And a salute to the hearty North Country community for their pure grit! Snow and ice did not deter a good-sized enthusiastic crowd from coming out for two fabulous concerts by the French-Canadian traditional music duo of Alexis Chartrand and Nicolas Babineau. The musicians put a distinctly contemporary spin on the old tunes – an extravagant array of reels – they collected from Francophone communities in the far reaches of eastern Quebec and the maritime provinces of Canada. Both are virtuoso fiddlers, having started very young with rigorous classical training. Nicolas on guitar was alternately ethereally poetic and fiercely rhythmic, while Alexis tapped out complex driving rhythmic patterns with his feet from pianissimo to fortiss-iss-issimo! Just when you thought he must be exhausted and could do it no longer, Alexis ramped it up even more energetically with hidden reserves of power. Mélissandre Bourassa-Tremblay added a potent visual element with some dynamic step-dancing, heavily influenced by her ballet and modern dance training. Alexis and Nicolas also dared to play some very quiet and slow sustained songs – enticing and captivating the ear with calm and touching interludes – islands of peace in a high-energy kinetic sea.
The duo was with us for a week-long residency. During their first days they hunkered down to work on new arrangements of the repertoire they had recently collected. They are keen to record this new material, their first recording having been nominated “Best Traditional Album” at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. They also spent two days working in schools: with French language classes at the Saranac Middle and High Schools and with grade 4 and 5 music classes at the Saranac Elementary School. An intense busy week!