Montana Arts Council

Folklife

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From the Heart and Hand

French Canadian Fiddle:

Aime Gagnon, Lotbiniere/Chip Jasmin, Hamilton

We actually became a part of the family. Aime was a very gentle, patient man. He loved the music, and was glad and honored that someone else would come to play with him and play the music that he knew. He was a fourth generation fiddler and he left a strong impression on me. He had real roots. I was looking for roots in my own life. It wasn't a big outward thing but we all felt it. We still feel like were family.

- Chip Jasmin

portrait of Chip Jasmin and instruments

As he was growing up in a French Canadian milling city in Rhode Island, folk musician Chip Jasmin did not learn the native language and customs of his two French Canadian grandmothers, who had been born in Quebec. But in 1996, Chip, who has lived and performed in Montana for the past 14 years, was the recipient of a MAC Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Award to work and learn with master fiddler Aime Gagnon, of Lotbiniere, Quebec, Canada.

Aime was born in Lotbiniere, located 50 miles south of Quebec City, on the St. Lawrence River. Aime wanted Chip and his whole family to get to know the local culture as much as possible, so he invited the Jasmins to stay with them during Easter week, 1996. At home, on the street, playing music, and even attending the church where Aime was baptized, they were constantly surrounded by the French language. Aime's daughter Danielle, a schoolteacher, was home on vacation, and translated for everyone so they could communicate freely. The Gagnon home looked right out on the river, where they constantly saw ships passing by. Chip's son would yell, "bateau, bateau," each time he sighted a ship. This was in contrast to Chip's own upbringing in the United States, when speaking French was discouraged because immigrants were looked down on.

This Quebeçois style music originally came from France; it is French "country style" music, played mostly in rural communities for dances and other celebrations.

To our ears, it is similar to Cajun music; fiddle and accordion were primary instruments, but in the original French style, the meters were a little more sedate. Chip wanted to learn from an authentic French-Quebeçois music master and he was not disappointed. Chip describes his time with Aime:

  We stayed with him for a week. Wewould play music every day and often other musicians came to the house to play with us. I recorded all the things we did together. Aime was a self-taught musician; he didn't read music. We played his repertoire—mostly reels, waltzes, marches. That style of music is called French Quebeçois. But some tunes are very old and came from France. An ethnomusicologist who specialized in the music of that region of Quebec came to visit and said that he had never heard one particular tune played anywhere else, except in France. Aime knew some very old tunes. Aime's father kept his fiddle on the mantle. The children would wait for him to leave and then each child would try to grab the fiddle first to play the tune their father had just finished playing.

Chip also plays the accordion, guitar, dulcimer, banjo, and mandolin. He performs often, and shares Aime's stories and music with others in his school residencies and concerts. He tries to make people aware of the great variety of musical styles from different regions of this country and Canada. He says he "got the spark" from Aime.

photo of Aime Gagnon and Chip Jasmin playing together

Photos courtesy of Chip Jasmin

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