dulcimerist/celtic music specialist
Sylvain Lacroix of the "trad" music band Cordaphone
Interview & Review by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Sylvain Lacroix was born in Montreal Quebec in 1958 in a family of five. Music was very present during his childhood. His father was involved in Montreal on the cultural scene at the one of main theaters in Montreal.
At the age of 12, when his local theater “La Comédie Canadienne” presented “Hair” Sylvain had his first " behind the scenes" contact with artists from the underground world. In 1976, along with a group of street artists, Sylvain and friends founded a small coffee shop called “Le Matin des Magiciens” (magicians morning). This coffee shop, at that time, was a spot where lots of underground artist got together. Numerous bands in Montreal had their start at that small cooperative coffee shop.
After a few years, the same group of people started an underground cultural fest called Le Rendez Vous Doux where circus artists, music bands and musicians gather for a 5 day event in the countryside. This is where Sylvain met a luthie - André Lavoie, who had a mountain dulcimer. From there Sylvain started to explore the instrument. From there he developed his skill on the instrument. This also where he met his longtime friends - Claude Nadeau, (guitar and flute ); and Michel Dufour (violin and banjo). They decided to move out of the citiy and live away in the country. In 1987, all the happy friends arrived in Témiscouata and began to play gigs together. At the time Sylvain was still a drummer in two rock bands of the area as well as dulcimerist in trad music with Michel and Claude.
In 2003 Sylvain met dulcimerist Cristian Huet (pictured at right with Sylvain) from Brittany, who changed Sylvain’s approach on the techniques of how to play the mountain dulcimer. After exploring the French music roots of the French Celtic zithers, Sylvain and Claude founded the band Cordaphone. Michel joined it in 2005. In 2008 The band merged with another trad band called Le Viel Archet and added Normand Manseau, Camille Pilon (Claude’s daughter) and Soami Reid-Dufour (son of Michel) to the lineup.
Review & Interview
For our current featured artist review & interview, we depart from the usual mainstream au courant dance/rock/folk/show tune styles, and journey to one of the rarer, more "antique" colors of the LGBT music rainbow. That's right, Dorothies - we're not in pop Kansas anymore... we're not even in the USA... and we may not even be in our century.
Come with me to Témiscouata, located in the rural countryside of French Quebec Canada, to meet "mountain" dulcimerist/Celtic music specialist SYLVAIN LACROIX. Sylvain is a founding member of the "trad" music band CORDAPHONE. The band's name, explains Sylvain, is a play on words .... String instruments like guitar, bass, violin - the familly of instruments called in french: "cordophone" .. also corde=strings in french... and the word "phone" in french sounds exactly like "fun" in english so if you put it together cordaphone means "strings for fun".
By way of linguistic explanation, this feature took some time to come together. Sylvain speaks very little English. He bravely tackled my English language questions - responding as best he could. Conversely, at his request (and we both laugh at this), I have done my best to translate and rework his English grammar and usage into something understandable to our readers. I joked to Sylvain that years of being an "old" music specialist, living an anti-modern, country-purist life in near wilderness have rendered his English equally "old" (it read like it was written by an Elizabethan era Yoda). In any case, I have done my best to not mangle the meaning of what Sylvain is trying to convey in his interview answers.
What does comes through in Sylvain's interview, and especially in his music, is the portrait of an entirely lovely, giving man and musician. Sylvain so loves the basic, natural, outdoorsy (one might say "sylvan") essence of fretted-instrumental music, that he purposefully lives his life in accordance with the kind of rural, pre-industrial setting in which his beloved instruments were originated.
As if deeply aware of how dependent such "early" music-making is on group playing - Sylvain exhibits a kind of personal humility rarely found in today's star-driven, "it's all about me - me - me" world of talent. He loves his instruments; his musical colleagues; and the resulting music they make together. He just might be the most ego-less musical artist I've ever met.
One can hear a taste of Sylvain's and CORDAPHONE's upcoming new cd via 3 mp3s on the Cordaphone website (see link below). These instrumental pieces - original yet thoroughly faithful to Celtic or "early music" or "mountain" style, arrangement and instrumentation - can truly be said to be "songs of the wood".
"Dragonfly" features a mighty solo/melody played expertly on recorder. This wistful tune - perhaps evoking a long-gone summer afternoon - sticks with the listener even after just one listening. "Gavotte du Mont Bleu" - to this listener more "antique" French than "old" English in flavor, stars the violin. All is courtly, mannered - a bit more more gentry than peasant - yet glowing with all the innocence and friendliness that is "early music". In "Printemps des Cerisiers", fretted instruments and recorder both share the melodic duties - eventually splitting apart into lovely "ancient" sounding harmonies to each other.
With their original "original" Celtic music, Sylvain Lacroix and CORDAPHONE bandmates Michel Dufour - violin, Normand Manseau - violin, and Claude Nadeau - flute and guitar - et al, offer listeners a welcome vacation from the over-electified pop music status quo. They can take you back to a simpler, gentler, more natural sounding world. Whoever said time-travel is impossible? - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
Sylvain on dulcimer with bandmates of Cordaphone
- Tell us about how you first came to have an interest in the dulcimer – and how you came to favor your own “mountain/Appalachian” variety of dulcimer.
It was my encounter with Cristian Huet that changed all my interest in the instrument. I had my first dulcimer at the age of 17, but I was using the instrument for mainly jamming with other strings instruments… and I had not really invested the time to push more on techniques of playing … I was kinda good on it though after a few years of playing.
- What other instruments, if any, do you play?
Drums that was the first instrument. After that came the xylophone, and of course epinette des vosges - this is the French zither and Sitar.
- My own first knowledge of “zither” type instruments came as a child when I heard the songs of Lovin’ Spoonful, in which frontman John Sebastian played autoharp. I was lucky enough to see them play live! Could you enlighten us on the relationship of the autoharp to zither type instruments?
Well, "zither" by definition is any instrument in which a string is placed on a top of a wood box.. Thus instruments such as Celtics harp, auto harp, hurdy gurdy, Psaltery; and, all the related mountain dulcimer family instruments - like epinette des vosges, Scandinavian Hummel, the german zeither, etc., etc., are included. There are so many!
- And of course there’s perhaps the world’s most famous dulcimer player – another Canadian – the great Joni Mitchell. Was she an influence for you?
Well, not really .. I knew her through her popular music, but I didn’t know at that time that she was using the instrument. André Audet - who worked on my instruments (Luthier) told me that Joni Mitchell’s blue album was created from music that she first did using a mountain dulcimer.
- Do dulcimers nowadays come with jacks or internal pickups for plugging into amplification? Or do they still have to be mic’d?
My good friend the luthier André Audet did install all the electric devices in my instruments so they can be plugged in. The main one that I used on stage is an electric dulcimer built by my friend.
- Who are your favorites and main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Feel free to include celtic and non-celtic sources – famous or indie – mainstream straight or LGBT.
There is so many, but okay, the main ones: Let say the classics grabbed me when I was young… like many The Beatles, Gentle Giant, Yes ( for doing a music form another galaxy). And later in the dulcimer world - Cristian Huet; and Mimi and Richard Farina; and for his work on renaissance and middle ages music : from France, the late Marc Robine who died 2 years ago…
- What was your all-time favorite live concert-going experience?
Live? My experience hearing violonist Julane Lund from Indianna and Alf Bashore a dulcimerist from Pennsylvania. We shared the stage in Montréal. That was magic!
- Any special thoughts on your dulcimer instruments, and what they’ve meant to you in your life? They are all hand-made and thus must be very dear to you.
Absolutely right. That is why on the Cordaphone website I list every one of them with the related builders … For me a good luthier is so important for a musician because they are the one who give life to music through their art craft.
- Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a gay musician in the mostly straight, mainstream music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?Well the only thing I have to say about it is that I was fortunate with my friends. Because they know that I am gay from the beginning. Although they are straight they accepted my orientation with an open mind.
- For an openly gay musician - how do you think the overall music scene differs today from years ago?
I think it is more open now than few years ago, especially here in Quebec. In the countryside where I live it's still a touchy and sensitive subject of discussion. But it's moving, like a mind evolving... slowly but moving.
- Tell us about the roots of Celtic music as relating to your area in Quebec Canada.
Traditional music is still very alive here. It is mostly played by senior citizens. But youngsters in cities such as Quebec are rediscovering this kind of music. Some of the music we do has older roots - the Renaissance and Middle Ages. It is very popular with the people who do the Renaissance fest and other history-related endeavors.
- I had the pleasure to meet and include you several years ago, here in NYC at one my “URBAN PRODUCTIONS Boldly Presents” concerts, where you played the dulcimer. Have you been back to NYC or to the U.S. or elsewhere in the world since?
Yes. I come in to US almost every year. Last summer I was invited by Julane Lund for the American-Scandinavian festival in Vasa Park, New Jersey. We performed together onstage. Right after that I went to Portland OR to visit friends, where I met a band called " 2 strings 2 many". I had so much fun with them ! Also I just had an invitation to participate to the Blue Mountain Dulcimer Symposium in upstate NY in Adirondack Park this June.
- Tell us about your recent feature on MSNBC? How fun was that?
For the coming of NBC in our small village here! The mayor called me to ask me to be there as a translator because almost no one here speaks English. I proposed to her that they have musicians play trad music for that. She accepted saying “this is a good idea”. And that's how we ended up on the TV news report. What’s funny about that is that no one tolds us NBC television was going to film us. The mayor said to me NYC "journalist". So in my mind I thought "newspaper" journalist … I was outside when they arrived for the shoot and said to my bandmate Michael, “My God this is TV!”…
- Tell us about your band - Cordaphone.
Well we've been around since 2003; with various adjustments over the time - from renaissance music to actual creations from the dulcimer repertoire from many countries. Right now we are 6 regular musicians in the band.
- How is the live music scene in your area – What kind of venues and functions do you perform at?
We perform in various festivals and private corporate functions - parties mainly, as well as restaurants. We do enjoy that.
- I believe you are from a very rural part of Quebec. Is there any kind of LGBT presence there? Do you get to play music with other LGBT musicians? Any LGBT bars, community centers, support groups or even perhaps a parade?
Not many around here …I think it is about the same as you see in rural areas of the U.S.. There are some support groups around but usually not enough to hire a band for a party! But I did some work as a DJ for the one club in the area, in Riviere du Loup which is the main town of the area. They do have a support LGBT group who gather once a month as a social club.
Sylvain constructing a "cardboard" dulcimer for presentation at a community instrumental music workshop
- What are your current and future musical projects? Including any new cds, touring and other promotions.
Right now the band will be in studio to make the final cuts for our upcoming album that will include 15 pieces of music. Some of them (7) will be new stuff, creations by us (Like the 3 mp3 pieces on my website). We have the help of friends from Mute City Productions here. They are very nice to accomodate us with the long process of preparation and of recording the CD. The process is long because I use whatever $$ I have available to invest, but we are almost at the end of it. The project will be ready by the end of May 2010 for launch in June. We have scheduled for next summer 4 festivals in Quebec province. One here in Cabano (the next town from here) and the rest are in various places in Quebec.
Visit Sylvain Lacroix and check out his music at: www.cordaphone.com
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