Sunday, April 21, 2019
Bon Debarras-All You Can Beat, Bon Appetit
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Jean-Francois Dumas performs Wednesday at Sun Valley Community School.
 
Friday, January 18, 2019
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Dominic Desrochers brushed a foot-long brush down a washboard. Then he hit the washboard with the palm of his hand before bringing the brush back up to the top.

“Dive, soak, swipe,” he said.

“Dive, soak, swipe,” repeated 400 students at Sun Valley Community School.

 
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Dominic Desrochers and Veronique Plasse load Jean-Francois Dumas up with instruments.
 

Leave it to the ordinary ritual of washing clothes to set the tone for playing the washboard.

Desrochers and his two compadres in the French Canadian trio Bon Debarras stood at the front of the class of every elementary school in the Wood River Valley this week, introducing the students to a world beyond.

For Desrochers, it was simple: “All you can beat, bon appétit! There is jib a plenty at the banquet of your two feet.”

“It’s been a long road to here,” said Desrochers, of their journey from Montreal to perform in concert tonight at the Argyros, courtesy of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. “Bon Debarras means ‘good riddance.’ But we don’t get rid of anyone. We get rid of sadness and to do that we need to play special music: French Canadian music from Quebec, which is joyous music. It tells where we’ve been…and it tells where we’re going.”

 
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The joyous rhythms got students and teachers up out of their seats.
 

As Desrochers caught his breath, Veronique Plasse introduced the youngsters to the violin, which she said is known in Quebec as a fiddle.

“My fiddle met a lot of other people, and I follow my fiddle and I meet people,” she said. “People add rhythm. Put rhythm to traditional music and it goes like this,” she said showing how a ballad or lullabye  can turn into a reel snappy enough to get the youngsters stomping their feet.

The music sent Desrochers into a blend of clogging and tap dance.

“In Quebec we also play piano with fiddle. But for traveling it’s more practical to carry a guitar,” he told the students. “But my shoes are also an instrument. Who could believe shoes would be an instrument?!

“And also my head!” he added, slapping a rhythm out on his body before ending with an exclamation point on his mouth that elicited a chorus of “ooohs” from the kids.”

Plasse held up some wooden spoons, which replaced bones in traditional Quebec music.

“My grandpa when the soup was too hot would steal the spoon of a neighbor. Then he started playing them together,” Desrochers said, as Plasse showed the kids how to bang the wooden spoons together.

If Desrochers wasn’t entertaining enough, Jean-Francois Dumas was a one-man band, playing triangle, harmonica and guitar—all while tapping out a rhythm with his feet.

He beat out a rhythm on the box he was sitting on, the wood worn from years of pounding.

Then he jumped up, doing a dance during which he slapped his feet while they were up in the air.

“I have a special banjo,” he told the students. “Here in the United State you play a five-string banjo but this is a four-string banjo.”

And this,” he said pointing to a Jews harp or mouth harp,” is a very funny instrument. You can find it in all different countries in world. I have one from Vietnam that’s bamboo…they have them in Singapore…this one is from Germany,” he said, as he held his frame against his teeth, using the jaw and mouth as a resonator.

Most important is the air that comes out, he told the youngsters, showing how he could add multiple layers to the sound by utilizing his breath properly.

“Most important for me when I play music is rhythm,” he said, beating out rhythm with his feet typical of Quebec folk music.

“It is became we are one leg French and one leg English,” he said.

He stomped his right foot—the French leg--in a steady beat. Then he beat a faster rhythm with his left leg in homage to the English, the Irish and the Scottish who immigrated to Canada with their fiddles and their bones.

They would do a shuffle, he said, showing the kids how to scuff the floor with their heel then step down with their full foot. And they’d sing in a strange Gaelic language, he added.

“We in Quebec invented a rhythm using the English leg and the French leg,” he said, doing a faster rhythm similar to that of a choo choo train.

Then he began moving his feet faster still--a persistent galloping rhythm developed during veillees—evening gatherings where tight quarters made step dance impossible.

Next you knew, students and teachers were up on their feet.

They snapped their fingers downwards. They hit the palm of their hand on their chest producing a bass sound. Then they hit their other palm on their chest for a different sound.

They began hitting their chest with their palms back and forth like windshield wipers. They beat their thighs, then the sides of their hips. Then they slipped back and forth as they began to shuffle.  Then they jumped crossing their right foot over the left.

As they wound down, Desrochers introduced a “song of gathering.”

“We can all gather in the same way,” he said as he beat his hand on his heart, in a slow beat like a heart beat.

“I’d like to thank the Native Americans here—the Shoshoni --for allowing us in their land. It is a tradition of Canadians to thank the land keepers,” he added, before launching into a song featuring the traditional music of the Inuit.

Kristine Bretall, director of Performing Arts for the Center, estimated more than 2,000 students had the opportunity to see Bon Debarras, thanks to donations by Bex Wilkinson and the Marshall Frank Foundation, Lloyd Construction and Neil Zussman and Cathy Whinnery

“For me it’s all about connecting people to music,” she said. “I’d seen them before and I thought they were magical. They bring a cultural awareness with their introduction to French language and Irish, Scot and Cajun influences. For a lot of kids and adults this is the first time to see these blended in one place and understand where it’s coming from.”

TONIGHT’S CONCERT

Bon Debarras will perform at 7:30 tonight—Friday, Jan. 18—at the Argyros in Ketchum. For tickets, visit www.sunvalleycenter.org. or, call 208-726-9491.

 

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