaim abroad have further legitimized and enhanced local traditions of music and dance in the eyes of practitioners.
University of Montréal
Until Confederation in 1867, the term Canadiens was reserved for the French-speaking population of Canada. Non French-speaking groups i.e., the English, Irish, Scotts, and American Loyalists were lumped together and referred to by the Canadiens as les Anglais. From 1867, all inhabitants of Canada became officially known as Canadians; the appellation Canadiens français was then coined to distinguish the French-speaking population of Canada from the rest. With the rise of Québec nationalism in the 1960s, the term Québécois became the norm and continues to designate French-Canadians living in the province of Québec.