‘You See the Song and Dance Begin’
For generations the Luebecois has labored with a song on his lips. Now, he’s showing the world that his songs are folk music of the highest order
THE title of this article is taken from the old French-Canadian song ‘Envoyons d’l’avant, nos gens! or ‘Send Her On Along!’ No song in the repertory of French-Canada better represents in its aptness, its harmony and its popularity, the close connection between the songs and the lives of the FrenchCanadian people than does this one. It expresses equally well the emotions of anyone who has ever held a paddle in his hand or felt the lure of mighty rivers and northern bush. As in the swinging lilt of this:
But when we come to Canada We have a good old time, ha! ha!
But when we’ve spent an hour or two, Just see us move the old canoe!
Send her on along, along!
Send her on along!
But when we’ve spent an hour or two, Just see us move the old canoe,
And when the folks see us come in,
You see the song and dance begin! Send her on along, along!
Send her on along!
Seat yourself on a chair in the middle of the sitting room. Take a walking-stick or a fire-shovel, anything, in your hands for a paddle, and go to it! Hum those words as your paddle scrapes your best rug and see if the lilt of that song does not lift you along as it was meant to do and as it still does throughout Quebec and many other parts of Canada, taking the work out of paddling so that men sing it gladly hour after hour as they send her on along. See if the last syllable of each line does not end in perfect harmony with the last flirt of your paddle at the end of each stroke, and see if each line does not build up for you the atmosphere of bush and river and running stream. Some of the life of a people is packed into those few lines. The Canadian people.
But when we come to. Canada! That is when the voyageur orthe coureur du bois in the old days found, or the French-Canadian lumberman or hunter in these days finds, his canoe or the log ‘drive’ and the river which, approaching the boundaries of Quebec, for to such men Quebec has always been ‘Canada’.
‘But when we’ve spent an hour or two, Just see us move the old canoe!’
Naturally, for after an hour or two of that they have caught the rhythm of the song andthepaddling alike, one blends into the other unconsciously, and they do ‘send her on along!’
‘And when the folks see us come in, You see the song and dance begin!’
Rather! For when those men, pent up alljwinter in tin woods, come down with the ‘drive’ of logs with the first rush of high water in spring to Ottawa or any other of the towns which marks the end of the ‘drive’, work ends and song and dance begin. That is the'' historical background of this song, and if that is not Canadian, then we have no Canada. If in doubt, take a trip to Ottawa or any of the towns on the lower reaches of the Gatineau River along about next June and hang around the waterfront.
Some of the French-Canadian’s music is many hundred years old, and it is a part of the very life of the French people of Quebec to-day. They could no more lose it than they could lose their language and they could only lose that with life itself. In the face of a general lack of interest, the value of his work unappreciated except by himself and a few associates,
Marius Barbeau, of the National Museum in Ottawa, has
devoted the twenty-odd years of his working life, since, as one of Canada’s early Rhodes scholars, he returned to his native land, to the reconstruction of the folk-lore, folk songs and handicrafts of Canada. And it is among his own French-Canadian countrymen that he has discovered and collected the greatest store.
Barbeau and his collaborators have painstakingly collected, from old singers in the most remote portions of Quebec and all eastern Canada and the New England states, over five thousand folk-songs which by the aid of the native singers they have recorded on the phonograph for Canada and the world. Barbeau estimates that nineteen out of twenty of the five thousand songs are ancient and came to Canada with the seventeenth century French settlers.
Not all of them deal with the Quebec scene as, ‘Send Her On Along’ does, nor do they partake of the crude quality sometimes associated with folklore. On the contrary, many of them represent poetry of the highest order, presumably being that portion of the work of the best artists of bygone centuries which most commended itself to the people, for many of these songs sung quietly to the accompaniment of the spinning wheel or riotously to enliven a winter’s gathering, in Quebec to-day, are the songs sung by the princes and nobles of the French court of Henri IV and Louis XIII.
As often as not, they reflect the amours of knights and shepherdesses, lonely maidens and royal lovers, and depict an artificial life singularly out of keeping with the matter-of-fact work of the home to which they are so often sung in Quebec.
Other titles more closely epitomize the fun-loving Quebec character, such songs as ‘If my Old Top were a Dancing Man’. Others are full of the texture of Quebec life such as, ‘The Raftsmen’, ‘Youpe! Youpe! River Along’, and ‘Send Her On Along’, songs full of the river
and the woods and the vigor and swing and rhythm of the pioneers and the work the songs were composed for or adapted to old French airs. The most deservedly popular of all, ‘Allouette’ (The Lark) obviously has its origin in another land where the lark was ever present, but no one who has ever heard it sung at a FrenchCanadian gathering in Quebec can ever forget it. The Québécois have made it their own. In France, such of these songs as are still preserved are preserved by the common people. In Quebec they belong to all and are sung by all, as much the possession of the educated classes as of the most illiterate farm boy, and a part of the lives of both.
Barbeau has said that it is often difficult for him to secure certain songs for phonograph record because the singers are accustomed to sing the^n to work which is complementary, spinning, weaving or what not, so closely are the songs and the work of the people related. There are songs for canoeing and work in the woods, songs for beating flax and chopping wood, fishing, beating the wash, threshing the grain, mending sails and mending nets, making snowshoes, moccasins, and curing skins, songs for paddling, and songs for rowing, each attuned to the rhythm of its labor. Such songs require no music with them, their background is their work, the soft ‘dip dip’ of the paddle, the smack of the axe, the steady thrum of the spinning wheel. But for songs of the dance and other jollity there is in the country always, the fiddle, and in the woods, because it is easier to carry and is less spoil for the robber, the mouthorgan and the harmonica.
hundred years ago, a complete repertory of these songs, both in French and in singable English translations.
There will be three days of fun”and music. To Quebec will come the principal singers of FrenchCanadian folk-lore, and with them women in picturesque garb from Isle Dorion, Baie St. Paul, and more remote portions of the province, with their spinning-wheels and looms, and they will spin and weave to the accompaniment of the old songs. There will be fishermen from Gaspe who will sing as they mend their nets and sails, and representatives of all the ancient crafts. A complete display of Canadian handicrafts from the National Museum in Ottawa will be shown in order that the handicrafts and the singing, complementary to one another as they are, may be seen and heard together. Each class of handicrafts and songs will have its proper setting. The ancient household arts will be practised indoors in the Chateau Frontenac, and the ruder labor of the men will be staged outdoors before a replica of an old house amid the trees, the St. Lawrence gleaming in the distance.
The close association between folksong and
handicrafts will be illustrated by skilled spinners and weavers and other workers and singers from the country districts, who will demonstrate the complete process of making flax into thread and linen, the spinning and weaving of homespun cloth, the hooking of rugs, and the making of the gay colored sashes, ceintures ƒlechees, as practised at L’Assomption also will be shown. There will, in addition, be such a gathering of artists and such music on this theme as has never occurred on this continent before, if anywhere. The best musical artists and most distinguished composers of music in Canada will attend to contribute to the occasion and to gather material for compositions that will assist in the hoped-for renaissance of Quebec folk songs. The Basilica choir of Quebec, which has a tradition of singing unequalled in North America, will sing a fully choral Gregori an High Mass as well as old French hymns and other reminders of an ancient musical past. Another equally renowned organization, the Chanteurs de
Ste. Dominique will render modern compositions of native composers based on the folk music, and the Hart House Quartette, of Toronto, will render new works on the folk theme composed for this occasion, all this against the natural background of the ancient capital of French Canada which is, in its outward aspect, more seventeenth century European than much of Europe.
Charles Marchand, a singer who has made an intelligent study of these songs, and has a genius for them, will depict in his interpretations every type of habitant from the coquettish demoiselle to the jovial bonhomme. The acting of these songs is as important, if not more so, than their singing, and he captures alike their plaintiveness, their rollicking humor and their joie de vivre. In his interpretations he is the very spirit of French-Canada.
Groups of boys and girls will sing the rondelles, those centuries old children’s “rounds” alive with the spirit of the child world. Others will sing the pastourelles, complaintes and spirituelles; narrative poems striking strong notes of vibrant joy or intense sorrow which characterize this music of an ancient race. Phileas Bedard, farmer, and Vincent Ferner de Repentigny, night-watchman in a Montreal factory, great folk-lorists both, will give the choicest selections in their repertory. Thes^ men do more than sing. They act. To see and hear Bedard sing and act his ‘Shoemaker’s Song’, one need not understand French to partake of its uproarious enjoyment as he sits and cobbles an imaginary shoe at an imaginary bench gossiping with and about the village. De Repentigny is in a class by himself. E. Z. Massicotte, the archivist of Montreal, and an indefatigable worker in this field, relates that being desirous of hearing de Repentigny’s repertoire, the latter sang for him thirty songs a day for ten days, each one different and all from memory, and even then had not exhausted his repertory. He comes by it honestly. In the days when every French gentleman prided himself on his ability to sing a söng relating the love of knight and damsel to his lady, there was a Pierre Legard de Repentigny who is mentioned in the Jesuit Relaticm of the early seventeenth century who was familiar with the French court where these songs were then in great vogue. And in 1705, when the ship which carried the annual supply of Parisian dress materials and frocks to the ladies of New France, was captured by the English, an ancestress, Madame de Repentigny, who was a social leader of that time, organized the great ladies in a body with the purpose of influencing the farmers on their seigneuries to grow flax and sheep, and Continued on page 70
Continued from page 15
their wives to spin and weave in order that fashionable Quebec should never again be short of material for new frocks. Thus was revived the spinning and weaving which still persists and which had previously been discouraged by the mother-country in order to force the colonists to buy in France. Imagination depicts the present bearer of that noble name, his mind immersed in the past, his economic needs chaining him to a more prosaic present, all night long wending his way on his lonely rounds, winding the time-clocks of a great factory; and as he goes about those duties softly singing to himself old roundelays of kings and queens, knights and shepherdesses . . .
A Publicity Man’s Pet Dream
DESIDES the native singers of folk-lore
pure and simple there will gather in Quebec‘for this occasion a galaxy of song birds of international repute, some of them originally from Quebec, who thus return to express on their native soil, and in the immemorial music of their people, their love of both.
J. Murray Gibbon is the mainspring of the festival. It is very much his pet. How that happens is an interesting story.
Gibbon attributes the birth of the idea to an accidental fire. It was in the Chateau Frontenac, the C.P.R. hotel in Quebec, which was practically burned a few years ago. The occasion of its re-opening was made a celebration to which Gibbon invited a couple of car loads of assorted newspaper men from Canada and the United States to ensure adequate publicity being given to the fact that the ‘customers’ could again be cared for, Gibbon’s job is that of maintaining and extending the friendly relations existing between the Canadian Pacific Railway and the public it serves. Casting about for suitable means of entertainment, he hit on the idea of having someone sing the old Quebec songs as particularly impressive when heard against the background of old Quebec. Someone told him Charles Marchand was his man. But Marchand said:
“Certainly not! I’ve given up singing these songs for English audiences. They don’t understand them and can’t appreciate them!”
Which gave Gibbon ‘furiously to think’. “All right, let’s translate a few and sing them in English,” he suggested.
Unconvinced and only half-willing, Marchand consented, and between them they selected a few numbers and did their best. The result was astonishing in the effect on this audience of newspaper-men and in the new slant it gave Marchand on his art, for he had previously confined his efforts to touring Quebec and singing to French audiences. Well and good so far, but on the way home after the opening, the train-load of newspapermen was held up for several hours by a freight-wreck
near a little Quebec village. This was disastrous. Bad enough at any time, a wreck that held up a hundred newspapermen who had been brought there to receive a good impression of the C.P.R., was a tragedy under the circumstances. There seemed nothing to do but kick their heels and wait. But Gibbon and Marchand got busy. The latter donned his habitant clothes, and establishing himself on the front steps of the bureau de poste, he began to sing the old songs. The people of the village gathered at his feet and joined in, and between them, Marchand and the villagers gave those newspapermen such an entertainment as they had never heard; and wrestling victory from defeat, the enforced stop developed into the greatest feature of the entire trip. So Gibbon, who is Scotch and canny, realized that something out of the ordinary had happened to him, and he reasoned “If these hard-boiled newspapermen like this, any audience would like it.” So he began to translate certain of the old songs, and paid especial attention to a matter that had previously been overlooked: That is, he translated them so
they could readily be sung in English. The task intrigued him, and the translations grew into his book, ‘Canadian Folk Songs.’
Gibbon is a music-lover and he felt a great urge to get upon the house-tops and let the musical world of this continent know of the treasure available at its door for a mere twist of the key. He felt the appeal of the fact that this was. the first white man’s music that ever reached these shores, and miraculously, is still intact. ‘But he is also a Scot, hence canniness alternates with artistry in his makeup, so he also visualized the potential value of this music as the same great binding force to the French-English nation as it has been to the French. But one small book is a slight instrument with which to convert an entire people. The proposal, half forming in his mind, needed something big to ‘put it over’. ‘Big publicity!’ But big publicity spells big money. Obviously an ‘angel’ was needed, one of those kindly ‘butter and egg men’ who finance the financially unpromising Broadway shows of their favorite revue stars. Now Gibbon with all his talents is neither a woman nor beautiful, and could count on no support of wealthy amorous admirers, but he is an expert publicist, so the idea of a Folk Song Festival backed by massed publicity eventuated. The question then arose: ‘Who would back it?’ The C.P.R. was elected!
In musical circles appreciation of the value of this celebration has been lively. Besides singers and composers, many of the principal American and Canadian musical critics will attend the festival. Gibbon relates that in a conversation with Dr. Sonneck, the editor of ‘The Musical Quarterly,’ he said to the latter: Continued on page 72
Continued, from page 70 “The American nation has the reputation in musical circles all over the world of being the home of jazz, of negro music. It is said there is not enough talent or culture on this continent to produce a disdistinctive music . . . But there is!’”
“That’s what I’ve preached for years,” the critic retorted.
“Well, here’s your chance . . . The first white man’s music ever recorded on this continent and still being sung.”
“Well, I confess,” the editor admitted, “I nbver thought of French-Canadian music in that connection . . . But I will now, and . . . I’ll be there!”
And Pierre Key, the editor of the Musical Digest, said: “Nothing will keep me away from Quebec!”
Delightful as this music is, it is being used for other than purely musical purposes. It is serving the practical educational purpose of uniting the bonds between French and English-speaking Canadians, only possible of course, because the music has that universal appeal which is independent of race. Gibbon’s book has been introduced into a number of schools for regular singing by the children, and Marchand, for the National Council of Education, has sung these songs in English throughout the West to audiences so appreciative that his singer’s enthusiasm for the translated songs is boundless, and speaking with the utmost sincerity he said:
“Really I cannot tell you what it means, to find that instead of confining one’s self to singing these songs only to French people, we can now sing them to all and be certain they will meet with the same degree of appreciation as before. There is so much humor in these songs, a little joke in one perhaps, which only the combination of the singer’s acting and the words of the song together will explain to the audience, just a turn of a phrase perhaps, but vital in the translation if the full flavor of the original wording and music is to be preserved. And that is what Mr. Gibbon has done for us who sing these songs. It is amazing! I find English audiences every bit as appreciative as French ones now that we have his translations, sometimes even more so, because Mr. Gibbon has even improved on some of these songs. The final and greatest proof to me of how well he has done the work of preserving their universality of appeal came to me in the Technical School in Vancouver where I sang some of these songs to the pupils. There were twenty-five different races amongst those boys. On a front bench,the most interested of all, their eyes shining with excitement, and joining spontaneously in the refrains, I saw a group of Chinese, Japanese and East Indian boys registering their whole-hearted enjoyment of the songs as keenly as any others in the hall, as though the tradition of such music belonged to them, as indeed it does, for it has the haunting spell of a universal genius.”
What Barbeau Has Preserved
/^AGNON in 1865 made the first import-
ant collection of these songs, but thé work of Barbeau and his collaborators for the National Museum exceeds in importance that of Gagnon, as it does that of all others in this field. Gagnon is dead but Barbeau is still with us and stil! on the job. He is in fact directing the Festival for the National Museum. Barbeau has collected the treasure, Gibbon has unlocked it, and the Government and the C.P.R. are to present it to us on a magnificent scale in the forthcoming festival.
To say that ideas live longer than material things is a platitude. When one asks what was the greatest thing about Rome and Greece, the answer is: their ideas and the record of their greatness, preserved for us in the literature of both, the sculpture of one and the laws of the other. Gibbon says: “I want to show
how this raw material can be utilized by the musicians. “He had in mind the fact that the music of Liszt arose from the folk songs of Hungary, that of Chopin from those of Poland, and so it has been with that of many other masters. He had in mind the fact that a song, known wherever the language is spoken, Tom Moore’s ‘Canadian Boat Song’, is only the harmonization of an old Quebec air of which the poet said: “I have heard this simple air with a pleasure which the finest compositions of the first masters have never given me.” He had in mind the present tendency throughout the civilized world to explore racial roots and utilize their musical treasures for modern use, and that in Canada there is stored in a better state of preservation than it is even in the country of itssource, a musical tradition of tremendous potentialities.
Canadian sculpture can point tq its achievements, and Canadian painting to its distinctive contribution to world art. If the movement now initiated develops perhaps the same may be said of a native Canadian music. And native this is. With its airs, nobles, priests, and peasants of the New France of the seventeenth century were entirely familiar. It was one of their dearest links with their home across the sea, and in their long voyages up and down the length of vast unknown rivers, and through unmarked hostile forests which marked the early exploration of much of Canada and the United States, they must have often sung or listened to others singing these same songs. It is from them at least that we have derived these songs.
The time seems propitious for such a revival. There is a reaction from rush. The pendulum of taste, in its crashing upward sweep towards all all violence of emotion and discordancy of life, appears now at times greatly to falter and even, fitfully by jerks and starts, to descend. The pendulum of modern life may be about to retraverse traveled ground and sweep upward to the greatness and beauty of simplicity.
These songs can truly claim that quality. They contain the simplicity and the charm of the French-Canadian race, that sane and virile gaiety of their ancestors which they have never lost, and which these songs so truly echo. And, being old because they are good, the peculiar appeal of these songs is so universal, that, in their proper translation, they are understandable to anyone.
At the Festival, which will introduce these songs to the English speaking world, their music will depict in artistic form the soul of French-Canada and the character of its people against the background of their ancient capital. One can imagine the last scene of the last night unless, untrue to form, it is unlike every past gathering of the Québécois. High on the rock of the Citadel of Quebec, under the stars, ships on the river and the shimmer of moonlight on it far below, Charles Marchand, or some other singer, will take his place on a high spot above the crowd and begin to sing:
“Bon soir, mes amis. Bon soir,
Bon soir, mes amis, bon soir, (bis)
Quand on est si bien ensemble (bis) Devrait—on jamais se quitter Bon soirl Bon soirl Bon SoirV’
And his hearers will join in:
“Good night, my friends, good night! Good night, my friends, good night!
When it’s so good to be together Should we ever part,
Good night ‘Good night’
Good Night’ ”
and the festival will end in that long drawn out cry of perfect parting: “Bon