Of music and what it does to us

Îles de la Madeleine, music, piano

In 2017, as part of a wider art project on the preservation of cultural heritage, I had the chance to seek out and meet the keepers of traditional songs in the Magdalen Islands. From one encounter to the next, a clear picture of our musical heritage arose, always defined by its importance, vitality and dynamism.

 

Revoir son répertoire. #chantsdavant

Une publication partagée par Nathaël Molaison (@chevalierduchangement) le 29 Avril 2017 à 4 :54 PDT

 

The Islands gifted us with paths to wander, tales to be told, and - there must be something in the wind - many a song to pass on. Entire households made up of singers, musicians, foot rhythms enthusiasts, tune hummers and reel players are a common occurrence. Every family I had the chance to meet up with counted at least one gifted musical ear - and more than often, the whole musical caboodle.

It'll be said that winters have always been longer here. They'll talk of how hardworking we used to be, of how neighbours used to visit one another much more than they do it now. But there's no point in trying to deny how music is still passed on from one generation to the next. Spending the fall or winter season here will give you all the evidence you need - when the last wave of visitors leaves our shores, we Islanders start to gather again.

Since our grandparents' time and still today, the home remains the place of choice for these reunions. We sit at the table and get a couple of beers, a bag of chips, and most importantly, guitars. Sometimes there's a keyboard and some amps, sometimes we keep it acoustic. The essence is in the music itself, in the magic that happens between the Islanders.



Îles de la Madeleine, music, lyrics

 

Music creates a connection between people. From singers to sing-along hummers, there's this essential idea that music forms bonds, brings people together. For many, music is an underlying constant of all life events: weddings, deaths, anniversaries, reunions - every occasion calls for a song.

I have the great pleasure of being part of two families of musicians. Musicians who learned guitar, foot rhythms and singing from being around their parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Here, we don't take lessons; we learn and play by ear, looking up closely at the elders.

My paternal grandmother started each New Year of her life by gathering her children and grandchildren for an evening of festivities. As per tradition, each guest had to go through their two minutes of fame, a custom that is without a doubt shared by other families. We didn't always get to pick the song, but we still sang it proudly, a true rite of passage into the next year that spared no one.

If these specific customs tend to fade away with time, their essence - this greater duty of remembrance - remains. That's why each generation brings its new share of musicians to the kitchen table. That's why some of our evenings among friends end up in a jumble of “old” songs. Because there's nothing like “bringing back the oldies” to revive that feeling of belonging to a greater narrative. There's nothing like that musical heritage to remind us of who we are, and where we came from.

Par Nathaël Molaison

I came back on the Islands three years ago, and each day, I (re)discover the little details, the subtleties and — most importantly — the inspiration that this place brings me. In each and every one of my projects, I write a little piece of what makes us different and unique beings.

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