“Very nice interprétation. Beautiful dialogue among the musicians. In Full Bloom is Donna’s best CD ever, un vrai délice!” Québécois artist Benoit Bourque, La Bottine Souriante
“I LOVE your CD. It is GREAT – wonderful music played with much feeling of style and tradition! And that ‘Raven’s Wing’ you and Max have written is gorgeous – really a winner!” Seamus Connolly, Irish fiddler, National Heritage Fellow
Begun in 2004 in Québec at Dénis Fréchette’s Studio Chemin No. 4, this is dedicated to Denis, who died far too young at age 54 in 2008. The last track is a duet – my voice and his piano. The uncanny irony is that the lyric for A Place Called Beautiful was shaped from words spoken by my Vermont friend, Martha Pellerin, in her last week of life. Denis’ spacious piano speaks a poignant au revoir not only for Martha, but himself as well.
After his death, I wanted to finish the CD and Pascal Gemme magically appeared in my life at the same time as the perfect concierge. Thanks to him and co-producer Max Cohen and especially the magic ears and hands of Mark Busic, this CD has become what Dénis envisioned and perhaps even more. Pascal pulled the best traditional musicians out of his producer hat, asking me who I wanted to play with. They came to the sessions to play my favorite French tunes with tape rolling. Very little was arranged and almost everything was recorded live. The tunes just fell out of our fiddles!
1. Blackberry Quadrille / Galope de Joseph Bouchard – both D/G (toutes deux en ré/sol) -galops have long, 16 bar phrases repeated instead of 8 bars, making them twice as long as an average reel. The first is from Louis Beaudoin (this is his name for a tune called Polka Carnaval in Québec). The second was learned 25 years ago from an Éritage LP. Here Pascal Gemme and I play these in unison (except where we don’t!) with Pascal’s feet and Max Cohen’s guitar.
2. Raven’s Wing Dm/D (ré mineur/ré) (© Donna Hébert & Max Cohen) – My father died in early March 2008 while our band was visiting the Grand Canyon. We were stalked by ravens all day until, at sunset, one landed among us. It looked straight at me and gestured, croaking; after a few minutes it flew off. Within moments, the call came through that my father had passed. Max and I wrote the tune and only then did I discover that my father’s bomber unit in World War II was called The Ravens. The whole story with photos of the canyon (and the raven!) are on my blog. When I heard the last mixes from Canada, I wept with joy. Mark has captured the feel of the day, the canyon, the wonder, perfectly. Max’s guitar is the raven’s wings. My violin and viola are the spirit breaking free.
3. Magic Foot A (la) (© Russ Barenberg) / Son of a Bear A (la) – Russ Barenberg’s great four-part fiddle tune in A major is a true Francophile gem that lays down the perfect groove to lead into Louis Beaudoin’s family tune in A major. Louis and his father called this one ‘Son of a bear” to keep from swearing in front of the children. The third position shift probably explains the name. I am joined by Max Cohen on guitar, Pascal Gemme’s feet throughout the medley and André Brunet’s fiddle on the second tune. Muscleman André wrestled this tune and a few others to win the Canadian Grand Master Fiddling title in 2008.
4. La grondeuse D (ré) / La grande gigue simple D (ré)– both these lovely crooked tunes in D major are from the repertoire and in the style of Louis Beaudoin. André Brunet and I play these as a fiddle duet with his locomotive footwork setting the pace. Note that Louis only plays two parts to his setting of La grondeuse, but he plays each phrase three times. André left his fiddle in standard tuning but I’ve tuned my G string up to A.
5. La valse joyeuse D (ré) – I learned this Willie Ringuette tune from Jean Carignan’s first Philo recording in the 1970s and played it in contests for 10 years. The flamboyance suits my larger-than-life personality and I can soar. It’s sheer joy to play this aptly-named waltz with Sabin Jacques and Rachel Aucoin!
6. Reel du Père Bruneau D (ré) (© Lorenzo Picard) / Reel des accordéonistes D (ré) (© Marcel Messervier) / Les femmes G (sol) – These three are among my favorite accordion and fiddle tunes. The last Joe Bouchard tune always makes me laugh. When Sabin Jacques and Rachel Aucoin offered their home for a recording session, these tunes immediately came to mind.
7. Circular Reel Am (la mineur) (© Daniel Boucher) / Dad’s Reel A (la) – Fiddler Daniel Boucher writes tunes on a daily basis and this is just one of his many great compositions. Pascal Gemme and I play fiddles with Max Cohen on guitar, with Pascal’s feet running through both tunes. The second tune is the Louis Beaudoin setting of “Reel des éboulements/Avalanche Reel).
8. Réunion Gigue Dm (ré mineur) (© 2005 Donna Hébert) – Written to commemorate twelve years performing with Josée Vachon in Chanterelle, this tune caught Pascal’s attention at the last minute when we were in search of a jig. Rachel’s tour-de-force piano and Pascal’s viola bring this tune to a new level, inviting you to dance to its crooked beauty. Or perhaps even to write a dance to it!
9. Fireside Reel G (sol) / Two-Step D’Armand D/G(ré/sol) (© Graham Townsend) / Reel Béatrice Am (la mineur) – Three of my all-time favorite tunes, here with Liza Constable’s jazz guitar and Stuart Kenney’s acoustic bass. Pascal Gemme also left his footprints on this track, which was originally recorded in 2004. The first tune is from Louis Beaudoin, the second learned from Graham in the early 1970s at Louis’ house. Beatrice was first learned crooked from Omer Marcoux and Gerry Robichaud, then straighter from Québécois sources. This setting is the one most often known in New England and outside Québec.
10. Little Birds G (sol) (© 2007 Donna Hébert) – I wrote this waltz-clog when my little bird, Molly, went off to New York University to fly with her own wings. It’s a sweet little waltz, but fierce, like her. Max Cohen plays guitar and the original choreography and step-dancing were created by Marie-Soleil Pilette, director of Sans Temps Dance Company in Montréal. The feet are mixed right up front on purpose so you can hear the dancing!
11. A Place Called Beautiful D (© 1999 Donna Hébert) – I’m really glad I sang this in 2004 with Denis Fréchette. His piano is transcendently beautiful – a poignant farewell, since he left us in 2008. Ten years earlier, my friend Martha Pellerin died of advanced ovarian cancer. In August she was performing; by November she was gone. Martha’s death at 37 stunned the Franco community, where she was an performer and advocate for Franco history, culture and music. The week she died, she told her family: “I’m going to a place called Beautiful. They’re waiting for me there.” That story and her words inspired this song (the only chanson on the CD).