Gillian Boucher talks about her music and the unpredictable but wonderful things in life in the midst of motherhood. And oh a bit about people expecting musicians to give lessons for free.Ha!
Hi Baxter! Well… here it is!!! I’m severely jet-lagged after the journey from NZ to Turkey, but I was determined to get this to you today 🙂 I hope it’s OK!!
I discovered the music of Gillian Boucher around two years ago while I was doing my research on the Cape Breton fiddling style. She has this certain ‘walk under the sunny park on an afternoon’ kind of vibe when she plays her instrument. I also admire her fashion sense. For a while I kept track of news about her and poof! She disappeared from the Celtic music radar. I wondered what really happened to her for a long time. While Cape Breton and the whole of Canada gave us tons and tons of beautiful music, Gillian was nowhere to be found. Until recently.
She started updating and leaving digital footprints online once again. The illusive artist has now become more and more accommodating to the public as she enthusiastically shares her travels and photographs to her friends. Her group The Celtic Umbrella Ensemble is gearing towards bigger musical shows and you will find out about it in this interview. So my dear readers, sit back and relax over a cuppa tea as we listen to Gillian’s unique voice as she shares her time with us.
How’s it going with Celtic Umbrella these days?
Well, the Celtic Umbrella Ensemble will be entering it’s third year of existence and after a few line-up changes we feel that we’ve finally found something that fits really well! Last summer in Canada we finished our touring season off with a main-stage performance at Festival Memoires et Racines in Joliette Quebece with a new line-up and the response was simply mind-blowing! We don’t do much touring during the winter season as I’m usually back in Turkey working on administration for my various projects or down touring New Zealand which I do annually. This spring, though, we’ll be heading in the studio in Canada to work on our first album which is really exciting. We’ve got a lot of great material that spans from Old Scots to Acadian folk songs and groovy instrumental rhythms. It’s going to be a fabulous project!
You seemed to have disappeared from the radar for a while and now you are in Turkey. How’s life treating you?
After the release of Elemental and receiving some great reviews in the form of music nominations and an award, I hit some turbulence in my personal life and decided to lay low for a while. The album was also released after nearly a decade of being on the road with singer/songwriter and former partner Andrew White and so by the time I was due to push the new album, I was already exhausted and needed a break from music. After a trip to Ankara, Turkey, to perform for the Canadian Ambassador’s Canada Day celebrations in 2010, I saw an exciting opportunity to completely relocate to an interesting part of the world but still work on my various projects. It’s been a whirlwind of an adventure but I’ve found a sweet balance that makes it all work, giving me a chance to rekindle my passion for what I do, go out on the road to perform and come home to a peaceful and quiet existence in this far-off and beautiful land. If someone would have told me 5 years ago that I would be living in Turkey some day, I wouldn’t have believed them! Yet, here I am, and I’m very settled and happy.
You have a certain style in playing the fiddle. Where did you get all that energy, concentration and style?
Well, thanks very much for the compliment! Growing up on Cape Breton Island I was immersed in the Cape Breton style of music and dancing from a very early age. We grew up near my mother’s family, who were all of Scottish decent, and so the culture was very present in our lives. I was classically trained on piano, but not on fiddle and had a very strong Cape Breton fiddle style until my mid-teens. Perhaps my classical training on piano came through as I was very fond of complicated pieces by Neil Gow and Scott Skinner, which weren’t being played much by the younger players around.
At around the age of 15 I first heard Irish music and it was a major milestone in my life for sure. I immediately fell in love with the style of music and it also corresponded with many opportunities to work in the USA and collaborate with a lot of Irish-American players, so my style and approach started to morph at that time for sure. When I was 19 I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, and again was greatly influenced by the tunes and players there, creating another element in my stylistic approach to traditional music. I am not and never have been a traditionalist and feel very free to build upon my experiences in life to create my own individual style.
I don’t strive to sound like anyone else which is what a lot of tradition bearers feel as responsibility. I know this because I felt this responsibility when I was younger, trying to preserve our Cape Breton culture and style of playing by mimicking older players, so I guess you could call me a bit of a rebel in that respect! Don’t get me wrong, I respect and admire the amazing players that keep our heritage alive and well. I just don’t feel like it was ever my path, which might also have something to do with my mixed-heritage background of Acadian and Metis as well as Scottish.
Aside from being a recording artist, you also teach. Which do you think gives you the most fulfillment?
I’ve been teaching for nearly as long as I’ve been performing, first starting to teach dance when I was about 12 years old. I started teaching fiddle later in my teens, but I’ve always had great enjoyment teaching both and still do. The feeling of fulfillment seeing a student progress, giving validation to ones teaching method, I don’t think can be compared to the thrill of walking off a stage with an audience in rapturous applause. I can’t compare the two at all, but deeply love both! The later being the most exciting buzz in the world! I’ve also found that in order to maintain a lifestyle as a working musician, one must have a few fingers in a few pies! Teaching is just another aspect of my work that keeps me moving forward, allowing me to continue to do what I love. My most recent teaching project is a comprehensive online teaching method entitled ‘Learn Celtic Fiddle’ which is comprised of HD video lessons and supporting documents. We (my business partner and I) currently have 4 Units up and running: Absolute Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Early Intermediate and Advanced Intermediate. Each Unit has 5 lessons. It’s a wonderful project and we have students from all over the world logged in, learning Celtic fiddle!
I read your post the other week where you ranted about people expecting musicians to give lessons for free. And this even go as far as expecting musicians to perform music for free. What can you say about this outrageous mentality?
I was recently in New Zealand and heard that local festival had decided that they were not going to pay musicians to perform, and would only offer a ticket pass and free camping. As a result, they will not have professional musicians at the festival because professional musicians don’t play gigs for free, which only disappoints the attendees who are mostly going to the festival for music. It’s shocking, really. But we can be guaranteed that the porta-loo companies will be paid, as well as any other tradesman involved in the production of the festival! Over the last ten years, as not only a professional musician but also a booking agent and show promoter in places like New Zealand, I see ticket prices staying the same, sometimes even going down, and tour expenses and cost of living rising. It’s a very challenging business to be in for sure. The light at the end of the day though is the fact that we get to do what we love and the people we do it with are some of the most magical people on earth. I think that’s what keeps us all going!
(More by visiting her website www.gillian-boucher.com)
Check out the Celtic Colours International Festival online via:
Gillian Boucher and Celtic Umbrella in concert, June 2011, Chester Nova Scotia
The Celtic Umbrella Ensemble Live
* 2010 ECMA Nominee: Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year
* 2009 NSMW Award Winner: Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year