The Pipers Rendezvous – Orford Musique, Quebec 12-14 October 2018

Canada has many strong connections with Scotland, particularly the work ethic and the piping. The strongholds of Canadian piping are of course Cape Breton and Ontario. So why choose to hold a Scottish themed bellows piping weekend at a music school in Quebec? First the location in the Mount Orford National Park is breathtaking and reminded me so much of Scotland. Secondly the Orford Musique campus is a very unique and spectacular location particularly during the blazing reds, oranges and yellows of the leaf colours of the trees of Canadian Fall (Autumn). That alone is worth coming to this area to see.

Orford adjoins the beautiful old town of Magog set at the end of the magnificent Lake Memphremagog, that looks similar to Loch Ness and also has a lake monster called Memphrie. This area was settled by American Loyalists and Quebecois from the 1790's. The people are a mix of Scots, Irish, Anglophones, Francophones and First Nations blended together. Orford Musique was founded in the 1960's as an art centre but is now used primarily during the summer as a teaching and performance venue for young international classical musicians. The campus is custom-built to cater for musicians with various practice rooms, a concert hall, beautiful accommodations and excellent French inspired cuisine.

Starting an event from scratch takes a lot of work, and I didn't really know if there would be interest in Scottish music in a French Canadian area. I knew that there were bellows pipers in Vermont, some in Ottawa and others in the further reaches of Nova Scotia, Toronto and further afield on this large continent. I was acquainted with Alan Jones in Montreal and Robin Aggus in Guelph, but most of the musicians in the Eastern Townships play Irish or French Canadian music, Jazz or Country music.

Bertrand Savoie the manager of Orford Musique was very encouraging and supportive when I approached him about holding an event at the school. He gave me available dates of 14 -16 October and a quote for accommodating 25 people. I approached the LBPS about getting some seed corn funding and the Committee were most generous in providing support. I had seen some videos by bellows piper Ben Miller and Scottish fiddler Anita MacDonald from Halifax N.S. and was very impressed and decided to invite them to tutor and perform at the weekend. I also booked piper, Tim Cummings from Vermont and fiddler Alex Kehler from Quebec to play on the Sunday. I then set about putting posts on Facebook and sending out publicity to anyone I could think of. The LBPS also publicised the event in their newsletters. I had a steep learning climb to put together a website page that enabled payment through Paypal, and gave detailed information about tutors and the planned programme of workshops talks and concerts.

Almost immediately I got enquiries from LBPS North American members. Suitably encouraged, I began to put together course materials. When a piper booked a place, I asked them what their favourite tunes were. This enabled a common repertoire to emerge, which I circulated. Using CelticPipes software and PDF format, I also circulated about 30 tunes that we could study or take away.

On the 12th October - Friday afternoon from about 4.00pm pipers and their partners began arriving. Some had traveled considerable distances. Pat Taylor and his wife Jeanine had traveled from London, Ontario by plane and car. Mike Ufford had driven from Toronto. Robin Aggus and Marilyn Baxter had driven from Cape Breton, coming from the Celtic Colours Festival, as had Ben Miller and Anita Macdonald. Others came from “nearby” Montreal, Ottawa and Vermont

We provided apple pies, cakes and home made shortbread with juice, beer and wine for an ice-breaker welcome party in the lounge/kitchen area of the accommodation block. Soon the pipes came out and it was clear right away that we were all going to have a great time together.

On Saturday morning we crossed the lawn to the Cafeteria for as full a breakfast as you could ever imagine. We then met in the rehearsal room under the cafeteria for a general discussion about the bellows bagpipes of Scotland led by myself and Ben Miller, which became a question-and-answer session. We then broke into two groups to look at tunes with a view to publicly performing our choices on Sunday afternoon. Ben and Anita took a group who were more comfortable learning by ear, and I took a group who were happier with music scores.

Before lunch Kate Macdonald led a Yoga session for pipers to limber up, stretch and relax.

Lunch was a delicious three-course meal with all the trimmings. We sat at circular tables and got to know each other better. We also shared the cafeteria with a lively group of young musicians from Montreal.

In the afternoon session we worked on the tunes we had selected to play and swapped over groups, and then came together for a reprise. Dinner was another delicious three-course meal with many choices.

“Bagpipeology” with Alan Jones and Gordon Mooney was introduced by Robin Aggus by giving a blast on Highland Bagpipes. The show/lecture was a light-hearted romp through the world of bagpipes with slides/ interspersed with tunes on various bagpipes – Scottish Smallpipes, Border Bagpipes, Northumbrian Smallpipes, Irish Bagpipes, etc in solos and duets.

A session followed in the accommodation lounge with more cakes, shortbread and drinks and went on into the small hours. We were joined by harpists Nancy Lyon and Susan Palmer. Cape Breton tunes, Border tunes, flute tunes, whistle tunes and familiar Scottish bagpipe tunes rang out through the night.

Sunday morning began with another complete breakfast. Piping, talking and performing gives one a good appetite! Tim Cummings and Alex Kehler joined us for breakfast and we were all soon in the downstairs rehearsal room listening and joining in an interactive performance with Tim and Alex who introduced us to French Canadian (Quebecois) foot percussion and some of the music of Quebec. Tim also showed how he transferred a Breton melody to Scottish smallpipes using tape to produce accidentals needed in the melody.

Alex taught a tune 'La Promeneuse' which was the tune of the weekend., bringing French Canadian music to the bagpipe. Alex said that, although a modern tune, it has become an anthem of Quebecois music. A beautiful sunny morning with autumn colours all around was the perfect setting for a group photo. We all gathered under an old cedar tree and took several photos - then it was time for our final meal together – another culinary triumph by the Orford chef!

At 2.00pm people began arriving for the impromptu afternoon concert and soon the room was filled with local people eager to hear the bagpipes. The group I had been tutoring started off the concert joined by Tim and Alex then the group Ben had been tutoring played. The group pieces were followed by duets from Tim and Alex, Gordon and Nancy, Alan and Alex, Robin and Marilyn. The concert ended with rousing sets from Ben and Anita on Border pipes and Fiddle playing the traditional pipe music of Scotland and Cape Breton.

Too soon the weekend was over and our new friends had to depart back to their homes. The beautiful rooms and facilities and the experience and expertise of the staff at Orford, in dealing with and for musicians made the weekend very special and a truly wonderful experience. We shall return in 2019 on the weekend of 27th to 29th September 2019. Hope to see you there.

Comments from participants

  • “Congratulations, Gordon on a great weekend. Kate and I really enjoyed it. What’s not to like? Hope we do it again.” (Donald Macdonald)

  • Gordon, I Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the “Rendezvous.” Lots of fun and very educational for me as a beginning smallpiper. It was great to meet you and Nancy and to hear you play in person. Tutors were great and the location was super. Looking forward to next year already.
    Michael Ufford (Toronto)

  • “the Rendezvous was a great success. I was much impressed with the tutors, & enjoyed chatting with them as well. I trust the project for next year will succeed. Yours aye, Pat Taylor (London Ontario)

  • Thanks very much for the Rendezvous and all your hard work, Maddy and I had a great time. We're still talking about it and last night we had a session with some local band folks and we played some tunes from the weekend. I'm looking forward to next year.. too bad it's so far off.. Lochie Bisallion (Montreal)

  • Gordon, Thank you for organizing the fantastic weekend... Orford Musique is so beautiful. It was fun teaching the little yoga class! I would be pleased to offer one again next fall : )Thanks again...Sincerely, Kate Macdonald