Monday, September 16, 2013


Last Sunday, I was invited to a house concert on the Chesapeake Bay featuring the internationally known Québécois band, Genticorum. The music is Celtic; the words are in French; the combination is magical, transporting the listener to places far away. Yet the earthy, homey nature of the songs lends a warmth and familiarity to the performance, helped in no small manner by the charm and joie-de-vivre of the artists themselves.  As the River Reporter commented:
Composed of Pascal Gemme, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand and Yann Falquet, Genticorum performs music that evokes Celtic reels, French chansons and Cajun hijinks.
The Celtic reels may be a bit surprising, coming from a French-singing group, but a lot of Scots settled in eastern Canada, too. As for the Cajun connection, French Canada is the place from which Louisiana’s “Cajuns” (the word “Cajun” comes from “Acadians”) emigrated. Genticorum’s members play guitar, bass, fiddle, Jew’s harp and flute; they stamp percussive rhythms while singing two- and three-part vocals. The Washington Post said that their music “sounds as if it were made by six people, not three.”(Read more.)
Genticorum was brought to Talbot County through Carpe Diem Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to making the world of art, music and dance accessible to all. The concert was held at the home of Busy Graham, the director of Carpe Diem. The band played in a room lined with large windows overlooking the Bay; the water, sky and sinking sun made for a stunning backdrop to the presentation of the lively tunes. Being in such a setting, surrounded by magnificent music, made me feel like I was inside a poem, especially a poem by Keats. "Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam...." How true it is that fine music opens windows in the mind while soothing the soul, making both alive to all the possibilities.

 Following the concert at Busy's house, there was a reception where the guests and artists lingered over food and wine, watching the sun disappear into the Bay. The evening ended with some excitement when my car became stuck in some rocks and three of the guests had to extricate it. Alex, one of the musicians of Genticorum, also helped. Quelle gentillesse! 

The next day, Genticorum played for the local school children, and the county newspaper reported the event, as follows:
In reality, Quebec, Canada, is not that far from here, Busy Graham of Carpe Diem Arts told St. Michaels Elementary and Middle schools students Monday, Sept. 9. A whole other world of culture, language and art is just up the road, and the trio Genticorum, a traditional music group made up of fiddle, guitar, wooden flute, electric bass and “jew’s harp,” brought their engaging blend of French melodies and folklore to a sea of upturned faces, curious ears and eager imaginations.
The group has traveled the world for over 800 concerts in more than 15 countries sharing their vision of North American and European folk music culture to audiences young and old. Artists Pascal Gemme, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand and Yann Falquet were no novices at getting their student listeners into the beat with soft-shoe stepping, clapping and learning “petites phrases” (little phrases) of songs in French. During short question and answer sessions, one student asked if the group was famous ... and rich.
“We don’t do this for the money,” said Falquet laughing. “We simply love this music. A long time ago, we were students too, and we played and earned a little money. Then we made a career of it. And we continue to do all this for the music.”

Elementary students had to get up out of their seats so their still-growing legs and feet could touch the floor in time to the music. Middle school students seemed reluctant, if not downright skeptical, of anything folk and foreign. But it did not take long for Genticorum to get them out of their seats as well, dancing in the aisles, and even on stage, to their catchy tunes.

The group said many of their songs were passed down to them from their ancestors, their next-generation family and their Quebecois heritage. Some songs talked of love and romance. Some songs spoke of maple syrup and yucky rodent stew. The musicians reminded the children the words, so difficult for their audience to understand in Genticorum’s native French, were not so important as understanding the heart of their music – its lilting melodies meant to impart the feeling of home and hearth, family, history, and irreplaceable culture.
It was a normal day at the office for Graham. With school and community programs on the Eastern Shore, her locally-based nonprofit organization Carpe Diem Arts is the moving force behind bridging cultural and generational divides with the unique and the unusual. Groups like Genticorum, whose performance was made possible by Talbot County Arts Council and St. Michaels Elementary and Middle school PTA, come to Royal Oak for workshops, performance opportunities and celebrations. And they come to share who they are through their vision of the arts.
So while Quebec may seem as far away as the roots of folk music and soft-shoe stepping, its distance is only as limited as one’s imagination, Graham told students. (Read more.)
The music of Genticorum celebrates both yesterday and today; it belongs to both the Old World and the New. It is known that the French spoken in Quebec is closer to the French of the seventeenth century than what is spoken in Paris today. I find this fascinating since I live in a part of the world where there are still people who speak the English of the seventeenth century. It is also interesting that many of the Acadians (who became the Cajuns) may have originally came from Poitou, known after the French Revolution as the Vendée. In 2011, The Guardian said of Genticorum:
This is a trio of young French-speaking Canadian musicians who started out playing jazz and rock before switching to acoustic folk styles, and now mix fiddles, wooden flute and foot-stamping percussion with guitar and bass, treating both traditional songs and their own material with sturdy, confident playing and good humour. The theme of the album is travel and voyagers, though traditional songs about fur traders or the perils of rowing on the Hudson Bay are interspersed with a slinky fiddle dance tune dedicated to a cat or a waltz apparently inspired by stoves and pans. This is a band with a quirky sense of humour and some rousing songs, all in Québécois French; the harmony singing on Grand Voyageur Sur La Drave and the driving, percussive instrumental Reel Circulaire show why they deserve their growing international reputation. (Read more.)
There is more information on the albums of Genticorum, HERE. Some of their CD's are available from Amazon. I bought their newest CD and I can tell you it is great music for riding in the car with children. For one thing, if your children are studying French it will help them pick up the correct intonations.  Most of all, it is upbeat and happy music, full of the pathos of the ages, yet eternally young. Share


julygirl said...

Thanks for telling us about such an uplifting group...we need a lot more of that kind of music these days when the arts and music are so dark.. We all know how music can get one through bad times as well as celebrate the good times... rock on!

elena maria vidal said...

Here is a comment a reader asked me to post:

"I so enjoyed reading this and can attest to the charming atmosphere and performance as I was also lucky enough to attend... It felt like a bridging of so many generations of music and still felt so very fresh. Thanks for this in depth article."
~ Patti Cruickshank-Schott